Skip to comments.Reproductive Technology and the Right to Life
Posted on 09/30/2007 7:16:34 AM PDT by Kaslin
Advances in reproductive technology have proven to be a blessing to many a couple suffering with infertility. Thanks to these advances, couples, who in the past would have been unable to have children, now happily bounce them on their knees. However, as thrilling as these new technologies can be, their application can be fraught with moral hazard. Ethical lapses can be avoided by thinking clearly about the principles that ought to inform our decision making in this area.
Principles of Human Dignity
Let's begin by reflecting on the right to life. The first principle that ought to guide our thinking is that all human beings have a God given right to life. Our founding fathers recognized this principle and emblazoned it in the Declaration of Independence. The right to life was deemed "inalienable" because it was "endowed" by the Creator.
The next principle we should consider is that human life should be protected from conception to natural death. Human life exists from the time it is conceived until it is extinguished. If the "right to life" is to have any meaning, therefore, it must be protected from its beginning until its natural end.
Additionally, humanity is a function of our essential nature (i.e., that we are the offspring of human beings) and is unaffected by age, size, location, state of health or circumstances of conception.
Finally, we should understand that human beings have dignity, worth, and value because we have been created in God's image (Gen. 1:27-28), and a great price has been paid for our redemption (John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:18-19).
Applying the Principles
A close examination of these principles reveals they are often violated by various applications of reproductive technologies. Consider the following:
"Embryo Creation." In order to enhance the potential for conception, numerous embryos are often created in the laborat
ory with a view toward making multiple attempts at implantation. Initial attempts at implantation often fail, so "extra" embryos are created for use in future attempts. These "extras" are typically frozen and thawed for future use. If not used, they remain frozen indefinitely or are discarded and destroyed. But can such a procedure be ethically justified? Is there really such a thing as an "excess" human being? Can human beings be fairly regarded as a mere "surplus?" Aren't basic principles of human dignity offended by such concepts?
The fact that embryos are small and not fully developed doesn't affect their worth. Size doesn't determine significance. We cannot credibly maintain that those who are fat are worth more than those who are thin, or that the tall are worth more than the short. Nor is an infant less precious than a full grown adult.
Likewise, age should not enter into the equation. We don't maintain that the old are worth more than the young. And who would seriously consider freezing their three year old child and placing them in suspended animation with a view toward thawing them at a future date?
Location outside the mother's womb shouldn't enter in to one's consideration about how to treat such embryos either. Location may affect the value of real estate, but it doesn't affect the value of human beings. We don't maintain that human beings who live in penthouse apartments have more inherent worth, value, or dignity than those who live in the ghetto.
"Embryo screening" is a practice by which parents are encouraged to "eliminate" embryos who might have undesirable genetic characteristics, such as the trait for early-onset Alzheimer's. Through a process called "pre-implantation genetic diagnosis" (PGD), embryos who are deemed at risk for carrying undesirable genetic traits are "weeded out." Aside from the fact that PGD poses a high risk that healthy embryos will be discarded, the practice embraces the notion that those who don't measure up to someone else's subjective standard of perfection do not have lives worthy of living. The immorality of such a practice for older children is manifestly apparent. We cannot justify the elimination of a two year old because it is discovered that they have a genetic trait that may cause problems for them in the future. The practice of weeding out two day old embryos is no more defensible.
"Selective reduction" is a course of action that is often recommended when more embryos than expected successfully implant in their mother's womb, e.g., five instead of two. Selective reduction is a euphemism for "abortion." Fertility experts often advise their clients to eliminate some of the babies they are carrying to avoid the stress of multiple births and to increase the likelihood that they will give birth to fewer, but healthier, children. Such a course puts the mother on the path of killing some of her children in utero to benefit the remaining ones. This "Sophie's Choice" recommendation clearly violates the ethical principles outlined above.
Couples who wish to avail themselves of reproductive technologies will do well to educate themselves about all that the technologies entail. They will do even better to evaluate those technologies in the light of ethical principles that should inform their decision making before embarking on their use.
While I appreciate the moral concerns of this piece--let's just say for us it isn't theory--we have lived it. As an Evangelical Christian I cannnot accept what would be the end result of this piece's morality--the it would be more morally acceptable (and thus that God would prefer) that NO children would be born to love and praise and worship Him rather than have some children be born to love Him, if in the process, no matter how hard you tried and how much you prayed, not every embryo developed and was born.
Oh she is beautiful.
What a handsome fellow! :*)
Very good article. People need to be educated on the many anti-life practices that go on in the name of artifical or lab-assisted reproduction. I have encountered genuine ignorance on what happens to the “extra embryos” or even that more than one gets created for each one carried to term.
Agreed. My husband and I did not go into the process without a lot of research and discussions and prayers first...I appreciate the concern that there are people who have leftover embryos (we were never that fortunate, since I am a poor responder to meds) who donate them for science or destroy them :*( but most of the people I know who have some left over use them for family building or have donated them to embryo programs so that other families can hopefully be blessed. I really don’t like the broad brush painted over all fertility treatment that says we are indifferent to the outcome of the embryos—or that it is murder to replace several embryos in the hopes of God allowing at least one to implant. Month after month for normal, fertile people who are trying may not result in embryos implanting either, does that mean those people are committing ‘murder’ because they didn’t get pregnant? There’s a lot more to all of this than just pouring down harsh judgment on infertile people.
May God bless your efforts to have more children, ZGuy! We’ll keep you in our prayers! Pray for us too, as we are
trying one more time in a few weeks as well. :*)
Thank you for posting your #7. I am concerned that the “extra” embyros are sometimes used for experimentation, or even used to create a human/animal. I wouldn’t want any part of me or my husband to be trapped into an animal body.
Thank you, Kaslin. In body AND in spirit. She is a Christian and I am amazed at the religious conversations we have sometimes! :*)
What is this 'dignity' thing? The word has meaning and it sure isn't being used in its proper sense anymore. Getting kind of conceptually fuzzy out here in Nominalism Land.
You might notice that "selective reduction" is more likely to be necessary with fertility drugs than with IVF. With IVF, while you can't control how many embryos will implant, you can control how many are given the opportunity to implant at one time.
With fertility drugs, a competent fertility specialist can tell if too many eggs are being released in a given cycle and recommend not attempting fertilization during that cycle.
Multiple births become exponentially more dangerous for the mother and for the babies as the number of babies increases. If God had intended for women to have "litters", He would have given them larger wombs.
I think sometimes couples and/or doctors agree to these large multiple births for personal glory & publicity, without considering the dangers involved to the mothers and babies.
So am I - but I have one rather rude question to ask?
How many embryos were created before she was implanted?
Did your doctor even tell you how many of your children he put on “ice”?
If the answer is more than one, will your beautiful daughter have the good fortune of you bearing her brothers and sisters now on “ice” at a later date?