New Technologies, New Debates

Once upon a time, people were either fertile or infertile. Period. And there were plenty of infertile men and plenty of infertile women. Just think about Henry VIII and the many wives he beheaded for being incapable of bearing him a son and heir.

Then along came technology, and everything changed. After ages of human existence, infertility was no longer a barrier to child-bearing. Men could donate sperm. Women could donate eggs. Other women could even donate their wombs and bear children as surrogates.

As with all other technological advances, this was a cause for great cheer, as many people who suffered and longed to be parents were now given more options than simply adopting – adoption being the only option previously available to them.

And as with all other technological advances, there was controversy.

While natural child birth seemed quite natural, artificial means seems… well… quite unnatural. And so, the moralizing began.

As anyone who keeps their eyes and ears open, there is no area of life that invites more hyperbolic and extreme positions than those of procreation and coupling. Witness the ongoing battles on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

So it should come as no surprise that there would be controversy over such topics as artificial insemination, invitro fertilization, egg donation and surrogacy. Opposition to surrogacy and egg donation, in particular, reached its most strident pitch when an article was published by the Witherspoon Institute entitled “The New Sexual Predators”. The article equated egg donation with rape, justifying such a stance from a paper written by Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer:

“… describe rape (and prostitution) as ‘gene promotion strategies’ that men use when legitimate, consensual sex is not possible. A man who is unable to engage a fertile female in legitimate consensual sex may face the dilemma of using force, monetary incentives, or facing extinction.”

All of a sudden, according to such positions, a woman offering to be a surrogate mother becomes a rape victim. All of a sudden, the act of giving is no longer an act of selfless generosity, but a debasement of oneself in the vilest fashion.

Sure, give a birthday present. Give some advice. Give a kidney. But don`t give the gift of life.

I am not suggesting that a technological advancement as important as surrogacy and invitro fertilization should not be debated, nor that there should not be disagreement on it.

Quite the opposite.

In most cases, we spend far too much time figuring out how to do new things and not enough time considering whether we should. Perhaps there are ways in which we mess with nature that we should avoid. We discovered this was the case with chlorofluorocarbons, which were quickly thinning the ozone layer that protects all plant and animal life on earth. Faced with a rapid possibility of annihilating all life on the planet, humans rallied to the cause with the Montreal Protocol. It was a very close call, much more than most people care to realize.

But artificial child bearing is a totally different matter. We are not dealing with technologies that can change our planet, our ecosystems or humanity. We are dealing with technologies that supplement natural child birth and fill in some holes.

We are not dealing with decisions that affect everybody, but with decisions that affect only the parties who chose to be involved. Are these technologies right or wrong? Given that it affects only the people choosing to be involved, should it not be up to them to make that call?

Ah yes, but if we took that position, I suppose we wouldn’t have the pleasure of constantly debating gay marriage rights.

David Leonhardt is a freelance ghost writer for hire and website marketer. After spending some time working for a company that arranges surrogacy in Canada, he has decided to share some opinions on the matter.