October 16, 2006

"What about same-sex conception?"

This morning I passed a man in Harvard Square carrying a sign that said "What about same-sex conception?" and handing out flyers. Of course I stopped to get one, and because we love to be fully informed I've included the link, but I just wanted to post a couple of excerpts:

[Same-sex conception] is much riskier than IVF, which is still natural egg and sperm conception, and even cloning, because same-sex conception requires changing the DNA of at least one of the partners and seeing if it works. Trying this in humans would be completely unethical and unnecessary and waste our resources at a time when people still cannot get basic health care. Research should be stopped.

Incredibly, however, it is currently legal, and there are people who feel same-sex couples not only have the right to attempt to conceive children together, but that we have an obligation to continue to fund research to make it "safe and affordable" for them. One researcher quoted in GayCity News said he expects to see children come from stem cell derived gametes in "three to five years" if the research continues at the present pace! They are proceeding recklessly, spending freely, putting children at risk, and opening the door to a Brave New World [emphasis mine] of genetic engineering and manufactured children.

To protect children, as well as protect everyone's natural conception rights and preserve human dignity, we need a law that says children can only be conceived by the union of a woman's egg and a man's sperm. Conceiving children together should not be a right of same-sex couples.

Now the flyer goes on to explain that this is not anti-gay propaganda, and that it fully supports gay couples having children by adoption, IVF, surrogacy, and all other means currently employed. It does, however, say:

If we prohibit labs from attempting to create children that are not the union of a woman's egg and a man's sperm, then same-sex marriages will not have a right to conceive children together, which would fundamentally change marriage and put all of our conception rights in jeopardy. To protect our right to have children, we need to preserve marriage's right to conceive children together. Civil unions could be created to have all of the other [emphasis theirs] rights of marriage, but not the right to conceive children together.

Ok, politics of marriage aside, I'm really interested in hearing what you guys think about this issue. To foster discussion, some topics I think you should consider include:
-Imagining what it would be like to be able to have a biological baby with your partner
-The ethics of genetic engineering in humans
-Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, hopefully you've read it and can respond to the comparison as it was used
-Do you think that people have an inherent right to be conceived rather than 'manufactured'?
-The data they present (that I haven't included) also makes a big deal about the low survival rate of most offspring produced by this method--eg. of 450 mouse embryos made, only 10 were born alive and only 1 survived into adulthood. I don't know you all well enough to know how you stand on the pro-life/pro-choice debate, but I think it would be interesting to hear opinions from both sides about the costs/benefits of same-sex conception in humans. Important philosophical question: When does it become a person/life?
-Anything else you'd like to input or discuss



gromphus said...

my favorite section:

"Since we are all just one sex, it is good that the two sexes need each other to cooperate to create a new life, which again is just one sex, again needing to come together with the other sex to reproduce. Sexual reproduction connects us to the rest of humanity not just vertically through our children, but horizontally, through our need for the other sex. Being impossibly created in a laborotory would connect us more to the products of technology and consumerism. We'd empathize with toasters."

i don't know about empathizing with toasters, dude. But this Kaguya thing is absolutely fascinating. Apart from the issues of safety, ethics of spending energy to figure out how to bring more people into the world when many need adopting and there is the issue of overpopulation, etc, it seems that there are a few main moral issues of interest in the eggandsperm blog: whether it is ok to genetically modify humans, assuming that whatever therapies that might be developed will require either the genetic modification of the potential parent before the parent is born (as the parent mice were apparently genetically engineered) or involve the genetic modification of what is to become the embryo, and if it is ok to construct human children. Given how many fertility/conception therapies already exist, I don't think that there is an immediate moral issue with human embryos being constructed from the products of willing participants, so long as the resulting child is not being created for any purpose that would interfere with its own development (think: drones, organ plants, warrior class, etc). I believe that there is a distinction between genetic modification for the purpose of creating a being, and genetic modification for the purpose of ensuring or avoiding the presence of certain traits in a being's makeup. If the former has a slippery slope attached, I'm not sure I see it, whereas the latter certainly has one. So where does that leave modifying people so that they might be able to provide the genetic material needed to create a new being? Would this, in a sense, involve the creation of a new biological sex? Assuming no ill effects from genetic modification, this seems to me to be essentially the same question involved in the ethics of genetically modify beings so as to not be susceptible to certain diseases. Is this ok? Dunno. Of itself, it seems fine, but the possibilities for abuse grow and grow.

John Howard said...

Hi there, thanks for taking up this topic. What do you think about the compromise deal I'm proposing? I think it would take gay rights groups to make the first move, by voluntarily giving up conception rights, and the name marriage, at least until same-sex conception is ever considered safe, if the other side gives up their resistance to civil unions and federeal recognition.

garçon-fille said...

I'm not going to comment on your compromise deal, John, because I purposely did not intend this post to be about the politics and rights of marriage/relationships. I wanted to discuss the implications of the genetic engineering that is involved in the process.
I personally think that if the procedure is not safe or costs many embryonic lives (e.g. trying until it 'takes'), then it should not be practicable. However, I don't necessarily agree with the claim that research funding should be stopped. Just like any area of medicine and biology, our technologies and knowledge continue to increase, making procedures safer and more efficient/effective. It doesn't make sense that the procedure could be researched, perfected, and tested, without funding. Obviously, researchers should not attempt the procedure on human embryos until it has been much improved through research on other organisms (Now I don't really support testing on animals either, but it would be naive to think that animal testing will cease any time in the near future).
I think I also agree with gromphus that the 'slippery slope' that seems evident in genetic engineering for specific traits does not seem evident in genetic engineering that simply creates more people. On that note, however, I'm not sure that more people is what the world needs. But since it's realistic to assume that people are going to continue to reproduce (a high percentage of whom will do so irresponsibly), I don't think there is any inherent argument that heterosexual couples have more reproductive rights than same-sex couples (assuming, for example, that the procedure was perfected and safe).
On the 'right of natural conception', I don't think it would make a difference as long as it didn't create social castes. As long as there were policies that would keep such information confidential, I don't see how it would be a problem. I know people would argue with this, but test-tube babies aren't stigmatized in society, why should people conceived from this procedure be any different?

John Howard said...

Well, test-tube babies are still natural conception, and therefore can be kept confidential. I think of it as a sex position, one that is not very pleasurable, but has a higher chance of conception than others. We don't know or care what sex position a couple used to get pregnant, that's their business. But same-sex conception wears it very publicly on its sleeve that this couple used genetic engineering to create this child. We can't conceive of the child being conceived naturally, nor can the child feel that he or she is just like other kids. So there is definitely a high risk of stigma and psychological problems.
And you say you feel it should be "practicable" if it is safe, but what if it isn't safe? It certainly isn't safe right now, right? Are you willing to say that it shouldn't be a right right now? How do we control if something is "practicable" or not, and how do we decide when to call it practicible. Who makes that call"
I agree with gromphus too that same-sex conception is not the same as genetic engineering to control the genes, but I feel that it opens the door to creating an acceptable risk of creating people using genetic engineering, and that is one of the only reasons that many people see not to pursue genetic enhancements. So it does have implications in the slippery slope", even if it is only the grease and not the slope itself. Once we're allowing genetic engineers to create people, why not let them create them as healthy and enhanced as they can make them?
And I agree with you that animal testing is unethical and also that it probably will not be stopped, but we have stopped it for cosmetic pursuits. We only justify it now when it is done to find a cure for a disease, because we believe that there is a higher ethical imperitive to find cures for diseases that cause suffering. I think the inability to have children with someone of the same sex is not a disease and doesn't cause suffering, and that same-sex conception is an unnecessary cosmetic pursuit, and therefore this research is animal abuse.

Garibaldi said...

Although the opinions you have quoted seem extreme. I have to admit the issues you have listed need consideration. How do I support the freedom of others to live as they want (gay marriage), and preserve my own freedoms? I don't know. Deep inside I believe (and I have to explanation because it is not logical) that by legalizing gay marriage that will somehow limit my own freedom to a heterosexual marriage. I can't explain it. But I am afraid. I hope it is just fear of the unknown.

Purple Avenger said...

Do you think that people have an inherent right to be conceived rather than 'manufactured'?

I think I worry first about a right to exist prior to birth before worrying about what mechanism got you to that point.

FWIW, I'm NOT anti-abortion.

What I am is an INTJ personality type engineer who approaches stuff very logically.