Thank you so much for that generous introduction, and thank you all for coming out here this morning. It is really a pleasure to be here. This is my first time in Utah and my first time at BYU, so I have enjoyed the beautiful scenery which you probably all take for granted at this point. It really is a delight to have this gorgeous mountain background. I am talking this morning, as you know, about reproductive technologies and asking the question, “What, if anything, is wrong with them?” After all, these technologies really seem to be a great gift for the many couples who suffer from infertility, and more controversially, technologies like artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization have also made it possible for those in a same-sex relationship to have children of their own through the use of donor eggs and sperm and in some cases with a gestational surrogate. Over 5 million babies have been born, as of the latest statistics that we have, through in vitro fertilization since the first so-called test tube baby, Louise Brown, who was born in 1978. The use of the technique has become increasingly common over the past decade, but despite the fact that now these techniques have gained widespread societal acceptance, there are still a number of ethical problems with their use. We could talk about the moral difficulties with reproductive technologies from a number of angles, but here I want to focus primarily on the ways in which the technologies fail to respect the dignity and rights of the children who are conceived through them. Before we move on to a discussion of the ethical issues, let me just briefly go over some of the facts about how artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization work so that we know what it is that we are talking about.
So first, what is artificial insemination? It is an alternative to natural insemination, natural insemination being sexual intercourse, and it is not a very high tech thing. It involves the introduction of semen into the female’s cervix or ovary for the purposes of achieving a pregnancy. The semen are usually obtained by masturbation. You will find in these clinics rooms that they call masturbatoriums. They will have Playboy magazines and pornographic images and so on, and there are other ways to obtain the semen but that is usually the way that it is done. The sperm could be from the spouse or the partner or a donor could be used. The donor could be anonymous or could be a known donor, which is somebody that will allow themselves to be contacted or some information to be passed on to the child conceived once that child is of age. Again, this is not really a new or complicated technique. It could be done at home; it has been done for a very long time, but it has been medicalized and has been more widely accepted in recent decades. In vitro fertilization is, in fact, kind of a new technique. There are several stages in the process of in vitro fertilization. First, the woman has to come in and receive hormone stimulation treatment in order to get her ovaries to produce more eggs than usual. Usually the cycle only produces one egg per month, but they want to get multiple eggs to make it more possible to have a successful treatment. After that has happened, then the woman will come in for a relatively simple procedure where the eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, then they are placed in a petri dish, so each one of those little balls there that you see in the dish has an egg in it. They are kind of specially prepared culture, and then with the pipette you see there they are adding the sperm. So they are combined. They are adding a drop of concentrated sperm next to each of the six eggs that are in the dish. Sometimes the sperm are just placed next to the eggs, and that is what you see in the picture. Sometimes, usually in cases where this doesn’t work, they will actually select a specific sperm and inject it directly into the egg to make sure that fertilization occurs. Then, after the sperm have either been injected into the egg or placed next to the egg, they put the combined eggs and sperm into an incubator and leave it there for two to three days, hoping that fertilization will occur and monitoring the progress. In most clinics, now they can watch the progress, so they can see on the screen how each one is doing at this point. They are embryos, so they are going to monitor them to see which one seems to be the healthiest or which ones seem to be the healthiest. They may also (this is not always done), but they may also do a kind of early biopsy. So take one of the embryos at a very early stage and remove one cell in order to test the genetics of the embryo. They will test for certain diseases. You can also do sex selection through this process; you can select for or against certain traits that you want or don’t want in your future child. Lastly, the embryos that have been either selected on the basis of certain characteristics or just in general because they seem to be the healthiest with the most promise of surviving are then inserted into the uterus with the hope that they will implant and result in a successful pregnancy. So then what happens usually according to current practice, they insert no more than three (I think two is now the typical), and so what happens to the rest, since you tend to produce about six or so embryos per cycle? Well, the rest, if they are high-quality embryos, they can be frozen, so the couple could use them in the future to try to have children. Or they could be donated for research. Low-quality embryos that they don’t think will successfully result in a pregnancy can be discarded or also donated for research. The estimates are that we have several hundred thousand to up to a million—again it is hard to know because a lot of this is highly unregulated—so several hundred thousand to up to a million cryopreserved embryos, frozen embryos in the United States. Usually they are never used, and when they try to use them, only about 65% survive the process of thawing. The rate of live birth is much lower than for never frozen embryos. So here you just get a sense of the increased popularity on in vitro fertilization in recent years. Both because the techniques have become more successful, and it has become better known, better accepted. So I think we can imagine that it is only going to become more popular as cultural acceptance increases, efficiency increases, and costs perhaps slowly start to go down.
The bulk of the presentation is to look at the ethical problems with these technologies. I am going to talk mostly about the ethical problems from a child-centered perspective from two angles: One, the sense in which these technologies commodify procreation, make the having of children into the manufacturing of a product, basically treating children as products rather than as persons. Then secondly, in the case where a donor sperm or egg are used, the problem of separating children from one or both of their biological parents.
First, the commodification of procreation. We see that the fertility industry is now a multibillion dollar industry, and, as I said before, it is largely unregulated, and the prices and services are based on the laws of supply and demand. You will find, probably not on this campus, but in my undergrad years at Harvard, you would see in the Harvard Crimson, the daily newspaper, ads, “Hey, you want to make $10,000? Be an egg donor!” Why do they advertise at Harvard? They look for elite “donors”; people want to get a “good” child so they will advertise, and you will see advertisements with compensation of $100,000 for elitedonors.com. Certainly, they are looking for somebody who is, probably in most cases, blonde, blue eyes, 5’9, athletic build. They want a varsity athlete; they want somebody with perfect SAT scores; they want somebody at an Ivy League university, and they are willing to pay for that. Then sperm donors needed since sperm donation is much easier, less invasive than egg donation. It pays less; nonetheless, it is a pretty easy way to make a quick buck for a college student. That tends to be the way that it happens. So here you have an advertisement—this is much more than most people would make at Cambridge. They are probably trying to get Harvard donors. So again, it is supply and demand. They want to get good inputs for their product and they are willing to pay for it.
You also see people looking through—there was a really interesting New York Times article called, “Wanted: A Few Good Sperm.” You saw women featured in this article, and they would just look through profiles online trying to find the right donor. They were single women wanting to have a child, and they didn’t have a man in their lives so they said, “Let’s find the guy that would have the right traits for the child that I want.” They would look through these profiles and find the one and decide. So again, this follows the logic of manufacture and production. You are seeking a high-quality product and you are seeking to get what you ordered and only what you ordered. In terms of seeking a high-quality product, we already see you do this by selecting your inputs, good sperm donor, good egg donor, paying for more elite donors. You also do this by selecting the best embryos for transfer, again, as we already saw in looking at the way the process works, either just general selection based on monitoring the progress of the embryos during incubation or also, in some cases, the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to ensure the absence or presence of specific traits or diseases. There are actually some people who are deaf, who think that being deaf—well, they want to share this trait with their children, so they will select for children who have the gene for deafness on purpose in order to make sure that their children are the same in this regard.
It also follows the logic of manufacturing production in that those using IVF are seeking generally to get what they ordered and only what they ordered. This “only what they ordered” part comes in with what is euphemistically called selective reduction. When multiple pregnancy occurs, which is frequent because in order to insure or make more likely the success of the cycle, more than one embryo is implanted. The industry standards have kind of improved such that you don’t end up with five or six embryos being implanted at once. Usually it is just two or three. Even so, twinning is also more frequent because of the fertility of the embryos. So even if you only implanted two, you may end up with, with three or four because one or both might have then split off into identical twins.
When you end up with a multiple pregnancy, often what will be recommended is that a selective reduction be performed. In other words, one or more fetuses will be aborted to increase the chance that others will survive. Or simply because, which is usually the case when it is a reduction from two to one, it is just because the parents don’t want more than one or don’t think they can handle more than one. There was a story that I heard recently of a same-sex couple who decided they wanted to have children. One biologically related to each, so they got egg donor and gestational surrogate for each of them and they did the process in the typical way: two embryos were implanted for each, and it turned out that both of them took in both women. But they only wanted two children; they didn’t want four. So they told the women to get a selective reduction for both so they would just have one and one. Again, you get what you ordered. You get only what you ordered.
The logic of the market is what is at work here. The testimonies of donor conceived children do point to—they do express the fact that they are bothered by the way the logic of the market is involved. So you see here this person who writes on a very interesting website Anonymousus.org, which has testimonies from everybody involved in the donor conception process, not just the children but the parents, the donors—it is very revealing. This particular donor conceived child, now perhaps an adult, writes,
There is coldness surrounding my conception….I was carefully planned, my traits were picked out of a catalogue…. My mother never fails to remind me how much time and money she spent to bring me into the world, as most any mother wanted to some degree. She doesn’t know it, but I feel deeply indebted to her as though I owe it to her to live up to her expectations and vicarious whims because my life is not mine to lead as I please—she purchased it from the Build-a-Baby workshop.
So she feels like a product made for her mother, not as an end in herself. Even if money weren’t involved, even if you did it in such a way that there were no spare embryos, even if none of these issues—which are almost always in reality present—were not present, what about the ideal case? Even if you did in vitro fertilization with two committed spouses, the egg and sperm coming from husband and wife, and you did it in such a way that you only produced one or two embryos ,and you planted both and were willing to have as many children as resulted from that, what then? Is there still a problem with this? I am going to argue that still—though it is more difficult to see—there is an inherent treatment of the child as a product in the process, even when done in ideal circumstances.
Here the argument gets a little bit more complex philosophically, so bear with me and I will try to spell it out as clearly as I can. Two principles need to be kept in mind. One ethical and another descriptive principle in order to see what is going on here. The key ethical principle here is a principle of respect for persons. The principle basically is that it is wrong to treat a person as a mere means to one’s end. In other words, it is wrong to treat a person as if a person were a thing. It is wrong to use a person the way you use a product, just for your own ends with no concern for the actual good of that other person. This principle is articulated most famously in the work of Immanuel Kant, but it is widely shared, part of the broad, natural law tradition. It is really a version of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” which is one of the most basic and most widely accepted ethical maxims throughout time and history and culture.
The next principle that we need to keep in mind is meant to be a kind of descriptive principle, just about the way human beings act, a principle of human action. That is, that whatever we act, we always act to achieve some good or some end that we perceive to be an aspect of our fulfilment. Sometimes we can be wrong, but we are always seeking something that is good—and that is good in some way for ourselves, though the good of others may be included in that. So looking at this and thinking about it, you say, “Wait a minute, if every action that we perform is in some way aimed at our own good, in the actions that we perform that involve other people, are we not then always using the best means to our own ends?” Well, no. We avoid treating others as means to our own ends when the good that we pursue is one in which the others involved also share. When we are pursuing a common good. For example, you can see the difference between teaching and manipulating on these grounds. If I am teaching, then I am pursuing something which I think is good for me, the endeavor of knowledge, pursuit of knowledge, and sharing of knowledge, which is good for the one sharing it but also good if what I am teaching is true for the one listening to it, for the one receiving it. So there is a common good in which all of us here are engaged in pursuing and that is the common good of knowledge. That is a greater understanding of these important issues that we face in our society today.
We are participating in that good in slightly different ways. For me, here it is trying to explain some things and you trying to listen and perhaps hopefully learn something from what I am saying. Versus manipulating, if I were up here with an agenda that I was trying to manipulate you into doing something that I really didn’t think was true and good for you, but I just wanted you to vote for me in a political competition or to give money for my cause, even though I don’t think it would be a good thing for you too. That would be manipulation, and I would be pursuing my own good using you as a mere means to my own ends, ends in which you are not included. And that would be wrong. You would be mad if I were up here manipulating the truth and trying to get you to believe things that weren’t true or that I didn’t at least sincerely believe were true because that would be to treat you as an object and not to respect you as a person who has a right to know what is true.
My argument is that with in vitro fertilization, the couple, the people involved—even if they aren’t thinking of it this way, and I don’t think they usually are—they are essentially going to be thinking of the future child in a way that one thinks of a product rather than the way that one thinks about a person because the future child isn’t going to be sharing in the good that they are pursuing in that act. I think that it is helpful to contrast natural procreation with in vitro fertilization to see how this happens. The principle of human action, as I said, tells us that everything we do is always related to some good or some end that we perceived to be an aspect of our fulfillment. In natural procreation, what is the good or the end that the spouses are pursuing in marital, sexual intercourse? Well, the good that husband and wife directly pursue is the action and expression of their marital union. That marital union is a relationship that is uniquely comprehensive because it is union not just of mind and of heart but also of body, and this relationship (as a marital intercourse that distinctively seals, actualizes, and expresses that relationship), is a good, worthy of choice in itself, even if the spouses can’t have children and even if they know that. So the good that spouses are pursuing in marital, sexual intercourse is the common good of actualizing and expressing their marital union. If spouses are engaging in sexual intercourse with the right attitude, they won’t think that it was pointless or a waste of time if procreation doesn’t end up occurring. I think that if they did, the other spouse would feel used. Imagine after a romantic evening with your spouse where you had perhaps hoped to conceive, and then it looks like it didn’t work out and you say, “Gosh, that was a waste of a few hours. I really wish I would have done something else that night.” I would think the other person would feel pretty used, right? Am I just a vehicle for having children? I mean, that is the Henry VIII approach to marriage: “If my wife doesn’t produce children for me, well, I don’t care about her. It is just a vehicle for having children.” That is not respectful to the other spouse either. So in marital intercourse, the point is the marital union itself, even though children may be greatly desired as the fruit of that union.
How, then, does procreation fit in here? Procreation supervenes on sexual intercourse—but even when husband and wife hope that they will conceive, it is not the immediate object of their intercourse or the reason for its choice worthiness, since biology tells us that it involves factors outside our direct control. After intercourse happens, then a whole bunch of other factors have to be in play. It has to be the exact right time of the month after ovulation has occurred, a very narrow window in which a woman is fertile. And even then, intercourse may not occur because it is quite difficult. The sperm have to go through a lot of obstacles to be able to actually fertilize the egg. So you can hope for procreation to occur as a result of intercourse, but you can never make it happen. You can only do something else which you have good reason to do in order to actualize and express your marital love and then hope that this will supervene on it as a further gift and completion of that union. In ideal circumstances, the natural procreation of a child occurs as a gift that supervenes on the act by which the spouses actualize and express their complete and mutual self-giving to one another, a complete and mutual self-giving which also implicitly involves an openness to welcoming unconditionally whatever children that union may produce.
Now contrast that kind of attitude and approach to having children with procreation through in vitro fertilization. In in vitro fertilization, procreation is the direct and immediate object of the spouses’ and technicians’ actions. If none of the eggs are successfully fertilized in vitro, in fact, their actions will have failed to achieve their goal. They will rightfully say, “Well, what a waste of time and money and effort.” So the creation of a new human being is, in that case, the direct object of a series of actions and is the reason for which that series of actions is performed. Why does this matter? Again, recall the principle that we always act for some good end related to our fulfilment. In marital sexual intercourse, the good end for which the spouses act is the common good that they share of their marriage in which they both participate. Because they are acting for a common good in which they both participate, they are not using each other as means to their own ends, which would be a failure to respect each other as persons. But in IVF, the spouses want a child; they want a child for their own fulfilment, the fulfilment of their marriage, and perhaps also the good of the larger community—but the fulfilments that are sought there in the creation of a child are ones in which the child himself or herself actually does not participate. In other words, in creating a child through IVF, the spouses are creating a child as a means to their own ends, which a child does not share. And there is therefore no common good in which the child also participates.
Of course, you are probably thinking, “Wait a minute, how does the child not benefit from this? The child comes into existence.” Again, another philosophical technicality here, which is you have to exist in order to participate in a good, right? To exist is a prerequisite for being benefitted or being harmed. Technically speaking, to be brought into existence is neither a harm nor a benefit. Before you can be harmed or benefitted you have to already exist. So bringing a child into existence can’t be for the benefit of the child. It has to be for the benefit of people who already exist, namely, the spouses or the larger community. In this sense, the attitude toward the future child that is implicit in IVF is the attitude that is proper to things, to products that we make for our own use and benefit rather than the attitude that is proper to persons who should always be treated as ends in themselves and never as a mere means to our own ends. This attitude toward the child as a product—which I believe is inherent in IVF, even when done in the best circumstances—can be seen most clearly in the practices I have already described. Quality control over the embryos, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, selective reduction when you only wanted one child and you end up with two or three, the use of sperm and egg donors who are paid for their donation, and so on. Indeed, the whole fertility industry is premised on the idea that anyone who wants a child has a right to have one, as if children were products that existed for the purpose of adult fulfilment rather than persons whom no one owns and to whom no one has a right but to whom the parents have a serious responsibility to love and cherish and take care of to the best of their ability. As we already saw, adult children who have been conceived through reproductive technologies do in fact often express unease about the manner of their conception. Now, people will often object here if IVF involved treating a child as a product, what about adoption and when people adopt? Aren’t they seeking a child for their own fulfilment because they want a child? Well, the difference is that in adoption, the child already exists so it is possible to be acting for a common good in which the child also participates, namely, the common good of the relationship of the parents and the children. The child, of course, does very much benefit from being welcomed into and participating in that new family relationship. So there the child is not a mere means to the ends of the spouses, but is participating in that common good of family relationship with them. I will discuss some of the differences between reproductive technologies and adoption a little more in the next section when we talk about donor conception.
So here in donor conception where egg or sperm are used from somebody who is not one of the spouses or the parent who is planning to raise the child, I think there is a further ethical complication, which is that it alienates the child from one, perhaps more, of his or her biological parents. I will make the case that children have a right, an absolute right, to be loved by their biological parents, which implies a right to be raised by their biological parents when that is possible. Then show how donor conception violates that right. Now just to see the basic principle at play here, children’s right to be loved by their biological parents I think is just the flip side of the coin—corresponds to the obligation that biological parents have to love their children. By love here, I don’t mean necessarily a feeling or something fuzzy, nice, warm, oxytocin-induced emotional fulfilments, but what I mean is a commitment. I am speaking of love here as a high-level commitment to make the well-being of somebody else a priority to you and that expressed in deeds of care and concern for that person that are suitable to the kind of relationship that you have with them.
What is the basis of children’s absolute right to be loved by their biological parents, the flip side of which is biological parent’s obligation to love their biological children? Again, we need a couple of premises here to see why this is the case. The key ethical premise is that personal relationships in and of themselves give rise to special responsibilities to facilitate and promote the well-being of others. To have a responsibility for somebody else, I don’t have to necessarily agree to have a responsibility. It could be that it just happens. For instance, I have a responsibility for the well-being of my younger sister because she is my sister, just because she is my sister. Whether or not we get along, whether or not I wanted to have a younger sister, but just because. If—God forbid—my parents should die in a tragic car accident or something and she is still getting on her feet in life, I would really be the one next in line, I am the only other sibling to continue to help her on her way and replace to the extent that I can, what my parents are doing for her. That is just because of the kind of relationship that I have with her regardless of anything else. Separate from any voluntary commitment or choice that I might have made.
These obligations will vary, of course, in seriousness depending on the nature and the closeness of the relationship, and they will also vary depending on the importance on the kind of need and question of the person for whom one has a responsibility. So although you could say that either this applies in the sense to every other human being that we do have a general obligation to be a help and not a hindrance to the well-being of everyone, but we rightfully give priority and the use of our limited time, energy, and resources to helping those who are closest to us. This is in part I think because by their very nature, personal relationships create personal dependencies. In other words, in a personal relationship or to the extent that I have a personal relationship with somebody, there are going to be needs that only that person can only meet for me and vice versa.
For instance, when I want to talk about a sensitive, personal issue, I don’t want to talk to just anybody, but I want to talk to a trusted friend or parent or mentor who knows me well, who will understand the situation, who shares my values. People aren’t irreplaceable in that regard. If I show up for an advising meeting with a trusted counselor and they say, “Oh sorry, I couldn’t make it. I was with somebody else.” Well, that is just not the same. I might not want to talk to that other person. So when somebody has a need that I, because of my personal relationship with that person, am uniquely able to meet, then my obligation to meet that need is non-transferrable. Somebody else can’t take it over for me. I may have more serious competing obligations that would excuse me from fulfilling it, but it is still my obligation, and as such, it cannot be fulfilled by somebody else. For example, if a husband promises to take his wife out for a romantic dinner one evening, but then an unforeseen emergency arises at work and he has to stay late, he may be excused from fulfilling his obligation to his wife. He may not have done anything wrong, but it is not like you can just say, “Oh, but I will send my business partner over. He is done for the night. He will take you out for a nice dinner.” No. It doesn’t work. It is not a transferrable thing. He is irreplaceable in that meeting, in that relationship to his wife.
Love, understood as the commitment to the well-being of another, is inherently this kind of personal obligation. The love of any one person for me is not interchangeable with the love of any other person for me. If a husband, for instance, fails to love his wife as he should in accordance with their relationship, the wife will be hurt even if she is well loved by many other people, by other relatives, by other friends, by her children and so on. The specific love of that particular person matters to her, and when that is absent—even when the love of other people is there—there is a harm. I believe that we can apply the same kind of reasoning to the relationship between biological parents and their children to conclude that children have a particular need for the love of their biological parents.
The relationship between children and their biological parents is usually not merely biological. Usually it begins as biological and develops on to the emotional and volitional and affective planes and everything else, but even if that relationship is merely biological, as would be the case for a sperm or egg donor, that relationship is still a permanent and identity-constituting relationship. If the child had a different biological parent, he wouldn’t be the same person. He just wouldn’t exist. So there is a permanent, an identity-constituting link between biological parent and child. A link that the child will become aware of once he or she learns the basic biological facts of procreation, which will be important to him as he tries to understand his own identity. Because of this link, the child can miss the specific love and care of the absent biological parent, even when he is well loved by the parents who are raising him. This means that the love of biological parents is important and irreplaceable to children just as the love of the husband for the wife is important and irreplaceable to the wife.
Studies of adults who were donor conceived show that this intentional alienation from one of their biological parents results in real harms. One of the largest studies thus far conducted on donor conceived children published several years ago for the Institute for American Values with the title “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” found that donor conceived adults were on average more confused about their identity and more isolated from the families that are raising them than those raised by their biological parents or even than those raised by adoptive parents. Donor conceived adults see the absence of knowledge about their biological father (which is almost always the case in these instances) as an impediment to understanding their own identity fully. Nearly two-thirds of the study participants agreed with the statement, “My sperm donor is half of who I am.” And on objective outcomes like delinquency or substance abuse and so on, they again fared worse, significantly worse than their peers raised by their biological parents and also worse than their peers raised by adoptive parents, whereas biological parents were sort of the best situation and adoptive was in the middle and donor conceived was consistently the worst. Again, this echoes the conclusions of many studies that show that the gold standard for children’s well-being is to be raised by married, biological parents. You probably saw lots of those yesterday in Brad Wilcox’s presentation.
In many countries, in fact, the protests of donor conceived adults have led to legislation outlawing the use of anonymous donors. Countries like the UK, some Australian states, other places in Europe—so that at least children can have the ability to know something about their absent biological parent and perhaps to contact them after age 18. This I think is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem because even when donor information will be made available to children once they reach adulthood, this still doesn’t make up for the fact that they were conceived in such a way that they were intentionally denied the benefit of being loved and raised by one of their biological parents. This brings us to the similarities as well as crucial differences between donor conception and adoption. They are similar in that both create difficulties for children. They both are cases in which children are separated from a biological parent, and studies of adopted children show that this involves a risk of real psychological harm, usually coming from children’s interpretation of the situation as resulting from rejection or abandonment on the part of biological parents. Psychologist James Garbarino explains,
Children who are rejected by one or both of their parents are likely to attribute that rejection to something lacking in themselves. ‘What is wrong with me that my parents don’t want me?’ is their inevitable, often silent question. Adults who were adopted as young children often could not even ask this question without the aid of counseling.”i
However, unlike donor conception, in adoption, the separation from biological parents is not intentional or premeditated prior to the existence of the child. So placing a child for adoption is often not a sign of rejection or indifference or abandonment at all. In many cases, it is a painful choice for parents who love their child—and precisely because they love their child, they want him or her to have a life than the one that they can give. Studies show now that one of the benefits of open adoption and motive adoption, in which people can have some information and perhaps contact (at the right times), their biological parents—studies show that this is helpful for children because they can come to understand that their biological parents do love and care about them and that the decision to place them for adoption was made out of love and not out of rejection or indifference. Although in the case of adoption, pregnancy might have been the results of the parents’ irresponsibility, there was at least no premeditated plan to have a child in a way that would alienate him from one of his biological parents. So in adoption, the biological parent can still fulfill that absolute obligation to love a child. Usually, again, that would be fulfilled by raising the child, but in circumstances where they genuinely see that they are not in a position to raise the child, they can fulfill their obligation to love the child by giving the child better circumstances in life than they could provide. By contrast, in donor conception, this alienation from one of the biological parents is intentional, and the donor contributes to the procreation of the child precisely on condition that he will have no responsibilities for that child, given that it was completely premeditated and occurred prior to the action that would foreseeably give rise to the child. This failure of sperm or egg donors to love and care for their biological children is not the kind of action that can realistically be understood by the child as an act of love. As one anonymous donor conceived person put it, “With adoption, you are making the best of the raw deal that life dealt a child. With donor conception, you are creating that raw deal.” Thus, while adoption may be a praiseworthy choice to do the best one can in admittedly non-ideal circumstances, donor conception is not because it involves a premeditated choice to create non-ideal circumstances for a child and purposefully contribute to the procreation of a child without being willing to love or care for that child.
Lastly, just to sum up the main points here, in general I have argued that IVF is wrong because it treats children as products, as a means to others ends rather than as ends in themselves. I have also argued that donor conception specifically is wrong because it violates children’s right to be loved and raised, when possible, by their own biological parents. Although I have focused here on the ethical problems with reproductive technologies from a child centered perspective, it is also worth noting very briefly that donor conception is also very problematic because it damages marital unity. It does so in two ways. It is a violation of monogamy. Monogamy doesn’t just mean not having sex with anybody else; it also means not having children with anybody other than your spouse. And it introduces a fundamental inequality in the marital relationship with respect to the child. One, it is biologically related; the other is not. Typically and statistically it is born out—results in tensions that are harmful for the relationship between the spouses and also very harmful to the children, raising much higher incidences of abuse and so on. Finally, I think it is also worth noting that all of these conclusions about the importance for children of being raised by their married biological parents further reinforce the claim that of holding the conjugal definition of marriage and law, the definition of marriage as a comprehensive, sexually complementary union that would be fulfilled by procreation. Upholding that definition of marriage and law shapes culture and behavior in ways that help to foster the having and rearing of children within an intact biological family, which is, as we again see through this other angle of reproductive technologies, the only setting that ideally meets children’s developmental needs. Thank you.
i Garbarino, James. Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them. New York: Free Press, 1999.