Artificial Reproductive Technology–Remedies for the barren womb?
" The desire for children is strong and wholesome, but life offers no guarantees and good things can have prohibitive costs." George Will
Artificial reproductive technology [ART , IVF and Surrogacy] now offer a multitude of choice/s. Few however ask "who cares for the welfare and emotional stability of relationships and the children created artificially using IVF assisted experimentation?"
Who is to provide the economic ‘money tree’?
These issues of identity remains clouded in the ‘lust’ for individual rights, commodity–designer, children and the devious manipulation of discrimination legislation.
Before America followed the successful Steptoe - Edwards IVF experiments with Lesley Brown, giving Louise to her on July 18, 1978, Professor Paul Ramsay of Princeton University, predicted that IVF procedures would give rise to untold moral- ethical - legal and psychological problems for parents, their children and society. That was over 25 years ago! Now we are well into this "Brave New World".
Today this growth ‘industry’ might well be termed the Infinitely Variable Family syndrome.
Moral, Ethical and Theological Controversies.
From a Biblical or Christian perspective 4 principal factors validate legitimacy of sexuality and procreation.
Sexual conjugation:– consummation of a marriage between one man and one woman.[Gen 2:24-25]
Procreation:– the sexual act affords or should carry the creative potential for, reproduction after the likeness (a genetic bonding) of each. [ Gen 1:28]
Love:– when a man and a woman are linked in love and commit to each other, that love is expressed in physical (even spiritual ) intimacy. A mutual giving to and receiving from, one another.[Song of Solomon 2:3,4 & 1Co 6:3-5]
Pleasure:– pleasure derived from sexual intimacy is another of the good gifts God has integrated into his intent for human kind; pleasure which cannot or should not be divorced from other purposes. [Pro 5:18,19]
When one or more of the above factors are dissociated one from the other/s, the moral and ethical ideals of a creator God are distorted and individuals betrayed.
Artificial insemination pre-dates modern history by over 200 years. A London Doctor, John Hunter, recorded the first medical account in 1785. Two procedures are AIH [insemination using a husbands sperm to assist otherwise difficult conception] and AID using donor sperm. AIH can be regarded as moral, legal and ethical according to the above criteria, as the child is conceived within the marriage bond and is genetically related to both.
AID introduces a third person into any union. Thus, it gives rise to diverse moral, ethical, legal and even genetic health issues. AID includes risky, unregulated ‘self-help’ efforts, some even resulting in coercive paternity litigation. The Catholic Church likens this kind of reproduction to adulterous behaviour. Other Christian voices meanwhile argue that, since AID does not involve illicit sexual infidelity, adultery cannot be assigned. Nevertheless, the unitive and procreative aspects of the marriage bond are severed. AID is thus not a legitimate Christian option.
The Victorian Government legislation presently demands that biological records of donors are kept and gives approval for donor [sperm/egg] offspring children, rights to seek their biological heritage following their 18th birthday. WA is endeavouring to prepare similar legislation. Other States have no such legislation.
In NSW it has been suggested that 300 children are born each year with no record of their biological father. Legislation in NSW for reproductive technology, even in the face of its own Law Reform Commission recommendations, remains – ‘ contradictory, incomplete and untested – a dog’s breakfast!’ to quote Peter Hennessy a bioethics solicitor.
Artificial (Commodity) Children:
‘Once-upon-a-time’ begetting children was a very private affair. Today artificially creating children has become an ‘industry’. Open to more public debate, commercialisation, issues of discrimination and political controversy.
Parents who have donated sperm and ovum for the artificial creation of embryo "babies" now want the ‘right’ to donate (their) created embryos to other childless mothers and/ for scientific experimentation.
In the USA a minimum fee of ~ $4000US foetus adoption is now an option – supermarket babies? AID in Australia, is a legal option. Each ‘procedure’ costs ~ $170 but up to 6 procedures are usually required for a successful pregnancy. For the career minded, they can store their ‘seed’ in sperm and ova banks, so they can have children at a more convenient time.
Opting for IVF each cycle costs of the order $2500 and partial Medicare subsidy applies for up to 12 cycles. Last year’s Medicare outlay was ~ $65.m.
Success rate however, is little better than 15%. The emotional trauma for (and between) wife and husband can never be costed.
Single women and lesbian couples are now demanding access to ART & IVF technology; arguing that such exclusion is discriminatory.
Surrogate Gestation– Case Histories
When third party (sperm or ova) donors and surrogate wombs are needed to provide children for infertile couples, complex moral, ethical and legal issues can and do arise. The following are but a few derived from actual case histories.
· Mothers of infertile daughters, in providing surrogate wombs, have given birth to their own grandchildren.
· Cases are now on record of otherwise barren, post-menopausal women giving birth after having their wombs hormonally re-primed. One 53 year old South Australian woman has produced triplets while another South African woman, acting as surrogate for her daughter, has given birth to her own triplet grandchildren. In Italy a first time mother of 63 holds some sort of record.
· Legal tangles have arisen when surrogate mothers refuse to give over the child they gave birth to.
· Tragic cases arise when contracting parents refuse to accept children that do not fulfil their expectations. One case is on record is of a child, rejected by both the ‘contracting’ parents and the surrogate. After DNA testing, the child was found to be the offspring of the surrogate and her husband.
· Yet another example is that of a child conceived of donor eggs (ova & sperm) but, during surrogate gestation, the ‘contracting’ couple divorced. A judge ruled the child parentless.
· Grandparents too have sought to use stored embryos when their children experience serious disease or even death. One case is on record in Australia following the accidental death of the ‘parents’ of stored embryos. These embryos are the potential inheritors of a valuable estate.
· Complexities arise when, embryos, sperm or eggs are ‘cold stored’ prior to their genitor undergoing serious medical procedures. Namely, risks of damage to a woman’s ovaries or a man’s sperm count, as a result of chemotherapy. Again grand-parents have been known to approach the courts to use the frozen eggs or embryos, in order that they might pass on their biological ancestry.
· Other, not uncommon, situations have occurred when foetal reduction is deemed necessary as multiple foetuses are developing from IVF conceived and implanted embryos. Additional dilemmas arise when amniocentesis analysis identifies abnormalities and abortion is recommended.
· A three-parent child is another paradox. This situation arises when an older woman seeks IVF help. A more ‘efficient’ embryo is produced by introducing mitochondria from the ova of a more fertile, younger woman, into the egg of the older, gestational ‘client’ mother. When fertilised by the male sperm this embryo offers a more successful IVF outcome. However, the child born has in fact been conceived of three biological parents.
· Sperm donors have been sued for child support. Others are denied any acknowledgment of fatherhood or conflicts relating to access occur.
· The issue of genetic transfer of disease has now arisen. One ‘father’ of 18 ‘sperm donor’ conceived children, now aged between 7 and 13, has recently been diagnosed with a hereditary genetic disease.
· In the USA one donor ‘dad’ has been credited with ‘fathering’ 50 children. What happens if a brother and sister, fall in love and discover they actually had the same father?
Tracing genetic heritage and medical history is thus of special importance. Who can ever be too sure what habits, addictions, diseases or sins are transferred from one generation to another. The Bible implies visitations even beyond 3 and more.
As our society and culture grows to accept absentee dads, the new ADD, we begin to regard fatherhood as irrelevant. No longer mindful the social consequences, we continue to accept promiscuous sex, increasing levels of violence and crime, drug addiction or even suicide. These are all behaviours which find a common root connection with the loss of father bonding. What we have left are ‘sperm donors’; creating children they will never know.No matter how empty the children’s hearts may, in due time become, these life-giving adjuncts simply remain fathers from whom there was/is never any expectation. Just empty, father- hungry, holes in longing hearts.
‘My Father the Test Tube’
Medical science may regard a created embryo as no more than a ‘biological thing’, nevertheless, 10 to 18 years on, this collection of cells and DNA, is a human being asking:–"Who am I? From where have I come? To whom do I belong?" This quest for identity and roots has been demonstrated over and over. Does anyone know how any child feels when they learn that their ‘dad’ was a test tube sperm? Or their Mum someone else’s ova?
A forerunner of the multiplied problems likely to arise was seen on SBS TV in December 1997. This documentary – ‘My Father the Test Tube’ –recorded interviews with children, from both Europe and North America who were born of donor sperm. Confused emotionally, these young people were seeking for their biological fathers. A similar brief presentation appeared on the 9 TV network on 20 May 99. We also learn of ‘donor’ parents who want to find their biological offspring. The common thread expressed was that ART & IVF had indeed profoundly messed with their sense of identity; even worse perhaps than adopted children who try to locate their birth mothers and/or biological fathers.
Lids from these ‘cans of worms’ have only just begun to be lifted.
The question remains:– Is the special bond God has implanted in the seed of biological parents to be destroyed by Artificial Reproductive Technology and/ or Surrogacy? Is this the only substitute for a barren womb?