This week, in my class on Christian ethics, we've been discussing abortion and embryonic stem cell research. The reading has been interesting and compelling on both sides, but in the final analysis, I like to label myself pro-choice and anti-abortion. This means that I think abortion is a tragedy, especially when it is used as contraception by people who are simply careless, but I'm not ready to tell a woman who is impregnated by her rapist that she is bound to carry that child to term.
The questions of embryonic stem cell research have raised different questions for me, though. Several of the authors we read discussed the large number of embryos left over after fertility treatments (as many as 100,000). These embryos will never be implanted. In fact, many of them would not be viable even if they were placed in a womb that could nurture them. Since this is the case, debaters ask, shouldn't we make the most of these leftovers for research? Maybe you'd like me to discuss this question, but I'm more interested in why we have so many leftovers.
Fertility treatments are amazing, no doubt. The fact that science can "create life" is fascinating and provides the hope of having biological children to many. My question is, why are we all so intent on having genetic children? Is there really some biological imperative to spread our DNA? If there is, should we, as reasonable human beings, allow this imperative to determine our actions in such a way that we create multiple potential lives for every one that will come to fruition?
What does it say about how we think of children that so many American insist on having biological children? that so many Americans go to incredible expense to make that desire a reality? When we procreate, is it because we want to love and nurture young human beings or because we want a new accessory? If we place a priority on the former, the genetic make-up of the child we raise should carry little weight. However, if we want the 2.3 kids, kids that have mom's eyes and dad's chin, that every American is supposed to have, we might place a greater priority on genetics.
No, I haven't dealt with fertility issues, but I am getting older with no current prospects of marriage. It's possible that one day I may struggle through the pain of not being able to become pregnant. If that happens, rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments and creating multiple embryos, that may or may not live, I would hope to have the presence of mind and compassion to pursue adoption, even adoption of an already fertilized egg that would otherwise be discarded.
Am I being harsh? Some might think so. But, shouldn't our views of embryos and fertility treatments and abortion be commensurate with our view of the purpose of having and raising children?
On a related note, one of my classmates made the claim that the discussion of personhood is a scientific one. I didn't get a chance to respond to this particular comment, but I would like to claim "person" as a sociological/psychological/social science term. The natural sciences might be able to determine whether a fetus is human, but beyond biological designations, I think natural science has little to say about who is and is not a person.