Updated: January 28, 2013 08:18 PM GMT
When John Tran Minh Chien’s wife was not able to get pregnant after seven years of marriage, the couple decided to travel the 250 kms from their home in southwestern-most Kien Giang province to Ho Chi Minh City in a bid to get medical help.
Chien, a tractor driver, was found to suffer from male infertility, he says.
“I could not get my wife pregnant after receiving fertility treatment from the hospital during the past year,” he says. “So this year we decided to get in vitro fertilization [IVF] treatment to have a baby ourselves.”
As a Catholic, Chien is defying the teachings of his own faith.
Father Louis Nguyen Anh Tuan, secretary general of the Episcopal Committee on Family and Life of the Vietnamese bishops conference, maintains that IVF – in which one or two human embryos are selected and artificially inserted into the womb while others are discarded – “is against Christian moral values because life exists from [the moment of] conception.
“Any elimination of embryos is a crime,” he adds.
Father Dominic Tran Cong Hien, an expert on the concept of the family from Xuan Loc diocese in the south of the country, says that childless couples have other options besides IVF.
They should pray to God to overcome a culture that looks down on those who adopt, he adds.
In practice, adoption is rarely the preferred choice in Vietnam.
“We do not want to adopt because adopted children may abandon us when we are old,” says Chien, echoing a common perception here.
In Vietnam, where children are traditionally expected to take financial care of their elderly parents once they retire, many couples keep adoptions secret and in some cases even move away to different areas to avoid mistreatment by neighbors.
In a country where heirs are expected and the family remains central to everyday life, the cost of failing to conceive can be severe.
Anna Huynh Thi Nguyet Nga, a Catholic woman from Ho Chi Minh City, says that her failure to conceive has prompted her Buddhist husband to drink heavily and her mother-in-law to call for a divorce so her only child can find a new wife and a fresh opportunity to have children.
Warned of the Christian attitude against IVF, Nga responds: “I don’t care. I must have a baby and then I will go to confession if I commit a sin. I have no choice.”
Nga is one of the 700,000 to one million people in Vietnam suffering from infertility, an increasing percentage of whom are below the age of 30, according to official data.
Of the 10,000 test tube babies who have been born since Vietnam’s first in 1998, few have been Christian, a minority religion here.
But the small, unknown number of Christians who have been conceived through IVF are often born to parents who know little of the pro-life doctrine backed by the Church.
Chien says he is not aware of what is right and wrong – according to Christian practice – when it comes to making babies.
“It is not wrong if IVF uses our sperm and eggs,” he says.
Father Louis admits that elderly priests have not studied bioethics, while young priests also have little grasp of the issue, meaning that little, if any, of this doctrine is taught during marriage preparation courses in Vietnam.
“Bioethics should be a compulsory subject in seminaries and institutes,” he says.