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Our Looming Procreative Anarchy

Wesley J. Smith
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Photo credit: Irina Murza via Unsplash.

It is no secret that the traditional family is under unprecedented assault. But we haven’t seen anything yet. A time is coming — I would say, within the next twenty years — when there will be no limits to the creation of novel family structures enabled by biotechnology.

We get a hint of that coming dystopia (from my perspective) in an article published in the Reproduction and Fertility medical journal. A bioethicist claims there are no moral reasons for disallowing skin cells to be turned into ova and sperm (in vitro gametogenesis, IVG) — already done in mice — so as to allow open-ended means of having children. When coupled with other emerging biotechnologies, there would be few impossibilities! From, “Is There a Valid Ethical Objection to the Clinical Use of In Vitro-Derived Gametes?”:

IVG affords biological parenthood to more family constructions than does natural conception. Concerns regarding this fact constitute a large proportion of those found in the literature. Biological parenthood could conceivably be made accessible to the deceased; postmenopausal women; single individuals; same-sex couples; groups of more than two individuals; children, fetuses and embryos.

Well Beyond Merely Radical

Embryos as fathers, mothers, or whatever, would go well beyond merely radical, to the socially destabilizing. But other than safety concerns, the author sees no reason not to charge full speed ahead into this biotechnologically enabled social anarchy:

Ethicists discourage objections based on natural law as they have been illustrated to be flawed and morally prejudiced. Even if this were not the case, an attack on the unnatural is a prima facie move which targets the entire medical profession, including medicines, vaccines and other ARTs. This is something that, one must assume, is not the intention of proponents of such a view.

Therefore, one may say instead that reproductive IVG somehow crosses a line and is more unnatural than other medical interventions but even this is difficult to justify. When one is less accustomed to a certain practice, it may attract more distrust or criticism than is warranted; this is a manifestation of the mere-exposure effect, a cognitive bias that renders individuals more averse to the unfamiliar. Such a belief does not reflect the moral value of the practice in question. As an example, IVF was initially regarded as morally suspect for many years – it is only as its practice has become commonplace that public opinion has shifted in its favour. Therefore, while ethical policy should recognise pluralism, it should be developed from rational arguments that are accepted as valid from the perspective of all stakeholders

Which means that moral objections will never be deemed valid. Think about it. People will always be found who want what they want with regard to having children — no matter the moral threats that their desires pose to cultural stability or to the social well-being of future children.

The Bottom Line

That’s clearly the author’s bottom line:

In light of the arguments presented in this review, I conclude that there is no coherent and justifiable in-principle ethical objection to the use of IVG as an ART [assisted reproductive technology] for those who cannot, by any other means, parent offspring with whom they share genetic material. Although both practical and safety concerns currently prevent its application in humans, the approval of reproductive IVG ought to be enacted upon their resolution.

The West is engaged in the most radical remaking of the basic structure of the family in human history — enabled by the most powerful technologies ever devised — methods that can literally change our genomes down the generations and erase fundamental family definitions.

And we are inert in the face of the chaos that could (would, in my view) result therefrom. Not only are we not creating reasonable boundaries; we aren’t even talking about it.

Cross-posted at The Corner.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.

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assisted reproductive technologybioethicsbiotechnologychildrenfamilyfathersgametesgenomesin vitro fertilizationmothersovumparenthoodReproduction and FertilityspermTechnology