Another Assault on Human Dignity

Source: The American Conservative

For 49 years, the pro-life movement in the United States has fought to defend unborn children from the brutal assault of abortion. The clearly demarcated objective was the recently achieved overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Those efforts to uphold the dignity of the unborn won a great victory this summer, but the wanton destruction of children (which continues in many states throughout the nation) is only one side of the pernicious culture of death that hides behind the mask of respectability called Reproductive Rights. Less obviously violent, but still an abhorrent affront to the dignity of these little ones, is the cornucopia of assisted reproductive technologies that have drastically risen in use over the past several decades.

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The pro-life movement as a whole frequently overlooks these technologies (including IVF, artificial insemination, and surrogacy) in their defense of the unborn, in large part because the various religious sects that comprise many of the pro-life community’s largest factions are themselves divided on these issues. But in ignoring the blatant assaults on unborn children’s dignity inherent in assisted reproductive technologies, pro-lifers vastly undermine their own credibility. While abortion deems a child to be subhuman, an item to be destroyed as inconvenient, assisted reproductive technology procedures, while ostensibly oriented around the desire for a new life, rely on the premise that we have a right to a child. In short, such procedures distort the natural wish to have a baby and render that child a commodity.

Admittedly, abortion is an easier target for a pro-life activist. Abortion kills an existing child and arguing against murder is not difficult. Even the supposed gray areas of abortion are really only attempts to obfuscate what is at heart a simple matter: It is always evil to intentionally end an innocent life. Assisted reproductive technologies on the other hand, seek to create, and no one relishes taking the moral position that tells a heartbroken couple suffering from infertility they do not get to conceive a child.

Pro-lifers can provide resources for pregnant women, pointing them to myriad centers with tangible support on offer. Infertility has no easy fixes. Natural procreative technology is not always successful. Adoption, often suggested as a simple solution, does not heal the wound of infertility, nor is it a financially feasible option for many couples. Additionally, there is the difficulty for activists of fleshing out the nuance here: while artificial reproductive technologies are against human dignity, the children born from such procedures are absolutely equal in dignity and value as their naturally conceived brethren. Of course, the pro-life movement has decades of experience proclaiming that circumstances of conception do not determine a person’s value, so this is not an insurmountable challenge.

The difficulties in condemning assisted reproductive technologies, however, must not justify the avowedly pro-life remaining silent. The abuses against human dignity embedded within the artificial reproduction industry are manifold. Many procedures actually involve the direct destruction of human life, as is often true in the case of IVF, when the embryos not selected for implantation are destroyed. If they are not destroyed outright, they are frozen indefinitely until they might be used. But the very act of thawing frozen embryos often kills them. Selective reduction is also used when an unexpected number of embryos implant and survive, since in IVF procedures, it is common to use many embryos in a single implantation in the hopes that at least one will survive. Arguably these deaths can be categorized as collateral damage, not intentional killings, but the fact remains that these lives are being treated as disposable from the very outset. They are each babies who are sacrificed so that at least one of their siblings may live to fulfill adults’ desire.

I can speak only with the deepest sympathy—not empathy—to those couples who truly desire a child and are unable to naturally conceive one. While many of those I know and love have had to suffer through recurrent losses and infertility (primary and secondary), those are crosses that I have not yet been asked to bear. But no personal experience on mine or anyone else’s part alters the truth that even if an artificial reproductive technology procedure does not result in the death of a single embryo, it is still not morally coherent with a vision of human dignity that upholds the inestimable value and innate sanctity of every single life.

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Artificial reproductive technology cannot escape its foundational premise that children are something we are owed. This premise flips every pro-life argument on its head. No human being endowed with inviolate dignity can be owed to another. I am unfathomably grateful for my husband, but I certainly had no right to have him. My children do not exist to complete my life or fulfill mine and my husband’s familial dreams. In the distorted worldview upon which artificial reproductive technology relies, children become things to attain, desires to be fulfilled instead of the undeserved gifts they are.

Once we have accepted that we have a right to a child, the proverbial floodgates are opened. There no longer exist any coherent qualifying criteria for who may procure a baby, and what methods they may use to create said little one. Thus we now have the creation of designer babies—after all, if I have a right to a baby, I certainly have a right to a genetically superior one. And more recently we have seen the rise of same-sex couples (and throuples, etc.) using surrogates and sperm donors to complete their own desired family, or single women determined to have a baby and pursuing artificial insemination rather than waiting for the right guy.

In these latter scenarios, the needs of the child are willfully ignored in order to satisfy the wishes of the parents. Same-sex couples knowingly deny their children either a mother or a father, despite ample evidence that children fare best when raised in the homes of their (married) father and mother. Meanwhile the career-focused woman, who realizes late in her childbearing years that she does indeed want to have a baby, man or no man, robs her child of a father, relegating the role to the anonymous sperm donor she selects. Actress Mindy Kaling, herself a single-by-choice mother of two children, recently gave an interview in which she not only defended her choice to have children by herself, but indeed encouraged young women to freeze their eggs in order to make this choice at the most convenient time for themselves (ignoring the health risks of egg harvesting).

Kaling, also an outspoken advocate of abortion rights, no doubt loves her children beyond measure now that they exist, but her words reveal that she views the creation of children entirely through the lens of their parents’ needs and wants. She does not believe a child is to be conceived and carried for their own sake. Rather, they are the final achievement to decorate your list of professional and personal accomplishments.

Advocating for egg freezing in order to pursue artificial insemination down the line is arguably an extreme position among those who support artificial reproductive technologies, but it is not a shocking one. Most pro-life individuals and organizations would clearly not endorse Kaling’s callous treatment of life’s creation. However, in choosing not to stand against such procedures, they are indeed tacitly approving the very strain of logic that leads to children being viewed as accessories.

If we really mean what we say in the pro-life movement – that children are unique, irreplaceable lives that we do not have the right to destroy – then we must also mean they are not commodities to be created at our convenience.