This Week in Bioethics #113

by Matthew Eppinette, Director of Programs on May 25, 2018

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1. Nightmare Surrogacy Experience

Toni, a surrogate mother from Iowa, says of her experience: “It’s been a nightmare. It has almost destroyed my family.”

Toni first reached out to us about this time last year. This week, she and Jennifer recorded an interview discussing her experience, why she reached out to us, and what she want others to know about the practice of surrogacy. It’s yet another picture of how terribly wrong surrogacy can go.

Please have a watch and then please share it far and wide. Thanks in advance!

2. Big Fertility, Big Money

A mommy blogger over on the site Romper writes that she has no college fund for her two year old daughter because she and her husband “have found ourselves in debt from IVF [and ‘donor’ eggs], so we can’t afford to contribute to a college savings account.” They are not alone in this. Reports are that about 70% of people are left in debt by IVF.

We know, of course, that infertility is a multi-billion dollar per year business, which we are calling #BigFertility. All this money raises significant issues regarding the commodification of human life and human bodies, as well as the shift I’ve mentioned so many times before from begetting children to making children. There is so much wisdom available on these topics if we would only listen (e.g., Meilaender’s Bioethics,  Kass’ Toward a More Natural Science, O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made, and more).   

3. The Impact of Origins

Our friends over on our Anonymous Father’s Day facebook page brought to our attention yet another example of what happens when adult desires triumph over the needs of children — it is the children who deal with the fallout.

In an interview broadcast on Australian TV and reported in the Daily Mail, several children born through sperm donation talked about what their origins mean for their lives. Among them,  Caitlin, 10, said Father’s Day was especially hard for her describing it as ‘sad’. India, 14, met her biological father at age five but her dad didn’t keep in touch, which makes her “not very happy.”

No doubt, they are speaking for thousands of others.

4. Luxury Brand Children  

A couple named their children born through surrogacy Audi and Mercedes because they “had to spend a huge amount of money on them.” Meanwhile the surrogate mothers in India were paid ₹15,000 a month, which is about $220 / €185 / £165. Per month. #FollowTheMoney. #SpoilerAlert: lawyers, brokers, agencies, and clinics aren’t working for $220 a month.

Let me be clear: the point here isn’t that surrogate mothers should be paid more. Surrogacy is the exploitation of a woman’s reproductive capabilities, full stop. Situations like this double down on exploitation by taking advantage of the poverty of others.

And equating your children with luxury brand items puts the commodification of children — the idea that they are products to be built to our liking — on full display.

5. Fertility Rebel

The Washington Post profiles Dr. John Zhang, the physician responsible for the first “three-parent baby.”

For some, the “three-parent baby” was a joyous miracle of 21st-century medicine. In a feature about 10 people who matter in science, the journal Nature dubbed Zhang a “fertility rebel.” For others—including U.S. regulators—the baby’s birth marked an unnerving step down the slippery slope of tinkering with human life in ways that are not fully understood.

It is mostly a rather glowing profile of Dr. Zhang, although it does raise questions from ethicists regarding how quickly he moves from idea to experiment to marketing and sales. This is indeed worrying.

He is very much caught up in the idea that more biotechnology will solve all of our problems, and any new problems those biotechnologies create are part of the development process and will be solved with still more biotechnology. He makes a number of unequal comparisons and he relies heavily on patient desire in trying to justify his work.

The truth is, he’s toying with human lives while simply turning a blind eye toward the larger philosophical and ethical implications of his work.

Lagniappe

In March, Jennifer recorded an interview with another surrogate mother named Britni. Her story is an important account of how, even when everyone goes in with only the best of intentions, things can still go painfully, painfully wrong. Please watch and share this as well!

This Week in Bioethics Archive

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