When I was in high school, we were given an assignment to prepare a presentation on an ethical issue pertinent to modern society. Many of my classmates chose abortion, some chose euthanasia, and a few chose capital punishment. I remember that I chose to present on Just War Theory. I also remember that one classmate did her presentation on In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other Artificial Reproductive Technologies (ARTs). I remember her presentation vividly- before she began, she distributed “catalogs” filled with different eye colors, hair colors, and personality traits. The task? Design our ideal child.
We all had a good time designing our babies. It was like we had been given permission to design an American Girl doll without being judged, even though we were 17 and 18 years old. I remember that mine had brown hair, green eyes, and a genius IQ. After we’d had our fun, we listened to our classmate present on ARTs and the temptation to create “designer babies.” At the time, it was a fun presentation. Sure, parents were already creating children through artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, but the concept of “designer babies” still seemed like something out of a sci-fi film. Until now. Now it’s real.
I knew that there were men and women who sold their sperm and eggs for ridiculous amounts of money because they had a high IQ, or they were star athletes, or because they had the face of a supermodel. I knew that there were couples who were willing to pay exorbitant fees so that the child that they created would be smarter, faster, prettier. And yet I still considered the dangers of ARTs to be minimal. I didn’t agree with the process, but I didn’t think it was doing much harm either. I had met couples whose children have been conceived artificially, and they were all happy and healthy. They were clearly loved, and their parents seemed so grateful for their existence. These parents told me about the suffering they endured as they tried to get pregnant and failed. They told me about the joy they experienced upon discovering that they were finally going to become parents. I thought that ARTs were immoral, but I didn’t think that these children were being treated like products. The children that I met were all loved, and their parents just didn’t look like monsters. And then I saw a news article that changed my mind.
It was a story about an Australian couple who refused to adopt their IVF-created child who had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. The couple had paid for IVF and a surrogate to carry the child(ren) to term, and the woman had become pregnant with twins. When she was informed that one of the twins had Down Syndrome, the “buyer” refused to pay for the “faulty product,” leaving the surrogate mother to adopt the child, while the purchasing couple took the “properly operating product” with them. I’ll be honest- these terms are my own, but can we deny that a child was just exchanged for money, i.e. purchased? And what do we buy? Products. And what do we do when they don’t work properly? We return them and demand that we get our money back. And that’s exactly what happened.
Except the product wasn’t a product at all. It was a human being. This Australian couple purchased a human being. And here I was, thinking that we’d moved past the days when we bought and sold our fellow human beings as slaves to our own will. But apparently not. And now we’ve taken it one step further. Instead of just buying and selling human beings, we’re trying to create them too.
We’re creating human beings in laboratories. We’re paying woman to be walking, talking incubators. We’re selling parts of ourselves, and demanding that we get paid for characteristics that have only come to us as gifts. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but this is reality. These are real children. Are the distraught parents who turn to IVF and other ARTs to have children monsters? No. Is it fair that they should suffer as they do? No. But does everyone have a right to a child? Can we really have a right to the life of another human being? No, children are not a right. They are a gift. They should not be something that we produce, something that we purchase and create when we can’t “create” them the “natural” way. Children are something that we are given. They are something that we are supposed to receive, not make ourselves. No, couples who use ARTs are not monsters, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not wrong. Good intentions cannot make a sinful action right. No matter how much they might love their child, they have still purchased them as a product of their own will. And to treat any person as a product is to treat them as less than human.
The Australian couple shows the worst side of ART, but that doesn’t mean that the better sides are good. Even the couple who chooses to keep their Down Syndrome child, or the couple who chooses to keep their twins instead of aborting one, or the couple who doesn’t care if their child has the highest IQ in class or is the fastest runner on the track team, even they are treating their child as a product. They chose to have that child in a way that a couple who conceives naturally could never choose. A naturally-conceived child cannot be anticipated as an artificially-conceived one can. It must always come as a gift (even if it’s not always received as one), but an IVF child doesn’t start as a gift of human love. It starts as a product of the human will.
No child should be willed into existence; they should all be loved into existence. An artificially-conceived child will always be willed before it is loved, while a naturally-conceived child is always loved first. No child deserves to be the product of a test-tube fertilization. No child deserves to be created when semen is injected into the uterus of a woman who may or may not be his mother. Every child deserves to be conceived in love, carried in joyful expectation, and brought into this world knowing her mother and father. Yes, this world is fallen. Yes, not every child will be born to loving parents, and not all couples will be able to conceive. But that doesn’t mean we should be able to create children in a petri dish, or that we should inject semen into a woman’s uterus to increase the chances of conceiving.
There are already children who long to be loved and need to be adopted. Instead of creating new children in a laboratory, how about we take care of all those children living in orphanages and foster homes? They deserve to be loved too, and they have already been given to this world as a gift, just waiting to be received. I feel for these desperate couples longing to be parents, but I also feel for these abandoned children who just want parents of their own. These children have a right to be raised by loving parents, and we have a responsibility to take care of them.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!