Begotten, Not Made

The Dangers of Reproductive Technology

In the region where I live and teach on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the economy centers on a thriving poultry industry. On a number of occasions, when my boys were young, I would trot off with them on a school field trip to admire the wonders of the modern chicken industry. Those experiences in hatcheries and chicken houses came back to me as I was trying to sort through the meaning of some of the newfangled ways humans have devised for their own reproduction—everything from sperm banks to cloning.

As a bioethics teacher, I was familiar with these techniques but felt uneasy and dissatisfied when talking about issues like consent and confidentiality, benefits and costs, ownership and adoption. For what is at stake in the discussion is a great deal more than who owns a frozen embryo when couples divorce, or who will take responsibility for mistakes in human cloning. Far more troubling is the way these new technologies are altering the landscape of human begetting and human self-understanding.

To help get at this unease, more metaphysical than ethical, let’s go back to those field trips. What is clear from a cursory look at the poultry industry is that the whole operation is focused on one goal: producing a standardized chicken for the plates of the American consumer. We expect that the Perdue or Holly Farms chicken we buy will be just like the last one and the one before that. To...

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About the Author

Francis Kane is professor emeritus at Salisbury University and co-director of its Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. He is the author of Neither Beasts nor Gods (Southern Methodist University Press).