Most of us are familiar with a couple who has experienced infertility and then had their lives blessed through assisted reproductive technologies. We often speak of this in terms of “a miracle of our modern age,” but could it also be true that there is a dark side to assisted reproductive technologies – some moral and ethical challenges we may never have considered? Take a few minutes to read today’s article and see if there are some ramifications and consequences that you may never have thought of.
For the sake of children,
Wendy Wixom, President
United Families International
Billion-dollar, baby-selling industry: the market of assisted reproduction
- Assisted-Reproductive Technologies (ART) is rife with moral and ethical problems.
- ART objectifies the human being and turns people into a means. A woman should never be sold and a child should never be bought.
- Adult desires should never supersede children’s needs.
By Cristina Cevallos Calle
Find a clinic. Choose a sperm donor with a nice eye color, high IQ and sports skills. Find a young woman on the other side of the world with an available uterus. Pay and just wait nine months. That’s how easy it can be to enlarge your family nowadays.
And it is all possible thanks to assisted human reproduction techniques (ART), a group of medical treatments used to achieve pregnancy, which include the manipulation of eggs, sperm and embryos outside the human body. The most common one is called in vitro fertilization (IVF), in which eggs are fertilized in a laboratory and then the embryo is placed in the uterus. Intrafallopian transfer is similar but uses laparoscopic surgery to deliver the gametes directly into the fallopian tube. In both, the term “third party reproduction” (TPR) is used when the procedure involves gestation, eggs, sperm, or embryos provided by someone other than the intended parents.
A questionable technique
Although it may seem like a good option to overcome infertility, ARTs bring as many challenges as solutions. The fact that the embryo is a human being genetically differentiated from the parents that develops from the moment of the fusion of the gametes is not convenient for those who support these techniques. That is why many are trying to deny the personhood of the embryo. Some have succeeded, as in the case of Evans vs. United Kingdom where it was stated that “created embryos do not have the right to life.”
Thousands of embryos have been created since the past century, but only those that have the best chance of reaching term are the ones implanted in the uterus. The others are discarded or used for experiments. Taking into account that most women need more than one IVF treatment in order to achieve pregnancy (54-77% of women undergoing IVF get pregnant by the eighth cycle), and that the delivery rates of the baby are very low (28% in 2019); hundreds of them die in the process.
ARTs also objectify the human being and turn people into a means. By perceiving man and woman as merely sources of “raw material”, eggs are aspirated from the ovaries, after taking drugs that cause over stimulation, and semen is collected usually by masturbation. Also, “test-tube babies” are made in a laboratory, where the genes that will determine their phenotype and genotype can be chosen, giving eugenics a chance to go to another level to “improve breeds”. What is more, through selective reduction, doctors kill “less desirable” or “easier to reach” babies after several embryos have been implanted to save costs.
Third-Party Reproduction (TPR) and surrogacy
Hearing surrogacy stories from celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra or Neil Patrick Harris can make us believe that TPR is a non-problematic way to bring children to the world.
However this narrative can be easily contradicted by just thinking about the problems related to using a woman’s body to carry a child that is not hers. Just to mention some: ignoring health problems that could be inherited, citizenship and legal status issues, half-siblings intermarrying and striping children from their right to know and be reared by their biological parents (82% of donor-conceived would like to make contact with their donor one day).
There have been plenty of stories that prove the dark side of these practices. One of them is that of Baby Gammy, a twin born with Down syndrome in Thailand (53.4% of gestational carriers give birth to multiples). The Australian couple who contracted his birth only took his sister and abandoned him with the surrogate that refused to abort him. Actually, the government criminalized surrogacy by foreigners and same-sex couples in 2014 in the country due to this case.
Regulation around the world
According to collected data in 2017, 100,000 IVF babies were born in Australia and New Zealand, almost 550,000 in Europe, 65,000 in Latin America and 1,450,000 in the US (approximately 2.0% of all infants born in that country).
ART is regulated differently around the world and in most places some techniques are legally forbidden. This has led to what is called “reproductive tourism”, the practice of traveling to another country for fertility treatments either because they are not available or can be found in better or cheaper conditions elsewhere.
For example, Asian states are destinations for 52% US women seeking IVF with egg donation and Canada is one of the few nations that still allows surrogacy for foreign commissioning parents and does not require to have a marital status.
The US is famous for its higher success rates and liberal regulations that don’t require legal validation of infertility in order to pursue third-party reproduction. Although some aspects of embryo research and laboratory conditions are regulated by federal law, there is no national legislation for IVF in the country. There are 41 states that allow surrogacy and nine that prohibit or do not recognize the contracts as enforceable.
In Europe, patients are free to travel abroad for treatment, even if their “cross border reproductive care” violates domestic legislation. Laws in 18 of the European Union’s 27 member countries grant legal access to assisted reproduction to same-sex couples and single women. Denmark is home to the greatest proportion of babies born through assisted reproduction; the BBC estimates up to 10 percent of newborns are conceived via ART in the country. Other European destinations are Greece, Czech Republic, Spain and Turkey, due to their low-cost treatments.
The Latin American Registry of Assisted Reproduction was established in 1990, being the first multinational registry in the world, and although it is voluntary, it has helped to determine that these countries represent only about three percent of the IVF cycles in the world. Particularly, Mexico has become popular due to its liberal ART policies with over 50 clinics across the country.
In Africa, the states with the highest number of IVF centers are Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Supporting human dignity
Sexual rights, like all rights, must respect human dignity, so their exercise cannot imply the dehumanization of others. That is why we are called to support responsible laws that, for example, ban all forms of third-party gamete transfer, prevent the commodification of babies and the commercialized use of women’s bodies, make surrogacy arrangements illegal, remove anonymity from the use of these techniques and establish the inclusion of health disclaimers.
In addition, it is important to identify and fight against the behaviors and choices that contribute to infertility such as feminist ideologies, the push for women in careers, the later age of marriage, and the use of birth control. On top of that, it is fundamental to remember that there are thousands of older children waiting to be adopted by a caring family. There is no need to manufacture children; there are already many who need a mom and a dad.
Supporting human rights of women and children must continue to be a goal. A woman should never be sold and a child should never be bought.
Cristina Cevallos is a Law student at the University of Piura in Peru, where she is a part of the volleyball varsity team and cultural and spiritual formation clubs. She is passionate about issues related to cultural heritage and the defense of traditional values, specially sanctity of life and religious freedom. She has been part of different volunteer and entrepreneurship programs internationally and loves doing projects with children, going to the beach, and learning about art history. Her goal is to travel the world helping people to find true happiness.