This Week in Bioethics

by Matthew Eppinette, CBC Executive Director on June 24, 2016

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1.  Can You Imagine That Anonymous Sperm and Egg “Donation” are a Problem?

CBS’s Sunday Morning program this week ran an item on “The Flourishing Business of Building Family Trees,” highlighting widespread interest in genealogy and the businesses that are helping people in their searches. The report is bookended by the moving story of 55 year-old Kevin, a man who is “only now finding out who he really is.” He grew up “with no real family history” and was “basically a stranger to himself,” the reporter’s voiceover tells us. Kevin asks, “Can you imagine growing up knowing nothing about your health, your family?” You see, Kevin was adopted as an infant, and thereby cut off from the kinds of information many take for granted about themselves. Notably absent in the report is any mention of donor conception, which has exactly the same result, the same effects, sometimes shrouded in secrets and lies. Why isn’t donor conception even mentioned? Read on . . .

2. Celebrities, IVF, Surrogacy, and Who Knows What Else

12 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About IVF And Surrogacy” perhaps provides one reason why there’s virtually no discussion in the media about the ways in which people who are donor-conceived are cut off from knowing the answers to basic questions about their origins, their lives, and their identities. While, as the title indicates, the article discusses IVF and surrogacy, it does not mention donor conception, although we know from other reports that celebrities (and many others) routinely make use of anonymous sperm and egg donation. In some cases, celebrities even make use of anonymous surrogates — women who do not know who they are carrying a child for. Somehow this aspect of celebrity culture is not only immune from criticism, it is held up as something to be celebrated. Pay close attention to the magazine covers when you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket. Neither celebration nor silence make it right, though.

3. Now is the Time to Ponder the Morals

Last week I mentioned the doctor in China who is proposing full body transplants. A neurobiologist this week looks at that proposal and other research being conducted on reviving trauma patients, suspended animation, and neuroscience, and points us back 200 years to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

One has to wonder, “What might actual death experiences do?” Furthermore, what might the possibility of invincibility do to each of us, or to all of us as a society? How might we behave if there is no risk of dying? By attempting to redefine death, we will change what it means to be alive, what it means to be human, and what it means to be ourselves. Maybe most of those changes will be for the better, but some may also be for the worse.

One thing is certain, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” has inspired these questions for two centuries and there’s never been a more essential time to ponder them than right now.

 Never a more essential time to ponder the moral questions. I could not agree more.

4. The Chilling Future of Human Reproduction

Four years ago, Jennifer highlighted Stanford law professor Hank Greely’s assertion that within the next fifty years the majority of babies in developed countries will be made in the lab because no one will want to leave their children’s lives to nature’s chance. In a recent NPR interview in support of his new book, The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, Greely expanded on this assertion.

I think we will see an increased and broad use of embryo selection. I would be careful to set the time frame at 20-40 years. I think we’ll actually see a world where most babies born to people with good health coverage will be conceived in the lab. People will make about a hundred embryos, each will have its whole genome tested, and the parents will be [asked … “Tell] us what you want to know and then tell us what embryo you want.”

This is absolutely chilling, particularly in terms of routinization and scale. The other side of selecting, of course, is discarding. Human beings should never, ever be selected or discarded based on the traits or characteristics they possess or lack. Never. Human beings are to be received as gifts, not mass manufactured as products. Human beings are to be begotten, not made.

5. Anonymous Father’s Day FREE for only a Few More Days

We are very thankful that we have been able to make our Anonymous Father’s Day available for free on YouTube this month. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, do so ASAP. And please spread the word to your networks so that as many people as possible can have the opportunity to see this important film.

This Week in Bioethics Archive

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