Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2009
Test tube children: Conceived without a voice
Mother of octuplets, 60-year-old mom compromise rights of children
Older adults may want a baby or babies, but shouldn't the needs of the child be considered?
BY LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Techno babies are grabbing the world’s headlines as people read about a woman birthing eight babies in California and a 60-year-old woman presenting her husband with twins at Calgary’s Foothills Hospital.
All these children came into being through in vitro fertilization.
While most of us are startled by the unique events, we switch back to whatever worry of the day is clouding our lives. But not Dr. Margaret Somerville.
The McGill bioethicist is a vigilant watchdog over fertility medical intervention.
In an interview she said, “The most vulnerable person who is present and the only person who doesn’t consent to what is going on is the child.
“I now think children’s human rights are the single biggest issue we should be concerned about in light of these new technologies and the possibilities that are being opened up.”
The professor is familiar with many women’s entitled retort, “It is my life. My body. My family. Keep out of it.”
Somerville swiftly responds, “We might be doing it to fulfill adult preferences and wishes and dreams. But there is a child at the end of this and what do we owe that child?”
SOCIETY IS COMPLICIT
For those who shrug and say it’s none of my concern, Somerville brings them up sharp with the fact, “The rest of us are complicit in this because they (women using IVF) have to use society’s resources to set up these situations.
“We have to say ‘Wait a minute. There are some things we don’t think are right. We have to be very careful about what we allow to proceed.’”
The government is also accountable.
“The state is involved. It is the state’s assistance through medical technology, research, use of our hospitals,” says Somerville, that these babies are conceived and then birthed.
Designer genes babies conceived through artificial insemination are already in the world and finally finding their voice.
“These young people are calling themselves donor-conceived adults,” says Somerville. “They say ‘How could society think that they ever had the right to do this to me, to create me from an anonymous man?’ And they are right. We shouldn’t have done that.
“And I think we have to learn from those people.”
Very often in IVF situations, the child is not the biological child of the people who are raising him, “like this women in Calgary — they are not her genetic children.”
So the child loses their genetic heritage when a mother who could never be a mother naturally intentionally allows a child to be brought into existence to satisfy her desires.
“We should not just look at individual cases,” says Somerville, “but look at what it means in the larger society especially in terms of our values and especially in terms of our interference in the most intimate of all relationships — biological parent to child.”
This test tube IVF genie also changes nature’s cycle allowing women intent on establishing a career to store their eggs so they can become pregnant later in life.
“It’s happening already,” says Somerville as she tells of hearing about women at the hospital where she works in Montreal storing ovarian tissue to use when they want to have babies at a later age.
“You can use those eggs at any time. We have to ask ourselves are we doing right or wrong in some of the things that are now possible.”
THE LOW ROAD
Paul Flaman, assistant professor at St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta, echoes Somerville’s concerns.
“Do we take the low road of reproductive freedom where we are catering to the wants of adults versus the high road of responsibility which is focusing on the best interests of the children?” asks Flaman.
”We tend to hear the adults speak and tend to sympathize with them but we can’t hear the voiceless, the children who can’t speak for themselves.”
He points out that neither of the cases in the news would normally happen in nature.
“Women usually only have one child at a time. . . . They certainly are not designed to have whole litters at a time.”
And of the woman giving birth at 60 he notes, “Canadian women reach menopause around 50.”
Flaman, who teaches bioethics, underlines that the Church is not against technology.
“We were created by God to have this capacity to create technology. When we use technology, are we respecting the wisdom of nature, the wisdom of God’s design and also relevant moral values?”
But Vatican teaching, says Flaman, is concerned with two main issues of human dignity surrounding IVF.
One is the possible destruction of an embryo when more embryos are created than are actually implanted in the woman. The second is the depersonalization that comes through creating life in a Petrie dish versus a child being conceived through conjugal love.
When a man and woman love each other and express their love physically, they are “opening themselves up to the gift of new human life,” says Flaman. “A child is a gift, not a right. Nobody has the right to a child.”
Flaman adds another perspective to the IVF debate. The professor says he believes it is “tragic when a child is not being raised by their natural father and mother.”
But when the biological parents are unable or unwilling to care for their son or daughter, then adoption is usually the best response.
An adoptive parent himself, Flaman says by using IVF, “people know in advance that the child they are creating is not going to be raised by their natural parent(s).
“They are creating a tragic situation that did not exist.”
Somerville echoes Flaman’s concern in a voice tinged with emotion as she says, “I don’t understand why people can’t understand why this is so important.
“You don’t have to be religious to think that there is something special about being human and that it needs to be preserved and certainly not damaged and destroyed.”