The advent of artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) has wrought some extremely bizarre familial relationships. Case in point: the 24-year old homosexual man in the U.K. who wanted children so his mother agreed to carry the child created from his sperm and a donor egg, effectively giving birth to her grandchild. The child was adopted by his father, who is also, in a way, his brother.
Many people see this situation as a selfless gift by mother to son. She was able to give him the child he so desperately wanted. While that was most likely her sincere intention, seeing the situation this way is only possible because our culture has turned children into consumer products. The essential problem is not the strangeness of the situations themselves, but the attitude our culture has towards reproduction. If you want a child, you are owed a child, by whatever means necessary. In-vitro-fertilization, sperm/egg donors, surrogates, three-parent embryos, and more are now fairly common ways for people to obtain the child they desire.
From the point of view of an organization against abortion, the most troubling way that many of these ARTs work is that they require multiple human embryos to be created and most of these children die in the attempts to have one or two survive until birth. We create an extremely high risk situation in which we put the lives of these tiny human beings in peril– and to make up for it we just make lots of them so at least some don’t die. Others are left in a frozen state indefinitely, until the parents or someone else decides to give them a chance at developing. Many don’t survive the thawing process.
No one is claiming that it is not a hardship to want children and not be able to have them. Many people suffer acutely from infertility issues, or other causes of childlessness, such as being single and not meeting the person with whom you would like to raise children. However such suffering doesn’t give someone the right to have a child, despite all other considerations.
The concept of being denied something is not one that our culture is comfortable with. Often, we equate being told no with being punished, which is not always the case, especially when it comes to reproduction and the family. If one’s life circumstances or physical reality means that you cannot have a child without using means that affront the dignity of that child, then it is a burden you learn to bear. In an obviously controversial interview about homosexual couples using ARTs to have children, Domenico Dolce (of Dolce & Gabbana), who is openly gay himself, said “You can’t have everything in life. It’s also beautiful to be deprived of something. Life has a natural course; there are things that cannot be modified. The family is one of them.” This attitude would serve us all well when it comes to ARTs. While there are times we can and should intervene in the natural course of events, we should only do so when our actions respect the human dignity of all involved.
Often it seems people come to these drastic new technologies because we want children for our own sake- to fulfill a desire that we have. If we wanted children for their own sake, to give them a family and show them they are loved, then adoption becomes an ideal way to start a family for those who can’t do so naturally. In particular, adoption of older children is sorely needed in many places. If we think of it in terms of each child deserving a loving family, instead of each adult deserving a child to love, then this becomes an obvious alternative to the desperate measures taken in fertility clinics across the world. This is without doubt a hard road, and it is understandable that people have a longing for their own offspring but the question needs to be asked: for what and for whom do children exist? As we face more and more of these bizarre reproductive scenarios, perhaps policy makers and the culture at large need to consider something beyond our personal desires and think about what is best for the child.