Better than Nature?

Contested Reproduction
Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate
John H. Evans
University of Chicago Press, $45, 264 pp.

Of all the medical technologies that have come along in the past fifty years or so, few have seemed more provocative than advances in genetic technologies. For some they are exciting; for others, abhorrent. Other advances—for instance, ICUs, organ transplantation, and kidney dialysis—are designed to achieve the traditional medical goals of producing or maintaining good health. The new reproductive genetic technologies (RGTs), by contrast, aim to enhance human life, to do better than nature or traditional medicine does. As John H. Evans writes in Contested Reproduction, RGTs aim to “allow parents to influence the genetic qualities of their offspring more precisely than through ‘normal’ fertilization by a sperm and an egg after sex.” The techniques include preimplantation genetic diagnosis of embryos, human genetic engineering, reproductive cloning, sperm sorting for sex selection, amniocentesis, and in vitro fertilization (IVF), among others.

Abortion is not a genetic technology, but many, maybe most, of those opposed to abortion are no less opposed to RGTs, though often for different reasons and with various degrees of intensity. Indeed, Evans discerns an effort on the part of some prolife groups to move deliberately beyond abortion and expand their project to include opposition to RGTs. Generally speaking, those on the secular—or very liberal religious—side are ethically libertarian and so have few problems accepting abortion or most RGTs (though some of...

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About the Author

Daniel Callahan, a former Commonweal editor, is president emeritus of the Hastings Center and the author of What Price Better Health: Hazards of the Research Imperative.