“The United States is the Wild West of the fertility industry,” Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, told Pew’s Stateline this week. It’s a frequent sentiment regarding the expanding business of creating and selling human bodies and body products. The longread provoked a number of other questions about the uncharted territory we are now entering with very little discussion.
It’s a subject already affecting about one in ten women, and given the cultural push to delay motherhood that often leads to women delaying it beyond their natural fertility, likely to affect more soon: “The CDC reports that about 12 percent of women of childbearing age have used infertility services and that 1.5 percent of all infants born in the U.S. are conceived using [assisted reproductive technologies].”
1. What’s the Relationship Between Selling Body Parts and Big Data?
The Stateline article notes that Utah is one of the few states to have enacted restrictions on the fertility industry. It recently passed a law giving children conceived by anonymous sperm donation the right to access their biological father’s medical history. This is one of the obvious negative consequences of producing children like appliances—because humans aren’t appliances.
Our bodies import and embed history in them at the very moment our parents’ egg and sperm unite to create our unique DNA. And not knowing this history, even just the biological part of it, disadvantages children later in life who have no knowledge of their medical proclivities. As D.C. McAllister has noted here, children conceived through mechanical processes also feel a spiritual void, akin to that adopted children feel, from not knowing their family’s culture, its stories, and personalities.
So it’s at least a small measure of sanity to give people access to possibly life-saving information. But it also raises more questions. Would laws like this require tracking sperm donors their whole lives to fill out their medical history as it accumulates? People exhibit important parts of their medical histories usually later in life. Cancer might not show up when a sperm donor does his thing at age 25, but later in life, around age 50 or 65. His biological children would need to know that.
Which suggest that these men, and egg donors, are giving away a lot more than “spare” body emissions or parts. They are giving away themselves. And it’s an ongoing act. Certainly most don’t realize it. But their children do. It kinda makes one think perhaps the best way to father children is, you know, in a permanent relationship where you have committed yourself to being with them for the rest of your life.
And then, of course, there is the mechanical, Big Brother question embedded here. Who is going to ensure that these donors are tracked, for their kids’ good? Through what means? What would be the appropriate penalties for forgetting or deliberately ignoring one’s responsibility to provide his children with life-saving medical data?
2. Is Abortion Producing Another Set of Terrible Unintended Consequences?
Given how extremely regulated everything medical is, and our love of government intervention, it’s surprising that an industry so ethically questionable is expanding at such a clip with hardly a blip from regulators.
“It is unregulated because it touches on two, ‘third-rail’ issues,” Arthur Caplan, director of the division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s School of Medicine, told Stateline. “It touches on abortion and also the creation of embryos, which politicians run away from because too many people still disagree about the right to use reproductive technologies, particularly who should pay for them and how much.”
Look, people. We are talking about buying and selling human body parts, and buying, renting, and selling human bodies. Literally. Depending on the fertility treatment or avenue, unborn babies are created, frozen, and obliterated; women are paid to embed other people’s body products into their own to incubate it, with who knows what medical and emotional effects for these women (gestation and birth is an incredibly powerful bonding experience for a woman and her child); and both men and women are paid to eject natural body products of theirs.
Abortion is both practically and philosophically similar; it certainly commercialized sacred relationships such as those between man and woman and mother and child. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion business, has sold body parts from babies its providers have aborted. Abortion providers still sell the products of their operations to research organizations, both within and outside the United States. Even without the direct connection here of selling body parts, both industries commercialize human reproduction. Abortion providers earn money to scrape babies from their mothers’ wombs; fertility clinics earn money by scraping eggs from women’s wombs, fertilizing some, and implanting the “product.”
Some might say that doctors do all kinds of pulling and planting; but they tend to take out unnatural or harmful objects, while a child is the completely natural result of sex, and only in abnormal cases harmful. In fact, a pregnancy indicates things are working properly. Cancer, on the other hand, is never normal and routinely harmful. Its presence indicates something went wrong, not right. Similarly, doctors tend to implant parts, such as fake knees or screws, to fix existing parts that have gone bad. Even organ donation is an aberration that has many documented and significant risks. People only do it when the alternative is death or severe sickness, not because they dearly wanted an Asian kidney or their liver is getting a little frayed. If people implanted designer body parts or harvested organs from poor people for pay, we would rightly condemn their predatory behavior and mercenary vanity.
So by making the misuse of human reproduction an off-limits topic, abortion has clearly damaged our ability to discuss these matters. It’s a damn shame, because people are getting hurt, and it appears victimizing more is a financial growth opportunity for a good number of currently unshackled human traffickers.
Lastly: How freakin’ many “third-rail” issues are there? Last I heard, that phrase applied to Social Security. Now it apparently applies to abortion, contraception, producing humans like so many cars, the national budget, military bloat, entitlements, ending marriage, you name it. Isn’t that practically everything our government is involved in nowadays? How can anyone govern if they can’t discuss what they’re doing!
3. Why Is Self-Regulation Impossible for Education and the Internet, But Cool for Baby Factories?
Apparently, the fertility industry supports its current state of “professional self-regulation,” according to an industry lobbyist who spoke to Stateline. That, by the way, was also the abortion industry’s response to Gosnell—you know, the Philadelphia “doctor” who murdered born-alive children by cutting their spinal cords, kept baby body parts in jars about his office, and treated his “patients” to seats covered in other people’s blood. And there are really good reasons to introduce some regulation here, as Stateline reports:
Donor-conceived children also argue that donors should be subjected to better medical screenings. Generally, donors are only tested for sexually transmitted diseases. There are no laws requiring medical testing for genetic diseases or requiring that donors – usually in their 20s at the time of donation – update medical information as they age and inherited diseases may surface.
Sex seems to be the only issue liberals believe should be self-regulated, by which they mean unregulated, by the self or communities or religion or anything else. They have it backwards. Sex necessarily involves two, and perhaps three people (no, I don’t mean a threesome, I mean man, woman, and their potential child). Those engaging it must bear responsibility for this fact, and at the very least social norms should require this, for the good of the innocents at stake.
Besides, as Stella Morabito has been convincingly chronicling, progressives don’t really want unregulated sex. They want government-regulated sex, instead of privately regulated sex. They want to use tax dollars to experiment on poor women by keeping them infertile from the moment they hit puberty. They want government to define relationships, rather than individuals.
Anyway. The question remains. Why is “self-regulation” sane for an industry that literally produces human life but insane for industries that merely muck about with trivialities such as computers, raw milk, petroleum, and soda?
4. Do Children Have Any Rights?
Let’s be real. Artificial reproduction treats children like consumer goods. I know our society already does that to an extent, even to kids conceived the old-fashioned way, but at least that way the child results from a genuine, meaningful, and serious personal interaction with another human being. (I’m speaking in objective terms about the sex act that produces a child, not assuming that every act of procreative sex felt sublime for everyone involved. A child is a mystery, as is sex, and that remains transcendently true regardless of how one specific encounter felt at the time.)
The question no one wants to ask is the one Bobby Lopez emphasizes: What about the kids? What about their rights to the mother and father who came together to create them? What about their inborn need to belong to their own people, and to benefit from the unique contributions and commitment of their very own mother and father? Once they find out their houseparents essentially ordered them from a catalog, how do they feel, and is it right to inflict that potential psychological terror upon them?
And there are practical considerations, too, which intermingle with these existential crises.
Martin Garrison made donations to a sperm bank that was recruiting students at UCLA when he was a student there in the 1980s. He made $500 a month for making three donations a week… When he tried later to learn how many children he had fathered as a result of his donations, he kept getting different answers, ranging from one to 10 children…
Lisa Swanson, a lawyer, learned at age 30 that she was donor-conceived. When she tried to learn about her biological father, she ran into a dead-end with the clinic that arranged her conception.
‘They told me all the records had been destroyed,’ she said…’I know nothing about half of my genetic health information,’ she said. More should be required of the industry, she said. Physicians ‘are creating human beings but destroying our ability to know where we came from.’