Ever since the first baby was successfully born of in vitro fertilization in 1978, reproductive technologies have been hailed as a positive innovation designed to address the infertility issues plaguing modern society. What started as experimental solutions for couples who had difficulty conceiving naturally, however, has rapidly turned into a multibillion-dollar global industry that monetizes reproduction for all with little care for bioethics.
Donating eggs or sperm, becoming a surrogate, or serially creating embryos are all scientific marvels, but they take a gamble on the meaning and responsibilities of reproduction, deprive children of humanity, and infringe on natural rights. At a time when being child-free is praised, it is worth celebrating that men and women crave the joys of parenthood. What’s not celebratory are practices that deprive children of parents in very unhelpful ways.
As noted by Them Before Us founder and Federalist contributor Katy Faust on a recent episode of “The Federalist Radio Hour,” third-party reproduction sacrifices children’s rights and replaces them with the selfish ambition of adults. That driving ideology, Faust said, is present in both abortion, the “baby-taking industry,” and the “baby-making industry” that is big fertility.
“Both of them determine a child’s rights based on whether or not they are wanted. In abortion, if a child is unwanted, you can violate their right to life and force them out of existence. In big fertility, if a child is very wanted, you can violate their right to their mother and father and force them into existence. But in both of these places, the adults are determining whether or not a child is worthy of protection of their rights simply based on what adults want,” Faust said. “…Children are not commodities. They are not objects of rights. They are subjects of rights. Children have rights, and because they are the smallest and most vulnerable among us, they especially need special protection.”
In one recent dystopian example of this breach of natural rights, Israel started allowing families, often wannabe grandparents, of fallen soldiers to request sperm be posthumously extracted and used to create children. Oftentimes, Bloomberg reports, “Hundreds of women volunteer” to help conceive and carry the child “in a display of national solidarity and what seems to be a growing preference for a sperm donor who isn’t anonymous and whose family will be involved.”
The “bizarre trend” of “planned orphanhood” is ripe for bioethics criticism and surely wades into uncharted legal territory but is still largely supported by the nation’s legislative body, which voted in March to allow the practice to continue as long as soldiers agree to it before they enter the service.
Similar situations have already crept into the United States. In 2019, the parents of West Point Cadet Peter Zhu, who died in a skiing accident, petitioned a judge for permission to harvest their son’s sperm. The mourning parents overlooked criticisms that welcoming a child from a dead father is not ethical in favor of “preserving some piece of our child that might live on.”
Speaking of male gametes, approximately 30,000 to 60,000 children who were conceived with donated sperm are born every year in the U.S. A Harvard medical school study found that of the 143 sperm donor children who were surveyed, “62.2 percent felt the exchange of money for donor gametes was wrong.” An even higher number, 74 percent, said they “often or very often think about the nature of their conception.”
“Individuals experienced significant distress upon learning about the nature of their conception,” the study noted.
Whether children of sperm donors care how they were conceived, they can still run into a myriad of problems such as accidental inbreeding, especially if they are the product of a serial sperm donor.
Without regard for the harms that come with outsourcing reproduction, aspiring grandparents, celebrities, single women looking to fulfill motherly instincts without committing to a long-term relationship or marriage, gay couples, and anyone who wants to avoid the symptoms and bodily changes required of carrying a baby have essentially unfettered access to the buying and selling of pregnancy, as long as they can afford it.
Not only does the fertility industry support practices that sideline kids, but they also sustain practices that teeter on the edge of eugenics.
For example, one same-sex couple in California decided to sue an IVF clinic that wrongly implanted a female embryo in their surrogate, who later birthed a healthy baby girl. The men claimed in their lawsuit that they had always wanted a boy and explicitly notified the fertility center that “they wanted only male embryos transferred.”
Many fertility processes also rely on creating a multitude of embryos and then grading and discarding those that are not deemed suitable, even though those “low quality” embryos can yield successful pregnancies. Embryos that have met the subjective standards but are not wanted at the moment are frozen and stored — possibly to be used, as Bravo’s Andy Cohen, an unmarried gay man, recently suggested, decades later by family members including the embryo’s biological siblings.
“You know what I’m thinking — this is crazy — but if either of [my kids] cannot have kids, maybe in 20 years they’ll defrost their sibling and raise them. Is that a weird thought?” Cohen asked.
A “Today Show” article tried to reassure Cohen that “no — according to the National Embryo Donation Center, embryo donation (either for research purposes or to people who desire children) is an option for those who are finished having children.” The increasing push from corporate media and elites to normalize such an inherently odd and potentially morally objectionable practice is alarming.
While young men and women in America are committing to sterilization in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, others are selling their bodies and gametes to an industry with little regulation, oversight, regard for children’s rights, or understanding of the benefits of traditional marriage and family.
Reproductive technologies have been around for decades, but as their effects play out in society, ethical issues have already surfaced and will continue to do so. Just because science and technology mean we can do something doesn’t mean we should.