Parallel Paper Presentation from CBHD's 2007 Annual Conference, Bioethics Nexus: The Future of Healthcare, Science and Humanity.
Michelangelo’s David is a fitting metaphor for what it means to be human. Considering assisted reproductive technologies, genetic testing and intervention, and using technology for purposes beyond therapy, we are chiseling away at the David that we know. A brief look at the art and the science through the lens of bioethics is the theme of this presentation.
It was a short news item, buried on page 19 of the April 11, 2007 edition of the Chicago Tribune, dateline Strasbourg. “Woman loses rights to frozen embryos.” Another predictable story on stem cell research in France? But, this was not a French biotech dispute. Natallie Evans is a British woman who was left infertile after ovarian cancer treatments. Prior to her ovaries being removed, she and Howard Johnston, her fiancé, created embryos via in vitro fertilization, and had them frozen.
In early February 2007, Reuters news service reported on a practice that has become much more visible during the past year: using a surrogate mother in India.1 People in various parts of the world who cannot (or, at least potentially, prefer not to) undergo a pregnancy are providing their eggs and sperm to produce embryos that can be transferred into a surrogate mother’s womb in India for the duration of the pregnancy.
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
Whether after a sonogram or a new birth, the first question we have about a child is almost always about the sex of the child. For millennia parents have anxiously awaited the answer to a question that underscores the mystery and uniqueness of being created male and female. But what happens when the outcome can be decided before the child even enters the mother’s womb?
One consideration in evaluating the ethics of sex selection involves the timing of the selection itself. If a boy is desired and the sex is to be determined after fertilization, a negative result (meaning the birth of a girl) can only be prevented by killing the embryo or fetus either in the lab (if conception is achieved through in vitro fertilization) or in the womb of the mother (by abortion). Such sex selection should be opposed for two reasons. First, an innocent life is sacrificed.
Twenty five years or so ago, as a family physician in a Christian mission practice in London, I used to help out at a monthly afternoon clinic with the now dated and politically incorrect name: “Handicapped Fellowship.” Patients with various physical and mental disabilities would be transported in by church members to receive health care, and would then enjoy a British afternoon tea, some entertainment, and a spiritual message.
From requests for childfree restaurants to a preference for childfree worship, it seems that American society has a strange relationship toward the young. Innovative human relations experts recommend bowls of candy, Nerf basketball, and company birthday parties so that employees can recreate with other adults during the ever-expanding workday. Thus enjoying their productivity, adults may avoid contact with the next generation, while perpetuating their own youth. A post-modern church “experience” offers some congregants a similarly comfortable setting.