Christian Morality and Test Tube Babies, Part One
- Wednesday, February 11, 2009
In the first place, human dignity is compromised by the artificiality of the IVF technology. The absolute separation of conjugal union and the sex act from the process of conception creates a new and artificial process of human reproduction--one that demands technological intervention at virtually every stage, from the collection of the sperm and eggs, to the actual fertilization, to the implantation of the embryo in the uterus.
This puts human agents in control of human destiny in a manner that overthrows natural limits. Theologians have debated this issue with intensity. Karl Rahner, the most influential Roman Catholic theologian of the century, believed that "there is really nothing possible for man that he ought not to do." On the other hand, Protestantism's Karl Barth, the father of "neo-orthodoxy," warned that this would lead to a "dreadful, godless world;" one he could foresee in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Clearly, God has placed natural limits upon our creaturely power and authority. Humans seem intent upon exceeding those limits in every sphere, and the rapid developments in biotechnology threaten to transform the understanding of what it means to be human. As Barth argued, human identity has been inherently related to parenthood and the conjugal bond. What does it mean to think of humanity severed from this parental relatedness?
The new technologies of IVF underline the extent to which the modern mind has reduced human reproduction to a technology rather than a divine gift, mystery, and stewardship. As Oliver O'Donovan argues, the biblical language reminds us that we are begotten, not merely made. This is not a semantic irrelevancy. Our language betrays our understanding of the meaning of human procreation.
Children are not the products of a technological process, like common consumer commodities, but are the gifts of a loving God whose intention is that children should be born to a man and a woman united in the bond of marriage, and as the fruit of that marital bond realized in the conjugal act. They are neither by-products of the sex act nor mere "products" of our technological innovations.
Paul Ramsey warned that we would be "de-biologizing" the human race by the use of these technologies. While we sympathize with couples unable to achieve conception by means within natural limits, these limits remain. "We ought rather to live with charity amid the limits of a biological and historical existence which God created for the good and simple reason that, for all its corruption, it is now--and for the temporal future will be--the good realm in which man and his welfare are to be found and served."
Ramsey's warning against the "messianic positivism" of these new technologies is a corrective to those who believe that this is merely a Catholic concern. Protestants, too, have historically recognized the intrinsic relatedness of parenthood to the conjugal bond and the act of marital sex as the design of a loving and merciful Creator, who imposed limits for our good.
IVF technologies threaten those limits in others ways as well. The IVF revolution has opened unprecedented opportunities for eugenics and the genetic manipulation of the embryo. Experiments on human embryos now involve the transfer of genetic material and offer the potential for genetic manipulation both before and after fertilization.
The technologies of IVF compromise the marital bond and threaten the integrity of the family. The use of donor sperm is unacceptable, for it brings a third party into the marital bond. The same is true for the use of a donor egg. A married couple should not invite the biological contribution of a third party--known or unknown. While the fertilization of the egg occurs in a laboratory (thus avoiding adultery), the marital bond is compromised by the use of another man's sperm or another woman's egg.
Beyond this, the use of IVF to allow unmarried women and lesbian couples to achieve pregnancy outside marriage and heterosexual relatedness is a direct rejection of God's intention in the creation of humanity as male and female, and the limitation of sexual relatedness and procreation to a man and a woman united within the marital covenant. IVF is welcomed by radical feminists and lesbian activists as a technological marvel which promises freedom from male involvement, except as sperm donors. This is one specter of the "godless world" against which Barth warned.
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