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Designer babies

Thanks to Michael Sean Winters for drawing attention to Melinda Hennebergers essay in The Washington Post on the search for the perfect baby. Talk about your cultural gulf!

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I can't imagine why anyone, male or female, would sell eggs/sperm. That package of genes, with the same deeeep history as her/his real parents, will be locked in a human cage with another package of genes whom s/he did not choose and maybe would not choose if there were not another wo/man on the planet.Horrible.

To appreciate children as gifts, he writes, is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of our ambition.Our culture is so all over the board on kids. On one hand we're telling them they're unique, special, free to be who they want to be. On the other hand, we're genetically engineering them to be who we want them to be. WARNING: PERSONAL ANECDOTE FOLLOWS. I was surprised by pregnancy and often felt I had a very low mothering quotient. But in some ways, those things worked for my kid. I had no expectations, no predetermined plans or dreams other than to ensure that he knew about the family tendency to alcohol, depression, and compulsive gambling and to stay the hell away from them. Yesterday, we spent the afternoon shopping in thrift stores, talking about his future, picking up summer job applications, discussing klezmer music, and exploring the origins of human consciousness. I could not possibly have engineered such an afternoon ... and I wonder if I would have been as open to its unexpected blessings had I pre-selected my kid's traits and expected a specific "payout."

Jean makes a very good point about expectations and "payout." After coughing up $20K or more for top-of-the-line eggs, what happens if the expected super-child is, well, just average on the scale of expectations most important to the parents? Sue the donor for inflating her ACT/SAT scores? Blame the sperm contributor (Dad or someone even more perfect?) for bringing second-rate chromosomal material to what was expected to be the premier fertilization event of the year? And what about that failure of a child who didn't master the violin in nursery school and who wasn't trilingual by kindergarten? Parents willing to pay a lot of money for what they as consumers expect to be genetically-engineeered perfect children will almost invariably be in for letdowns, and it is the child who may face the brunt of their buyers' remorse.

Consider what we have done with other species. Humans have been selectively breeding animals and plants for a very long time to enhance traits that we like: prettier, brighter flowers; juicier fruit; more milk or beef from cattle; faster horses. The list is long.But when we get the traits that we want, we have often reduced overall fitness in the altered species, so that our bred varieties can only thrive under our continued care. They can no longer compete successfully in the wild against the unaltered ones. We should think carefully about that.

And our tomatoes look better but have no flavor and our roses are prettier but have no scent.

It's funny how, at the same time as differences in sexual orientations are increasingly tolerated, other differences have become unacceptable. A friend whose echography during pregnancy revealed a possible defect refused to have further tests - she knew she was going to keep the fetus anyway. She had to endure sermons from very unhappy doctors and nurses: bringing to term a child with a severe genetic problem was not a service to the child, who would suffer, and would be hard on the parents, but also on the siblings ("Think of the siblings! What your foolish decision will put them through!"), and expensive for society; it was irresponsible on her part. At birth, the child turned out to be normal after all; the echography was a false alarm.

The lists of attributes drawn up by the would-be parents call to mind the descriptions and requirements for potential mates on dating web sites. Yet such web sites are considered by the Catholic church to be kosher, I believe, as long as the usual rules on sex are observed.Personally, I find both kinds of lists disturbing, in a similar way.

Claire, it would be interesting to see a study done on how women/parents are treated when they are told they have a baby with a birth defect. The doctors found "something" when they did my mega-ultrasound and amnio, and a) the medical staff were extremely cautious in jumping to a conclusion about the status of the baby and b) were very careful not to push either way. Every effort was made to reassure us that if there was a problem and we wished to go through with the birth, they would put us in a support group ASAP. I sense that those with handicaps have made strides in acceptance in the last 60 years, but not with all individuals. Neither have homosexuals.

Thanks, Fr. Komonchak, for posting this. This issue can and ought to force a public debate about the place of individual choice in a democratic society. The arguments will be hard and complicated, but I do think that it's very important ofr those of us who are repelled by this kind of engineering to work hard to develop the underlying grounds for opposing it. Repugnance alone won't do. Traditional Catholic natural law thought might be of some help, but if it is to be so, it needs to be translated into a context that is not antecedently prepared to consider it. I doubt that I myself can contribute much to the effort needed here, but I do look forward to seeing others, who are better prepared, take up this issue. Intellectually, when compared with issues like abortion, is so much more intricate, especially given the present cultural climate that says " If I want x AND YOU CAN'T SHOW that my getting x harms you, then you have no business interfering with my effort to obtain x." The task will be to refute this prevailing assumption.

Let he or she who is without fertility problems cast the first stone. The vast majority of egg donation agencies and programs adhere to ASRM guidelines which limit donor compensation to $10,000. This sum isn't for the donor's eggs; it is for her time and effort, and she receives it at retrieval no matter what the outcome. Most parents looking for a donor with a list of specific traits share those traits themselves; most end up selecting a donor who share some but not all of their list of desired characteristics. If you get access to a donor agency site you'll see women of all colors, ethnic backgrounds, interests, professions, education levels, and body types; generally all that's required is that a donor be within a certain age range, healthy, a nonsmoker, and have a fairly normal BMI (because BMI affects fertility). Would-be parents don't choose egg donation because they are looking to create a super-baby -- trust me, a woman does not go this route unless she has already been through hell trying to achieve a pregnancy with her own eggs. The Ivy League ads are crass but I guarantee you that the mother in question would have given 10x times that amount to be able to have her own genetic child. Make what judgments you will, but don't take the worst of the advertisements as a reason to condemn egg donation altogether, and make sure you know what it's really about before attacking a straw man.

Amanda, I can't speak for the others, but what I am "condemning" (or rather, disliking) here is not egg donation but the act of making a laundry list of requirements. I don't know enough about egg donation to make a judgment on that.

Amanda, I do not have personal experience about this matter. It is easy, though, for me to believe that infertility problems are severe. It doesn't follow, though, that egg/sperm donation programs are warranted. To get into the business of determining acceptable or unacceptable traits needs more of a justification than the fact that it is terribly painful not to be able to conceive.

Gerelyn --Adoptive parents ARE real parents.

Adoption, imho, would be the preferred solution for men and women unable to have children of their own. Buying eggs and sperm is horrible. Trying to whitewash it with euphemisms like "donation" is . . . dishonest. (Strange how those who oppose abortion approve of the sale of of sperm and eggs.)

If I want x AND YOU CANT SHOW that my getting x harms you, then you have no business interfering with my effort to obtain x. The task will be to refute this prevailing assumption.Bernard D.,It may be easier to deal with particular cases than to refute that assumption entirely, because not only has it become deeply rooted, at least in Western culture, but it is also a pretty good assumption, or perhaps principle. People who desire to restrict or overturn other people's freedom should be put to the trouble of showing what the harm is that they are warding off. "Because we say so" isn't as persuasive as it used to be.

"To get into the business of determining acceptable or unacceptable traits needs more of a justification than the fact that it is terribly painful not to be able to conceive." Why don't we tell all young married people that it would be better for them to adopt than to try to conceive naturally, because if they don't adopt (and adopt without specifying any traits, I'll add) they are clearly selecting acceptable or unacceptable characteristics and are therefore immoral and consumerist in their approach to childbearing? We don't fault fertile people for wanting children like themselves -- but apparently it's okay to judge those who aren't quite as fortunate as selfish and mercenary.I am on the road to egg donation because my eggs have something wrong with them that the doctors can't fix or explain. My husband has no issues, however. We've chosen this route because I want to give my husband the chance to have a genetic child, and I want to bear his child because I'm crazy about him and would love to have children who are like him. The donor will resemble me in some (but certainly not all) respects -- we care about "traits" because, although the child will be told the story of her origins, we don't think it needs to be obvious to the world that she is not genetically 100% ours. (With judgmental comments like those here, can you really blame us?) We found her through an agency that pays all donors the same no matter what they look like and what "traits" they have, and the donor herself is a med student who knows full well the implications of what she's doing. There are good reasons to oppose egg donation in some circumstances. IVF is often done in a way that isn't as respectful of life as it ought to be. (We're doing our best to mitigate the issues with IVF -- if our donor produces a lot of eggs we will limit the number that are fertilized, and any embryos that aren't transferred to me will be adopted out to other couples. Yes, I am fully aware of the church's current position on IVF.) But faulting parents for wanting children who are somewhat like them? Really? Thank the good Lord that you've never walked in my shoes, because maybe you wouldn't be quite so categorical if you were faced with my choices. And if you haven't yet adopted a Congolese orphan either, consider whether maybe you're not at least as selfish as I am. P.S. For what it's worth, there is a not terrible chance we'll end up adopting some Congolese orphans, too. Unfortunately adoption, foreign or domestic, is harder than most people think these days.

Amanda,Good luck, and God bless you all.

This isn't something that will be discussed intelligently prior to coming to rationale and humane solutions. Societies of human beings don't operate that way. Never have and never will. We'll stumble and shout our way into provisional solutions that will come to seem perfectly natural though imperfect enough to require more stumbling and shouting. It seems reasonable to predict that we're heading ever deeper into the world of eugenic medicine that we've become familiar with and that almost all of us find perfectly congenial. In secular societies, physical perfection is always the highest goal.

If I want x AND YOU CANT SHOW that my getting x harms you, then you have no business interfering with my effort to obtain x. The task will be to refute this prevailing assumption.

Anything can be refuted - that's not the problem. The fatal problem is that in modern secular democracies you need to convince the masses that there's anything better than pleasure. A nonstandard child is no fun. In modern secular non-democracies, you've only got to convince the maximum leaders. Pray for an end to democracies and for the conversion of all autocrats.

David, do your nurses know that you've gotten online?

" . . . any embryos that arent transferred to me will be adopted out to other couples."--- So your husband (if the tale you're telling is true) is willing to have several children out there somewhere, with his "traits", being raised by strangers, just so he and you get to be parents of the pick of the litter?I pity all the victims of this horrible scheme.

Gerelyn: Why do you think I'd be taking the time to come on here and tell an untrue tale about my experiences with this? Anyway, no need for pity. Not for the donor, who has lovely children of her own and has donated on several prior occasions; not for my husband, who gets to have a genetic child, which, again, we don't fault most people for wanting; not me, who will be the loving and blessed bio mother of the child. I've heard the word eugenics thrown around here a bit, which puzzles me; I (and the other women I know who have done and are doing this) are generally hoping for a donor who is like them, not some genetic ideal who is unlike them. You hear about lists of traits because egg donation is usually an anonymous process, so that's really all the potential parent knows. If a medium height Italian brunette who is college educated and good at music finds a donor with the same qualities, I'm really not sure that has much to do with eugenics. And I'm not sure making the selection entirely random would be a moral improvement. (By the way, I'm told that the trait-seeking newspaper ads posted by parents are notoriously ineffective and not how donors and parents are connected in 99% of cases.)My husband and I are hoping to use all the embryos we create, and new technology will facilitate this -- you can now freeze eggs quite reliably pre-fertilization so fewer embryos can be created at a time. But if we cannot, embryo donation is the best alternative. There are huge waiting lists of infertile couples who want to adopt donor embryos. Anyway, I've posted here because I'm a Commonweal subscriber and supporter and I think a lot of people have a poor understanding of egg donation and lots of other things related to assisted reproductive technologies. I'm under no illusion that I'm going to change people's minds, but particularly if you are in a pastoral role, you should probably make the attempt to know what these things are really about, even if the Church currently disapproves of (some of) them. Because, whether or not you realize it, you are baptizing our children, and we are sitting them in your pews, and letting you give them instruction, at least until you say something so ham-handedly stupid and false to them about their origins that we can't possibly remain, even though we've remained through everything else. (You baptize them -- unless you're one of those priests who now asks people with twins if the children were conceived with IVF and refuses them baptism on that basis -- yes, I've heard from people this has happened to. I'm hoping our new Papa would have as harsh words for those priests as he did for those in Argentina who refused to baptize the children of single mothers.)

I KNEW it wouldn't work. Trying again:Hi, Amanda: I'll put your words in italics and mine will be plain. Gerelyn: Why do you think Id be taking the time to come on here and tell an untrue tale about my experiences with this?Because many many many people go on message boards to spin yarns. Get sympathy. Relieve loneliness. Guys in their parents' basements hunched over computers telling lies. Etc., etc., etc. Anyway, no need for pity. Not for the donor, who has lovely children of her own and has donated on several prior occasions; not for my husband, who gets to have a genetic child, which, again, we dont fault most people for wanting; not me, who will be the loving and blessed bio mother of the child.My pity is for the children. You mention the "donor" (a paid vendor for an agency), your husband, and yourself. But you don't mention the children. My pity is for the children. That's the horrible part of it. The children are commodities. Ive heard the word eugenics thrown around here a bit, which puzzles me; I (and the other women I know who have done and are doing this) are generally hoping for a donor who is like them, not some genetic ideal who is unlike them. Wanting a "med student" as a "donor" (a paid vendor for an agency) is one more indication that it's about the "parents," not the children. You hear about lists of traits because egg donation is usually an anonymous process, so thats really all the potential parent knows. If a medium height Italian brunette who is college educated and good at music finds a donor with the same qualities, Im really not sure that has much to do with eugenics. And Im not sure making the selection entirely random would be a moral improvement. (By the way, Im told that the trait-seeking newspaper ads posted by parents are notoriously ineffective and not how donors and parents are connected in 99% of cases.)I'm not the person to convince about "eugenics." I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. I think there are other things that are more immediate and more convincing. You (and others who support this horrible practice) seem to think "traits" are little more than hair color and music. But read some studies of twins separated at birth to see how much deeper and older "traits" are. Read some studies of non-related adoptees raised as siblings to see how different they are from one another and from their adoptive parents. Etc. (I know you won't.)My husband and I are hoping to use all the embryos we create, and new technology will facilitate this you can now freeze eggs quite reliably pre-fertilization so fewer embryos can be created at a time. But if we cannot, embryo donation is the best alternative. There are huge waiting lists of infertile couples who want to adopt donor embryos.There are huge waiting lists of children without parents, hoping, praying, to be adopted. (I hope and pray they will be adopted by people whose concern is with children, not with themselves.)Anyway, Ive posted here because Im a Commonweal subscriber and supporter and I think a lot of people have a poor understanding of egg donation and lots of other things related to assisted reproductive technologies. It doesn't say "Subscriber" by your name. And I think a lot of people have a very GOOD understanding of egg "donation" (sales). Google "sperm bank fraud" or "egg bank fraud" to see how widely understood the horrible practices are. (And how many "donors" are "med students.")Im under no illusion that Im going to change peoples minds, . . . You never know. Maybe some people who had never given much thought to the sale of human ova will now read your long defensive posts and realize the victims of this horrible practice deserve pity.

Gerelyn --You say you pity the children of adoptive parents. How many of them have you spoken to about their gratitude to their adoptive parents for having raised them and given them a decent life? To pity my adopted godchild and others like him is ridiculous. You don't know what you're talking about.

Gerelyn: quit trolling.

Gerelyn: I'm logging off soon for a few hours, but briefly --You think my children will be commodities? Please. They will be among the the most wanted, loved, longed for children in the history of the world, and this will be true no matter how they turn out to be, whether they have special needs, whether or not they end up resembling me. They will be treated exactly the same way as we would have treated children conceived the old-fashioned way. They certainly won't need your pity. Egg donation has been happening now for 30 years. The kids turn out just fine, which is why you might be surprised to hear that there are hundreds of thousands of them running around. They don't stand out as different or worse off. Psychologically they tend to do better than adoptees. (Which is not why we chose this route; I think adoption is wonderful and, as I said above, may be how we eventually complete our family.)Of course personalities are far more than traits. Lots of people are surprised by the personalities of their own naturally conceived children; we are prepared and delighted to be surprised the personalities of our own children conceived with our donor's help. In general, there are not huge waiting lists of children waiting to be adopted. There are huge waiting lists of U.S. parents who wish to adopt, both domestically and internationally (in countries willing to adopt to foreign parents, which are few). There are some waiting children in the U.S. who are older or who have severe handicaps. (There are even waiting lists for U.S. children with Downs, on the other hand.) I would definitely consider adopting an older or severely handicapped child someday, but circumstances aren't right for us to do so right now. I'm not sure what your circumstances are, but maybe you (or your own adult children) could consider answering this special call, Gerelyn? Even fertiles can adopt, you know. I'm not sure the Venn diagram for the infertile and those called to adopt difficult to place children overlaps completely, or even substantially -- I think more experienced parents are probably better equipped to handle special emotional and physical needs. There's no subscriber tag next to my name because my subscriber user name includes my last name and I prefer to remain anonymous, so I created a second ID. But believe me, I just ponied up for another two years!

May I offer a distinction. A person, here Amanda, is obviously well intentioned about engaging in the practice she describes. That is important. She should not be condemned as a bad person. But it does not follow that the practice itself is a good practice. Let me give one of the reasons that make me skeptical of the practice (but not of Amanda's intentions or motives). Given all the problems we have in giving even the most basic medical care to so many people in our society, to devote a non-trivial part of these resources to providing the kind of medical attention that Amanda's practice requires strikes me as unwarranted and quite possibly unjust. I would say the same thing about some other technically feasible medical procedures.Some of the societal consequences that Gerelyn seems to be pointing to also deserve more consideration than they have been given. For example, what legal regulations ought to be applied to this practice? How would they be enforced? For my part, I'm not sanguine about any pure free-market approach to this matter.

Now that my children are adults, I am discovering the pleasure of interacting with relatives' and other people's children. There is the enjoyment of engaging with young minds, open and not set in their ways, but without the unbounded commitment to give them as much as your strength allows and more.Why do people so desperately want children of their own? I could not think of a good reason to explain my longing two decades ago (although it was very clear that I very much wanted children), and I do not know now either. What drives people to go to extremes to have children?

You think my children will be commodities? Please. They will be among the the most wanted, loved, longed for children in the history of the world, . . . I think the history of the world is what you need to investigate. The new trend is "deep history." Very interesting. And humbling. They certainly wont need your pity. Egg donation has been happening now for 30 years. The kids turn out just fine, which is why you might be surprised to hear that there are hundreds of thousands of them running around. They dont stand out as different or worse off. Psychologically they tend to do better than adoptees. Reading adoption message boards is interesting. Those who prefer platitudes about gratitude to harsh reality might be annoyed to read the pleas from people in their eighties who know it's way too late to meet the mothers who were forced to give them away, but who are still starving for some morsels of information. At least they are able, occasionally, to find pictures of the maternity homes where they were separated from their mothers, but the children of egg "donors" will never find the faintest trace. (I wonder if they study the lists of doctors in the towns where they were born, wondering which might have been the "med students" from whose ovaries they came.)

Melissa Henneberger has already raised some questions about genetic selection of egg and sperm donors (health risks for egg donors, for example). Maybe one way to begin a discussion about genetic selection of egg and sperm donors is to play Devil's Advocate: 1. How is accepting an egg/sperm donation any different from receiving a transplant for non-life-threatening purposes (say a skin graft to improve a disfigurement or a corneal transplant to improve eyesight)? A transplant donor has to be medically/genetically compatible with the recipient, so how is ensuring that an egg or sperm donor is similar to the recipient different?2. What evidence suggests that parents could have more expectations of or could be more disappointed with trait-selected children than those born in the usual way? 3. Why couldn't children born through sperm or egg donation be given non-identifying (or even identifying) information about their biological parent, putting this information on par with so-called open adoption?4. Most parents who opt for fertility treatment have to pay that cost out-of-pocket; it's not usually part of a health insurance policy. Is that an injustice to less well-heeled individuals who would make equally good parents?

1) A child results from the "donated" (sold) egg's being combined with the sperm of the man who buys the egg. Skin grafts do not produce new human beings. 3) Who's in charge of the "information?" Someone like the sperm bank doctor who discarded the sperm "donated" (sold) to him by "med students" and used his own sperm instead? (Dozens of offspring of the man live in the same little town in the South.) (Just one of many examples.) (Given the biological imperative to thrust offspring into the next generation, why would anyone given the chance to do so pass it up?)As to being "on par" with the "information" given adopted children, I suggest reading some of the many books written by adoptees to see how often they never receive it. Their adoptive parents lose it, conceal it, destroy it, etc., etc., etc. This includes, of course, the information about the sacrament of baptism. (A priest who was adopted wrote eloquently about that in NCR several years ago.)Many/most (?) adoptees are never told the names their real mothers gave them, which means their patron saints' names are concealed from them. They don't know the names of their real godmothers. Baptismal certificates, like birth certificates are altered, falsified. Adopted people sometimes learn bits and pieces of the truth when their adoptive parents die. Maybe an older sister was the real mother. Maybe the true nationality was hidden because it was not a popular one at the time. Etc., etc., etc.(Good thing companies like Family Tree DNA exist to help people find their deep history and, in some cases, living relatives).

Re: Gerelyn's comment above, and Jean's #3, many donors (including mine) indicate they are willing to be contacted by the child when the child is an adult. In the meantime, something called the DSR (donor sibling registry) allows donors and parents or offspring or genetic half-siblings to speak over an anonymous message platform about, e.g., any health issues that arise with a potential genetic component. It's not quite like open adoption, in that the donor doesn't ask for or get regular updates on or contact with the child throughout childhood, but there is certainly potential for the child to meet the donor when the child is older. I would be perfectly happy if my future children wanted to meet the donor at some point, and/or meet any genetic half-siblings that similarly want to meet. Just remember, a child conceived with a donor egg and sperm from her intended father is in many ways differently situated than an adopted child. The child will always have known and lived with her genetic father, as well as with her biological mother -- the mother who carried her. She was never "given up"; she would never have existed but for the efforts of the parents that raised her.Also ... re: Bernard's comment on health resources, and Jean's #4, donor egg IVF is not always covered, and almost never completely covered, by insurance. (Many insurance plans don't even cover regular IVF -- it depends a great deal on state mandates and how cushy the plan.) Many, many more couples would like to use donor eggs but can't afford the process, especially because people usually turn to donor egg IVF at the end of a long saga involving significant outlays of money as they try regular IVF several times. My husband and I were extremely lucky in that the three IVF cycles (and a number of intrauterine insemination cycles, and before that, oral fertility medication cycles) we tried before getting to this point were mostly covered by insurance. Now we're entirely out of pocket. I know a number of women who are "child free not by choice," in internet parlance, because they've simply run out of money. I'm not sure there's a great public policy answer to this.

Gerelyn: Are you anti-adoption? Because that's a pretty tough position for a pro-life Catholic to take.

Amanda: I would have preferred to discuss this on an impersonal level, but you made it about you (under a pseud).(I'm not interested in answering questions or confirming assumptions.)

It's always a little tougher to make an "impersonal" argument when one is confronted by a real person affected by the issue, isn't it?I certainly didn't mean to make this all about me. I considered making my comments abstract, but I wanted those reading to know exactly what my interests and biases were. In any event, people should feel perfectly free to say what they really think about this subject without worrying too much about wounding me. I'm no shrinking violet and, more importantly, I understand there are some moral ambiguities here.

The child will always have known and lived with her genetic father, as well as with her biological mother the mother who carried her. Another example of the Newspeak designed to fit the needs of those who purchase designer babies. Those who sell eggs and sperm are called "donors," and those who carry the pregnancies are called "biological mothers," even though they will not pass their mitochondrial DNA to the children conceived in this manner.Its always a little tougher to make an impersonal argument when one is confronted by a real person affected by the issue, isnt it?I'm not at all convinced that you're a "real person affected by the issue." But if you are, I hope you will consider showing the posts you've written in this thread to someone -- maybe a forensic linguist -- who can point out to you what you're really saying.

Gerelyn, stop. This is not respectful of Amanda, who is presenting her perspective honestly. Amanda, sorry.

Claire --About why people want children of their own == I think that people don't necessarily want children *of their own* -- they simply want children. I read recently that the neo-Darwinists are trying to explain this same fact. One answer is that because children are such a drag on their parents (yes, they -- we -- are definitely drags on parents), nature has seen to it that the little ones are so humongously *cute* that the normal person cannot resist them. In other words, the adorableness of the little ones is a survival mechanism. And it certainly does work for most of us :-)(How to explain this attraction of their adorableness is another question.)

About why people want children of their own == I think that people dont necessarily want children *of their own* they simply want children.

That's radical, Ann. Do you really, on reflection, think it doesn't matter?

Ann, I think that one reason to have children is love. When you have a child, you don't really know what you're getting into. But once the child is there, there is no going back: you are committed. They are vulnerable, they need you for everything, and you have to respond to their needs. You find yourself forced to sacrifice much more than you previously would have guessed possible (in sleepless nights for example), and it seems to me that sacrifice begets love. What you love in the child is not the cuteness so much as the hours, days, years given to that child. They teach you to love. It's love in action, built gradually.I suppose, though, that it is similar when people dedicate themselves to the care of an ailing elderly relative. Why are we a priori attracted to one possibility and not the other? Why is it that when you see a parent with a toddler trustingly sleeping on their lap, you might feel a pang of envy, but not when you see someone helping their slow elderly relative find their way to a church pew? Is it really as stupid as the cuteness factor?

Gerelyn, I told you to stop trolling. You are done commenting on this post, and if you can't help being gratuitously insulting you can stop commenting altogether.

"In The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering, the moral philosopher Michael J. Sandel wrote that champions of the new eugenics see it as not only ethically superior to the bad old days of forced sterilizations this time, its optional but perhaps even morally required....Wouldnt we be negligent, one of them reasoned, not to lay the best possible foundation for the health, intelligence, and blue-eyed enjoyment of our children? Sandel says no: To appreciate children as gifts, he writes, is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of our ambition.It certainly seems clear that children resulting from gamete 'donation' are most certainly the products of our will, regardless of the circumstances

For those couples who stopped using contraception precisely so as to get pregnant, the resulting children are also most certainly the products of our will.

Bruce: I think there is a distinction between egg or sperm donation and some of the other examples Sandel cites in his article. Although I'm sure exceptions could be found (and condemned), people do not turn to these reproductive methods because with the intention of creating a child genetically superior to what they could create naturally. Can you really imagine even the richest and most powerful man in the world deciding to forego his own healthy sperm to inseminate his wife the seed of a taller, handsomer, more athletic, more intelligent man? No. It would be easy for the world's richest and most powerful man to make this happen, but it doesn't. (Of course, a billionaire might try to attract an Ivy League supermodel as his wife but that's another story.) And why not? People almost uniformly want to bear their own children if they can. If they can't, they generally look for a donor that resembles them in whatever ways they care most about. They transfer the resulting embryos without regard to whether a given embryo will produce a child that looks more like the infertile spouse or more like the donor's Uncle Jack with the funny tics. Recipients are counseled (and at least with egg donation, there is psychological screening for both recipients and donors) that they have to expect nature to roll the dice a bit. This is the intention, not the creation of a super-child. And intention ought to, and generally does, matter a great deal in ethics. (For what it's worth, I've been active for a while on internet bulletin boards where donor egg or sperm recipients post, and creating a child better than oneself is never a sentiment I've seen expressed. Not even close. People are just so happy when they find a donor they feel remotely comfortable with. A donor's traits are not generally a subject of discussion among this crowd.)You can imagine a different scenario, that in which the world's richest and most powerful man has the option of selecting from his *own* sperm (or embryos) those that would create the tallest, or smartest, or blondest, or most dimpled children. The genes for all of these things are complex rather than binary, and the technology isn't here yet. But can we imagine the world's richest and most powerful man availing himself of this method of selection if it were available? Absolutely -- it would almost be surprising if he didn't, if he didn't have a belief system that placed him out of the mainstream. And would them be done with anything but the intention of creating a genetically superior child? No. I personally think such gene-level manipulations are categorically different, and one can condemn them without condemning sperm or egg donation. Of course, there's the more difficult (in my view) case of whether it would be ethical for said billionaire to select from his own sperm only those that do not carry a truly dread disease like Taye-Sachs. This is already possible at the embryonic level, and people do select for it today. But if it were possible at the gamete level (which I'm not sure it is), would we be for it? I guess that can be the subject of another thread someday.

Amanda, presumably no one would permit an artificial conception to proceed if it were known that either egg or sperm were likely to cause the production of an unhealthy child. In this sense, artificial conception can, I think, be called eugenic - you may not be selecting for superiority, but you are selecting against inferiority.I've not read Sandel - http://www.amazon.com/The-Case-against-Perfection-Engineering/dp/0674036... - but I imagine he spends a lot of time dealing with the thorny problem of where you draw the line between going far enough to try to ensure that children are born healthy and going to a place that today most people would probably consider too far, where no child is allowed to be born unhealthy. As the definition of "healthy" continues to evolve, this dilemma will continue to grow larger. Or, perhaps, it will just be brushed aside in the name of medical progress.

David, your first sentence is to some extent true (though I'm not sure many couples would have their own natural child either if they knew that their union was "likely to cause the production of an unhealthy child"). Donors fill out a questionnaire about their family medical history and are tested to see if they are carriers of a few major genetic illnesses (like cystic fibrosis, and, depending on ethnicity, things like Tay-Sachs). Plenty of people who are trying to get pregnant naturally get screened for those things as well, particularly if they have a family history or belong to an ethnic group prone to serious genetic diseases. (What they do with the information of course varies.)But just as with a spouse, with a donor you go forward knowing that, say, Grandpa had a heart attack at 45, or Grandma died of pre-menopausal breast cancer, hoping for the best. Virtually no one has a clean family history. There is definitely some screening out by agencies and clinics for things like a first-degree history of major mental illness, though. So the process is not entirely devoid of engineering, if you want to call it that. But I don't think most gamete donation is done with the purpose of engineering, and it's still open to a great deal of natural surprise. (Caveat: it is sometimes done by non-infertile couples to avoid a genetic disease like T-S. But it's generally cheaper and easier these days to do pre-implantation genetic testing of one's own embryos, or sadly to test a fetus and abort, so I think the people who use gamete donation for this purpose tend to be those trying to avoid (more) morally fraught methods.)

Claire,Stopping contraception still leaves one at the vagaries of nature. And Amanda - '...they generally look for...' is a way I would describe shopping and it is certainly willful. Yes, intentions matter but good intentions cannot make an immoral act moral.Btw, artificial insemination, selecting desirable characteristics, etc are exactly how we breed animals

Claire,On further reflection, I would describe starting contraception as willful and stopping as subjugating your will to nature.

Bruce: ok.I know a number of women (and men) who, when they are dating, think along the following lines as they consider the possibility of getting serious: "Would I like my hypothetical future children to inherit this man's (woman's) genes?"I thought it a little bit weird, until a relative of mine dated someone with a serious health problem, and then I found myself hoping that they would not get serious, precisely for that reason...

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.