Where the Slippery Slope Began

Pandora's Baby
How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution
Robin Marantz Henig
Houghton Mifflin, $25, 256 pp.

Of all the human biological capacities, procreation is one of the strangest. Unlike any of the others, some people desperately want to use that capacity to have children and some people no less desperately want to avoid having children. No such diversity exists with our capacity to see, taste, smell, think, walk, or hear. We all want them and when, now and then, someone does not, that is taken as prima facie evidence of derangement. A desire not to have children is now common among many married couples and no less so among many cohabiting couples; and the number of such couples grows all the time.

Yet if couples of that kind can display a striking singlemindedness, it is as nothing compared with the infertile couple desperate to have a child. The childless will often go to endless trouble and great expense, and put up with a regimen of medicine and self-discipline that can make military boot camp look easy. While surely not the only means of relieving infertility, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is now probably the most widely, and routinely, used. What was, through most of the 1970s, a highly controversial line of research, condemned by the pope and many moralists and theologians, and treated with suspicion by physicians and research scientists, now elicits little ethical or scientific interest. It worked. End of story. At most there are now some calls for a reform of fertility clinics, for the most part unregulated, but...

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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.