Shaping Progress, What Shape do you Want?

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on March 5, 2008

In 1908, 15,000 women gathered and marched through the streets of New York City. Their demands were radical at the time: shorter work hours, better pay and the right to vote. These were the early days of International Women’s Day (IWD). And change took time. But finally, in 1920, women were granted the right to vote. The 1940s brought women a 40 hour work week. And we are still experiencing progress towards equity of pay. The global theme for IWD 2008 is “Shaping Progress“. So, 100 years later, here we are at “CBC Central”, where we are all about “shaping progress” — that is, wholly human progress in the areas of biotechnology, science, medicine, law, public policy and ethics.

As I sit at my computer now, writing this piece, I am trying to turn my thoughts toward speaking before members of the U.S. Congress this Thursday March 6th . I was in Washington D.C. this same time last year for IWD 2007 with several of my colleagues, where we raised awareness of the dangers to young women undergoing egg harvesting and retrieval procedures. Then I returned this past November to continue speaking with our nation’s leaders about the serious issues facing women involved with reproductive technologies. Here we are again, gearing up for another IWD, and I am going back for yet another pass. This time around I am extending my hopes and going not only to educate members of Congress about these dangers, but with the call to enact policy changes that will encourage widespread positive effects on the entire egg donation scheme. And what a scheme it is! But things move slowly and change rarely seems to happen when and how we prefer. So I am adopting a healthy and hopeful realism — cautiously optimistic.

Since Louise Brown, the first test tube baby was born in 1978 (Note: Without hyperstimulation of her mother’s ovaries), the female body has been totally deconstructed. Wombs for rent, eggs for sale, artificial wombs, synthetic gametes, post-menopausal women having babies, and technology to literally transform sperm into eggs and eggs into sperm! Who is shaping this progress? Who does this progress effect? And if this is progress, what kind of progress is it? Where does it take humanity? How can we put the female body back together again? And reconnect our sexuality with procreation in order to retain human dignity and a proper purpose of our bodies. Deep questions which are hard to answer in a side bite world. But since baby steps move us slowly, and hopefully in the direction of a truly good for all of humanity, here are some of my suggestions I plan to offer this week.

  • Invest in better understanding of fertility and infertility and how to treat it
  • Practice minimal stimulation – natural cycle IVF
  • No surplus embryos
  • Single embryo implantation
  • Stop sex selection and eugenic pre-genetic screening practices
  • De-emphasize money – it negatively drives the agenda
  • Encourage traditional adoption and foster parenting

Here’s to “shaping progress” – that is, for a wholly human future!

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