By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
Just about a year ago, one could find countless news stories written about the twenty-fifth birthday of Louise Brown. While there might be a reference to her birth in one of those “this day in history” columns this year, I doubt that we will see any in-depth stories like those printed last year. Twenty-five has a milestone importance than twenty-six simply does not.
Yet, on each July 25th, I cannot help but think about the implications of Louise’s birth. Each year is a significant reminder of the watershed event that took place on July 25, 1978 when Louise was born. For those of you who may not know or have forgotten, Louise Brown is the first “test tube baby”— the first successful outcome of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Sliding Down That Slippery Slope
The first successful IVF procedure was a moral and legal turning point in a number of ways. It changed the way many individuals view the gift of life and it opened the door to a myriad of reproductive technologies now known as ART (artificial reproductive technology). Slowly, but surely, ART has become so common that few couples even stop to think about the moral and legal implications of utilizing such procedures to achieve pregnancy. Pandora’s box was opened and it will not be closed easily, if at all!
Robin Marantz Henig, a science writer for the Washington Post (who supports ART) admitted in a July 13, 2003 article that “If IVF was the first step down a slippery slope of its own, then it seems to have landed us in exactly the spot that Kass [Leon Kass, bioethics professor at the University of Chicago] and others said it would.”
She was referring to an American scientist who had recently announced that he and his colleagues “had successfully inserted cells from a male embryo into an early-stage embryo, creating a mixed-gender chimera that some journalists called a ‘she-male.’ Another team, from Israel and the Netherlands, described a trick that was even more bizarre: harvesting eggs from aborted fetuses and culturing them so they could be used in IVF, thereby creating a baby with a biological mother who had never been born.”
Henig acknowledged that neither of these experiments would have taken place “if IVF hadn’t been perfected over the past quarter-century…Of the scenarios that are now causing so much anxiety —cloning, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, genetic engineering of sex cells, the creation of human/animal hybrids, the culturing of human embryos as a source of replacement parts—none is possible without the techniques of basic IVF: laboratory fertilization and embryo transfer.”
There is simply no doubt that we are, indeed, sliding down that slippery slope when it comes to reproductive technologies. Human beings are coming to be thought of as raw materials or products to be bought and sold—even over the internet.
“Internet Sperm” Babies
Sperm can be “banked” or purchased via numerous sites on the internet. Spermbankdirectory.com has a colored map of the United States and visitors are directed “to find a sperm bank in your region, just click on that region.” Sperm banks charge for access to their list of donors who are described in great detail including physical characteristics.
Some services offer “catalogs” of donors. One sperm bank in Los Angeles says, “We try to provide enough donors to give them a choice, the same opportunity as if they were dating.” We should not be surprised that in Southern California there was a Nobel Prize sperm bank called the Repository for Germinal Choice. Founded by a self-proclaimed eugenicist, the Repository closed in 1999 after “bearing” more than 200 children.
ManNotIncluded.com which was launched in 2002 claims to have 5,000 donors. Once a donor is chosen, ManNotIncluded sends the sperm to the buyer’s home for self-insemination.
In August 2003, the first baby conceived from sperm arranged through ManNotIncluded was born in England. Although the website was designed to assist lesbians achieve pregnancy, this baby was born to a married heterosexual couple.
Frozen Egg Banks
Not to be outdone by the sperm bank web sites, “Frozen Donor Egg Banks” are now appearing on the internet. The first ones—located in Los Angeles and Las Vegas—have a list of donors with a description of their parent ethnicity and physical characteristics (including “hair texture”). This is the a portion of the introduction found when one clicks on “egg donors” at californiaeggbank.com:
Our donors are extensively screened and are all college or graduate students. Unlike many other programs, we do not utilize egg donors over the age of 27 year… We have no age restrictions for health potential recipients interested in utilizing our donors.
Most of these egg banks offer what the Chicago Tribune on June 20, 2004 called “’fertility insurance’ to preserve ‘future reproductive options’ as they age.” Knowing that a woman’s fertility declines with age, these banks are hoping to attract women who want children “some day,” but when they will be less fertile and therefore less likely to conceive. They are hoping their frozen eggs combined with sperm in a petri dish (IVF) will “solve the problem.”
We Want A Baby, Why Can’t We Use IVF?
Sometimes it is difficult for some couples to understand why the Church teaches that IVF is immoral. After all, they are married, they desire children, and they are not able to conceive in the natural way. What could be wrong with utilizing techniques such as IVF that will result in a child who will be loved and cherished by a devoted family?
One has to understand the purpose and meaning of marriage and the conjugal act that reflects respect for the dignity of the husband and the wife. The procreative and unitive aspect of the marital embrace must not be separated. Just as contraception blocks the procreative aspect, IVF eliminates the unitive aspect. Rather than a child being conceived by an act of self-giving by the husband and wife, the child is conceived in a petri dish by a technician. The process of IVF reduces husband and wife to simple sources of raw material (sperm and eggs) and the new human being is on the same level as a “product” carefully selected to be of high quality.
In addition, “spare embryos” from IVF procedures are frozen, discarded, or become the objects of experimentation. “By acting in this way the researcher usurps the place of God; and, even though he may be unaware of this, he sets himself up as the master of the destiny of others inasmuch as he arbitrarily chooses whom he will allow to live and whom he will send to death and kills defenceless [sic] human beings.” (Donum Vitae I, 5)
Even though the goal to have a child is good, many procedures employed to achieve that goal (including IVF) are immoral. The end does not justify the means. There are morally acceptable means to assist in achieving pregnancy and these must be chosen over the immoral means.