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05/03/2017

The moral problem of manufacturing children

Mark McQuain’s post yesterday about the moral concerns raised by some of the new things such as in vitro gametogenesis in conjunction with human induced pluripotent stem cells being developed in the field of artificial reproductive technology made me think of something that Leon Kass had written in the early days of in vitro fertilization. In the early years when in vitro fertilization was being hailed as an advance which would provide the ability to have their own biological children to many couples who were suffering from infertility for whom no effective treatment had previously been available, he and others warned that we needed to be morally cautious about this new technology because it would lead to us thinking of children as something that we could manufacture. A significant part of what he and others were saying was that up until that time the conception of children had always been something that was shrouded in a certain degree of mystery. There was an understanding of the miraculous nature of the creation of a new human being, and by those who had a sense of the divine origin of human beings it was understood that every child was a gift from God. This was something that impacted how children were viewed in society and individually by their parents. If each child was a gift from God, made in his image, and received through the natural consequence of the expression of the love the couple had for each other, we could understand that each child should be loved unconditionally. Gilbert Meilaender expressed this love in the words of Joseph Pieper: “Love is a way of saying to another, ‘is good that you exist; it’s good that you are in this world!’”1

While I believe that this concern about how IVF changes how we think about children is a very significant one, it never gained much traction in the society around us. The use of IVF has continued to increase and technology has allowed it to be used in ways that increasingly lead to children being made in a way that is more and more like manufacturing them. We are able to incorporate quality control in this process by the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis. We can manufacture a child with nuclear DNA from one mother and mitochondrial DNA from another. Soon we may be able to manufacture a child whose DNA may come from two parents of the same sex or four or more parents. That makes me think even more about what it means to manufacture a child. When we manufacture something we do so because of our desire to have the product that we manufacture and to have it meet our own desires for what that product should be and do for us. This is very different than receiving a gift given to us because of the love of the one who gives it. The thing that we make is intended to fill our own desires, which in our society is frequently expressed as a right to reproductive autonomy. Reproductive autonomy is focused on the value of the maker and not the value of the child. A gift that we receive puts our focus on the one who has given it to us and makes the gift valuable just as it is. We need to be careful as a society that the making of children does not turn into a process that is so focused on satisfying the desires of the makers that the value of the children who are made depends on their ability to satisfy those desires and the intrinsic worth of every human child is forgotten.

1 Meilaender, Gilbert, Bioethics: a Primer for Christians, third edition, p.50

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