“Conflict in ethics of baby-making”

Is it true that allowing people to have babies is a “greater good” than the other issues involved (such as children being able to “enter adulthood with no concealed information”, as this article puts it)?

Key issues include importing embryos from abroad, altruistic gifts of gametes, children knowing who their genetic parents are and gender selection of embryos.

A typical situation illustrates some of these issues. Suppose “Jack” and “Jill”, while living in the United States, created six embryos using Jill’s eggs and sperm from an anonymous person, who was paid a fee. One child was born in the US and, having now returned to New Zealand, Jack and Jill wish to repatriate the remaining embryos for fertility treatment here.

However, under the current rules, they are unable to do so because the important principles of altruistic supply and knowledge of genetic parents are breached.

“Altruistic supply” means that New Zealand prohibits paying donors of gametes. The principle of altruism is a fine one: People help people because they care.

Knowing about one’s genetic parents is also significant. Such knowledge has proved invaluable in helping offspring enter adulthood with no concealed information.

But desirable as these principles are, there is a downside:

Jack and Jill will suffer significant parental grief at finding their future babies are locked up by criteria which deny them access.

Their existing child is denied having the full genetic siblings he/she might otherwise have had.

A significant justice issue is involved. Parents with the financial ability to go abroad and have their embryos implanted have an advantage denied to many.

Treatment abroad may compromise the health and wellbeing of mother and child, compared with treatment in New Zealand where everything, including whanau, is close at hand.

Such parents might also be tempted to have multiple implants to save money, with the associated risks.

Here is an ethical clash. The intention of the act is to facilitate people having children, but this intention may be frustrated by the operation of the altruism and genetic parent knowledge principles.

The greater good is undermined by lesser goods. Ethics involves weighing the respective merits of different goods and making a choice which reflects the optimum balance.

via Conflict in ethics of baby-making | Stuff.co.nz.

Knowing who you are matters more than people want to acknowledge. Knowing who your parents are is knowing who you yourself are. It’s your history. It’s how you are connected to the rest of the human race, and hence directly linked to your ability to understanding your relationship with other people.

It’s essential to have some sort of answer in order to build a healthy identity; too many gaps creates identity issues. That is why so many adopted children need to seek this information out – and the available information suggests that, contrary to expectation, children who are well-attached to their parents are not less likely to want or need this information; while the evidence is not adequate to prove anything at this point, the initial evidence suggests that the primary factor determining whether an adopted person wishes to seek out this information may be their perception of whether their adoptive parents are likely to be angry, hurt, humiliated, or insulted if they express such a desire.

It seems to me that to lose one’s biological knowledge is to lose a part of yourself – a form of amputation.  Like all other types of amputation, it should be done only when it is necessary to save the life of the patient.

I do not see how it could be  viewed as ethically justifiable for someone to amputate something from someone else to satisfy their desires.

And then there’s the precedent that gets set.  As we establish the parents’ desires as outweighing the child’s rights (reversing centuries of evolution toward a family model where children are accorded full equality as people with rights of their own, rather than being viewed as assets belonging to the family), we open the door to ever-greater manipulation.

The British government is moving ahead with plans to allow doctors to create babies through in vitro fertilization using genetic material from three people.

from CTVNews

I also notice this opinion piece simply takes it as a given that the “when does life start” (and corresponding questions of whether embryos are both living and humans) is ignored as irrelevant.  If a significant portion of the population believes that life begins at conception, then finding a home for each embryo might be a moral priority.

Embryonic research will continue to spark argument as the answer to “when does life begin?” will never have a clear cut answer.

from Harriet Kinahan

“Leading major ethicists” (perhaps like the one I outlined here?) are treated as if they somehow know more than we do – as if they can see the future, or have greater insight into “right and wrong” than ordinary people. They cannot and do not, and reading their books reveals they do indeed have an ideology and an agenda – “ethicist” is the wrong word*; they ought to be classed as whatever the humanist equivalent of a Catholic bishop or a Buddhist lama, and given neither more nor less weight in the debate. I do not understand why of these two ethical arguments the “separation of church and state” should warrant privileging one argument over another argument, when both are equally faith-based.

*“ethicist” reflects the “myth of mythlessness” – the idea that the humanist belief is not just one belief among many, but is actual truth, revealed through science and reason, superior to all other faiths in that it alone is entirely proven and provable, devoid of any articles of faith or faith-based “leaps”. This is why a word like “ethics” can be used without shame to promote the idea that their ideological ethics are “the” ethics, “real” or “true” ethics, rather than just one ethical system among many.

The problem of course is that they are deluding themselves if they believe their system is entirely based on evidence, without any leaps of faith – as I argued here (also see here), science itself requires at least three major leaps of faith: Ockham’s razor (that is, the assumption that we are in possession of all the relevant information, with no gaps in our information), the assumption that the problem being solved is material in nature, and the assumption that the problem being solved is solvable.