Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Does IVF Render Children Mere Objects?

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, makes a quite extraordinary claim about IVF.
No one has a right to a child . . .. IVF turns children into commodities. When a couple undergoes IVF, they say,“We want a child, no matter what,” and the child becomes an object.
Let's examine her three claims in order.

No one has a right to a child.

Brown must mean that no one has a right to bring a child into the world. I most surely do have a right to my three children, but they are, as it were, already here. What then of the claim that no one has a right to bring a child into the world? It's obviously false. One of the basic rights of a couple is the right to attempt to conceive. But what is the attempt to conceive but the attempt to create a child? Thus couples must have the right to attempt to create a child.

Would Mrs. Brown attempt to deny them this right? Would she have us monitor bedrooms? Would she endorse forced sterilizations? If not - and one must assume that she would not - she thereby admits, even if only implicitly, that there is a right to conceive.

Couples who undergo IVF express an unqualified desire for a child.

This is false too. My twins are a product of IVF, but my wife and I did not have an unqualified desire for children. If it had been unqualified, we would have pursued it, as Brown says, no matter what. But we would not have pursued it no matter what. If we had discovered that my wife was likely die in pregnancy, we would not have undergone IVF. If we had discovered that there was a high probability that one or more of our children would suffer from severe genetic abnormality, we would not have undergone IVF.

Other examples could be generated quite easily.

No doubt almost all couples who pursue IVF are the same. They do have a great desire for children, but it is not unqualified. Indeed I can think of no reason to suppose parents who pursue IVF have a desire for children that, in general, is greater or less qualified than that of parents who have been unable to conceive but continue to pursue a child in the usual way. Parents of both types very much want children and often work quite hard (though in different ways) to conceive.

IVF turns children into commodities, i.e. into mere objects.

I suspect that Brown intends us to infer this from the claim that couples who undergo IVF have an unqualified desire for children. But does it follow? It does not. Why should an unqualified desire for a thing imply that the thing is thought of as an object. I suspect that many religious folk have an unqualified desire to enjoy the bliss of the beatific vision. This is something they want, no matter what. But does this mean that they think of God or their enjoyment of him as a mere commodity? Of course not.

What now of couples who undergo IVF. Is the child they desire, the child they attempt to create, a mere commodity for them? I do not know what to say except that this need not be so. It was not the case for me and my wife. It is not the case for many other couples who've undergone IVF.

Perhaps Brown objects that the embryos created by IVF are not treated with due respect and thus become like objects to the parents. Again I do not know what to say except that this need not be so. What if every embryo is implanted? If so, each embryo is given no less of a chance to develop than is an embryo created in the usual way. (Implanted embryos are sometimes donated embryos. My wife and I donated our leftover embryos to an agency that makes them available to infertile couples. Does this not imply respect?)


A few minutes at the American Life League makes clear that Brown believes IVF a great evil. But throughout she seems guilty of a certain fallacy. She points to abuses of the procedure and concludes that the procedure itself must be wrong in all cases. But the mere fact that a thing can be improperly done does not imply that it may never be done. It only implies that one must be careful when one does it.

13 comments:

InCatholicTruth said...

Hi Franklin,

Wonderful Blog you have. You will find much deeper arguments than apparently presented by Judie Brown by begining with the sublime Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II.

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