Saturday, January 06, 2007

Making Babies the New Fashioned Way

Sperm donors, egg donors, and embryo choice. Oh my! What's the big deal and who needs reproductive ethical lines? Ann Althouse says:

I suppose the fact that I wrote those questions first reveals that I'm not especially concerned about this new step in reproductive technology. The cry of "eugenics" always goes up, but what are the people who raise it really worrying about? Not the return of the Nazis. It's all-too-convenient the way the Nazis pop up to assist in making the argument you already wanted to make. The real objection is to reproductive choice. Once you have disaggregated reproduction from the full human relationship between the parents, what makes you want to draw the line here? Perhaps your objection is nothing more than resentment that only rich people get to fulfill this preference. If so, who are you to intrude on their private life?

One argument against this new practice is that there are so many embryos left over from infertility treatments and that these embryos should be implanted instead. But, as noted in the article, those leftover embryos are made from the eggs of woman who: 1. is older, and 2. has a fertility problem. It still seems more charitable and unselfish to choose them, but does that make it wrong to want better? We have a sense -- don't we? -- that parenthood means an open acceptance of whatever child happens to arrive and that the desire to be selective reveals that one has not met the parenthood ideal.
When people marry, do they look at their mate genetically? Some do. I marveled at a couple I knew where one party's family had a history of Huntington's Disease. Read about it. It's a brutal, degenerative disease and a kid of a parent carrying the Huntington's gene has a 50-50 shot of getting it. (Suicide is a common end for these people--they know what is coming and can't stop it.) So, this couple, knowing these facts chose not to have the one party genetic tested for the gene and they wouldn't before having kids.

What? That's just irresponsible. Weepy romantic notions have no place when considering the devastation of this kind of disease. So, yes, people should be somewhat choosy about their mates. And these tough discussions should happen between people. It's disturbing that most of these discussions are happening over a petry dish--and not for elimination of problem genetics but for the creation of superior genetics. What is that if not eugenics? And Hitler comes up because we know where this thinking, this slippery slope leads.

Think America isn't on that slippery slope? Have you been in a 1st grade class recently? Parents trying to give their child every edge--putting kids in class at six, seven to have an advantage. Ostensibly these kids were created the old-fashioned way. But when parents have a choice to choose 6'4", blue-eyed, blond, 200#, 200 I.Q. geniuses, don't think for a minute they won't opt for that choice. Oh, and once all the genetics for any perceived deficiency (wide feet, flat nose, gay, curly hair, fill-in-the-blank) are found, parents will have them eliminated.

People unconsciously filter genetic material. People with better looks, facial symmetry, and who are taller can translate into higher I.Q. and better fertility. Even still, once married, the undesirable genetics come through--gimpy, not very athletic, short attention span, stunted social skills. You know all that irritating stuff about your spouse.

Will there come a time when all that can be filtered out by gene or DNA therapy? And do we want a Barbie Doll world? And is this all a stupid discussion 'cuz were all gonna die at the hands of the Boomers anyway? On the chance that the world survives indefinitely, the slippery slope needs to be seriously addressed. Although, I think it might be so much wasted jaw-boning. Just like every killing creation has been used, every eugenic discovery will be used whether legally or on the black market. Rich people are using stem cells from harvested Eastern European embryos and fetuses and babies to look younger and live longer. What's to stop the rest of us once genetics enters the McDonalds realm?

In light of this narcissistic human proclivity, I'm rather traditional. My fertility philosophy is simple: I'm anti-choice except to choose NOT to have children because of genetic fears--like Huntington's. It's called adoption. One of Anne's commenters says, and I concur:
My line was crossed decades ago. I would draw the line at not separating the unitive from the procreative. Translation: unless you can make that child in your marital bed, it's a no-no.


Christy're said...

I'm curious as to how you feel about the procedure where a woman takes Clomid and her husband's sperm is distilled and inserted into her at the scientifically-determined time of ovulation? A friend of mine is going through this and since she and her husband are Catholics, it's where they'll draw the line, but their two years of trying for a baby naturally have come up with nothing so far. They definitely don't want to do a petri dish baby but they feel that conceiving on steroids (so to speak) is less ethically questionable.


Dr. Melissa said...

What if, on clomid, she throws five eggs and fertilizes four? Will she do a "reduction"? No. She's Catholic.

Will she have a very good chance of children with problems? Yes.

I'm not saying that infertility isn't heart-breaking. It is. But there is no intervention that doesn't have ethical problems. "Steroid conception" included.

This of course, is easy for me to say. I have had no problem getting pregnant. But I started in my 20s, too. When you start older, your fertility diminishes. And, keep in mind that the #1 cause of infertility is genital warts causing cervical scarring and sometimes cancer. This is wholly preventable.

The slope gets slippery fast. Too slippery. Now, I'm all for non-invasive interventions. In fact, acupuncture has a success rate identical to hormone treatement. We've had great success in our office with getting women hormonally, emotionally, and nutritionally balanced. In addition, getting the body aligned helps, too. We have lots of babies born...with no invasive procedures.

I believe that in absence of pathology, the body doesn't get pregnant for very good reasons. Once the causes are resolved, a baby often comes along.

Christy're said...

Hmm, interesting! I know she has been doing acupuncture and diet modification since the summer but it didn't help her get pregnant (although it did help her lose some stubborn weight!). She is 34 and I know she struggles with having waited "so long" to have started trying. She and her husband both have minor issues that put together have caused them not to be able to conceive.

I think a huge part of the issue of infertility is that women are taught the sacred order of things--college, grad school, work, marry, work some more until your career is fully established, then have a baby. That usually takes until a woman is at least 31-32 if she met her husband in her twenties.

Or, of course, a woman has the option to take her chances by having her children in her twenties without having established her career. For many women this is a daunting idea due to the high divorce rate. Many women look upon their career as their insurance of sorts--and in many offices, having kids in your twenties will brand you as the "breeder"--not promotion material.

It's a catch-22 in my opinion. I chose option two but I'm not much worried about divorce. However I know women who always have that need for career insurance in the back of their minds.

Dr. Melissa said...


You're absolutely right. A woman is in a catch-22. I married at 22, worked two years, started Chiropractic College. Got pregnant as an intern (if I'd waited to "get my career established" I would have been in my early thirties). I knew, for a fact, that I wanted children. I also knew the medical risks of waiting.

As it was, I was thoroughly exhausted and depleted which contributed to me delivering my twins prematurely. I don't know what I'll recommend to my daughter. Once you have kids, going back to school is 10x harder. But having children (maybe) in your thirties is no guarantee either.

And yes, with the way I grew up, grad school was a hedge against divorce or death. Not very optimistic, 'eh? But as it turns out, my husband did get cancer at 35. One thing I didn't worry about was supporting myself. Of course, we could have saved the student loans and just bought a monster life insurance policy. Ha! But that wouldn't help if he was disabled.

So yes, it's a conundrum. And too, once I'm done raising the kids I have a nice profession to go back to full-time. I don't have to worry about being hired at the bottom. I also keep up professionally.

Tough choices. Motherhood, though, does have a time limit.