Technology and The Desire For Control

I’ve been thinking about the desire for control and how it fits in with the topics here–perhaps most particularly with ART, but really much more generally.    It’s a little unformed, but it might start some interesting discussion.

In my experience of parenting, the desire for control is omnipresent.   I suppose I mean control over a child’s life–which is not exactly the same as control over the child.    To varying degrees I’ve wanted to pick a child’s teachers and/or friends, direct them to certain activities, inspire them to choose certain types of interests over others, and so on.   I still vividly recall how in the first weeks of my son’s life I wanted nothing more than to be able to get him to sleep when I though he should.  And one of the most astonishing lessons for me was that you cannot make a child sleep–all you can do is arrange the conditions in the room.   I think this is probably a lesson all parents have to learn–and perhaps it’s really just a variation on “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

In sum, while I may be atypical, or perhaps at an extreme of a spectrum, I think most parents want to have control over their child’s lives–if only so we can make them safe and healthy and happy.    The reality, of course, is that we cannot control the world in which our children live.    For many this is a source of at least occasional worry/anxiety.

I start here because frequently reproductive technology appeals to that need for control.   For instance, PIGD (or PGD) offers you the chance to pick a genetically healthy embryo.   Many other forms of genetic screening and testing do something similar. In my experience many people use amnio with the idea the information they receive will allow them to prepare themselves for the future.   This isn’t exactly the same as controlling the future, but I think it is a related desire.

I’m quite confident that as more extensive genetic testing becomes available, plenty of people will be ready to use it.   I know this raises concerns about eugenics and perhaps there is a conversation to be had here–where is the line between the (to me, at least, understandable) need for control and eugenics?

Viewed in this light, it’s hardly surprising that people take time and trouble to shop for gametes when they need to use gametes from a third-party.    And of course, as more and more genetic information is offered, can we really expect they won’t want to see it?

New developments in ART are constantly cropping off and often their selling point is more control.   I was reminded of this reading a recent NYT op-ed piece on egg freezing–designed to give women more control over when exactly they fit parenthood into busy lives.

Someone recently remarked in an earlier post that most people, if they can, choose to use their own gametes.  I think that’s true..And I think this preference, too, might be partly built on the attachment to control.  There are so many uncertainties in adoption–the genetic lineage of the child and the prenatal care loom particularly large.   Using your own gametes (assuming you’ve been properly screened and they come up okay) allays some of these concerns.   Even if you cannot use your own gametes, if you use IVF and carry the child yourself you can control the prenatal part of the equation.   Or you can use a surrogate–which gives you more information/control than adoption might.

I do not mean to suggest that all of these choices are driven exclusively or even primarily by some desire to control things.   But I think the need or the desire to control circumstances does influence our choices.

If the insight here is sound, does it matter?    It might help us see that some of the underlying motivations of people facing all the choices ART presents are really not so strange–I think they might be near universal.   It’s just that the terrain on which the motivations play out is different and the choice that ART presents are novel and sometimes troubling.

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36 responses to “Technology and The Desire For Control

  1. I’m planning to use PGD so I can increase the odds of a pregnancy while only transferring a single embryo, and increasing the odds that if there is a pregnancy the baby will be healthy. I know that twins are not an outcome I can risk and this is the only way to increase the pregnancy rate without increasing the rate of multiple pregnancy. So I guess that goes back to the whole control thing. I personally don’t find it troubling since the embryos being discarded are ones that nature would have gotten rid of 90%+ of the time anyway, I just don’t have to go through cycle after cycle hoping the one egg/embryo was one of the normal ones.

  2. i think you are disregarding the emotional sense of connection and continuity that is based for most people on biological kinship. I dont think control has much to do with it.

    • try responsibility. urgent responsibility. Its part of taking care of yourself. And we generally know that being rejected by your own parents is fkg devestating,

    • I take it that you mean that I am disregarding the extent to which people choose to use their own gametes because of the emotional sense of connection this gives them? (I’m restating it to make sure I have it right and to be clear about what I am assuming you meant so that my comment can be taken in proper context.)

      I don’t mean to disregard this. I think that is part of the equation, too. But this being part of the equation doesn’t negate my point. Lots of the technologies offered assist people using their own gametes in gaining greater control (or at least, the illusion of control) over things.

  3. We used surrogacy rather than adoption because it gave us greater legal certainty & represented a higher probability of having a baby. (I watched my parents go through several failed adoptions in which the birthmother kept the baby.) Genetics and prenatal care never really entered into my thinking.

    • wit. in your moving essay you were positively driven by the desire to have your own genetic;y related child. You raised your wifes kids you wanted your own.

      • i meant wait. surrogacy guy

      • Lordy. I have no wife. Never wanted one. Never will.

      • marilyn–I’m getting somewhat tired of having to say this. Please don’t be snide to people who are joining our conversation. There’s no call for it and it’s really off-putting.

        • Woah. My only comment above was

          “wit.[wait] in your moving essay you were positively driven by the desire to have your own genetic;y related child. You raised your wifes kids you wanted your own.”

          in response to Tyson saying that genetics never entered his mind. Ki corrected me because she recalled the moving essay I referred to was written by surrogacy together guy.

          I said I was sorry. She was right about my mistake ant that was it.

          Where was I snide? If it had been surrogacy guy that said genetics were unimportant, I’d have been on the money to refer back to the reason he gave in what I thought was a very moving written piece about his experience with hiring a surrogate. I even said it was moving in that post. Where was I rude exactly?

          When people comment as themselves and their business is helping people obtain other people’s offspring to raise is it inappropriate to ask them to explain inconsistencies in what they are saying?

    • In general, I didn’t mean to suggest that control issues were the only one that motivated people. There are many things that influence these life-altering decisions. And I don’t think wanting control is necessarily a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with doing PIGD to ensure a healthy embryo (at least as far as I’m concerned) is transferred.

      I think choosing surrogacy because there is a greater probability of ending up with a child could fall (broadly) within what I think of as control, too. Perhaps I’ve chosen the wrong word, though. I shall mull.

  4. regarding control over pregnancy, yes that’s important to many people but it’s basically illusory. We are able to treat certain diseases like diabetes and RH incompatibility, but beyond that There is fairly little that one can do to ensure a healthy baby. There is still no way of curing or even predicting preecclampsia or preterm labor even in healthy women. 1/6 or so of all pregnancies will still end in early miscarriages. Deciding whether or not to eat that extra portion of ice cream may give one an illusion of control.
    The cesarean section rate is through the room nowadays. It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 3 women will give birth by cesarean. Both dr’s and patients are trying to control the unpredictable process of labor and birth with the result that huge numbers of women are having unnecessary surgeries with absolutely no improvement in perinatal morbidity.
    Seems like almost every story I read about surrogacy, has the surrogate delivering by cesarean section. I wonder if that’s coincidential or if it represents a dominant trend.

    • PGD can remove the chance of a miscarriage caused by chromosomal problems – obviously that’s not all of them so it doesn’t bring the rate to zero or anything like that, but the majority of first trimester miscarriages are chromosomal/genetic problems.

    • I think you’ve hit upon part of what I mean to get at. There’s a desire for control but ultimately it is illusory. We would love to believe that by eating properly during pregnancy you can ensure a happy outcome. Not true, but not totally false either–I mean, you can mess things up. I think the wish for control is completely understandable and there’s nothing wrong with it, by the way. Didn’t mean to suggest that. But the illusory nature of whatever we think is control–ultimately in a big picture way–is also important.

      Don’t know about surrogacy and Cesarean. Will try and find out. I wonder if anything like that is ever in the agreements? Not that it would be enforcable, but it would tell us if people discussed it.

  5. Most Intended Parents choose Surrogacy because of the legal certainty that the process brings. The courts recognizing you as the parents is the most important factor.

    The rest of the process is scary as hell and everybody is on the wild pregnancy ride until birth.

    When 1 in 3 women give birth by C-section normally, and you have to have given birth to be a surrogate, with Surrogates having given 1-4 births already, that means the majority of Surrogates have already had a C-section, and once you have had a C-section there are very few doctors that will allow you to do a Vbac. It’s a simple reflection of hospital/doctor policy.

    • I’m not sure what you mean about choosing surrogacy becaue of the legal certainty that results. Adoption also ends up with legal certainty–there’s no doubt that adoptive parents are legal parents. Do you mean that there’s a greater chance of a surrogacy arrangment working out to result in your becoming a legal parent than an adoption arrangment? There are so many different ways to think about this proposition–if I’m thinking on day one and I want the way that is most likely to have me in a position of a legal parent two years from now surrogacy may be the most likely. But I’m actually not sure.

  6. the 1 in three doesn’t line up in each woman; since it includes repeat c/sections as you said.
    to put it another way, say you have 3 woman who each have had 3 births.
    You’ll likely have 3 cesareans but they may be all one woman. That is assuming a constant 1/3rd rate.
    But the 1/3 rate is very new, only over the last couple of years. It has beens steadily climbing but it has always been lower.
    Check your lists; i bet you will find that the majority of your women for rent have not had previous cesareans.

    The very idea that dr’s get to “allow” a natural birth or not is a sign of a pregnancy industry way out of control, no pun intended. On the contrary legally it is the pregnant woman whose perrmission must be sought to perform surgery on her body, not the other way around. What dr’s do is amplify the risks to their patients to “encourage” them to choose the dr’s preferred choice. Most people trust their drs.

    Whats more, not all dr’s are anti vbac, there are many that do support it.

    i’d love to see a statistic on this but no one keeps these kinds of statistics, after all they’re just wombs for rent.

  7. When you undergo fertility treatments, you lack control, You are at the mercy of your doctors, your body and the drugs, so I can see that infertile couples would want to seize opportunities for control when they find them, and I don’t imply that desire for control is negative.

    We didn’t necessarily choose surrogacy out of a desire for control, but how we handled the process was a direct reflection on our desire for control. Instead of using an agency, we matched independently with our surrogate, and that way we were able to be hands-on throughout the entire process. I think it also allowed for us to have a closer relationship with our surrogate because we had to communicate for everything.

    Ki and others, I really object to the description as surrogates as “women for rent.” Do you know these women? Have you talked with them about why they pursue surrogacy? Or are you just assuming their exploitation without any data? And for what it’s worth, our surrogate had 3 children of her own and 3 surro babies, and all of them were vaginal births.

    • I think it is precisely because there is so much one cannot control that we try to control as much as we can. I think this about raising kids all the time. So much is clearly out of my hands, beyond my control. So for those few things that are, I want to exercise that control. And if you give me a way of having greater control (like parental controls on a computer, say) I’ll often leap at it. It doesn’t deny the greater things that I cannot possibly touch.

  8. The women for rent is meant as a dig at the clients, but more specifically the brokers, the primary profiteers.

    • And like most “digs” it’s grotesquely inaccurate.

    • While I will agree that the fees an agency charges for surrogacy are high and a huge reason why we pursued matching independently, I think they provide a needed service. Again, the majority of agencies are upstanding and care primarily about making a good match for their clients and surrogates and ensuring the journey progresses smoothly. Do you object to them because they are profiting or do you object to any kind of intermediated service such as match-making, adoption, head hunting etc?

      I see a lot of vitriol in the replies to Julie’s posts, but I don’t see a lot of reason and facts as to why there is so much vitriol.

      • “I see a lot of vitriol in the replies to Julie’s posts, but I don’t see a lot of reason and facts as to why there is so much vitriol.”

        I think this is an accurate statement if your referring to the negative feelings about surrogacy expressed here because I think that comments from Julie and from those that put their two cents in are evolving and developing as we try to figure out what it is that feels wrong about it. Where is the reason indeed.

        I’m narrowing it down for myself. Julie has gone through not being in favor of surrogacy 2 years ago to thinking its kind of OK at this point. I thought everything was OK so long as the kid knew who their genetic parents are and now I realize that any time the object of a private agreement is custody of and parental title of someone else’s offspring that person looses their freedom and many rights that others have and their estranged relatives also loose many rights that others have. Anyone involved in facilitating such a contract is overstepping their authority and participating in a scheme for the buying and selling of human property.

        If the law were as I think it should be nobody would have the right to be named as parent on the birth record of a person that was not their own offspring. To do so would be considered fraud and identity theft and records would be corrected to correct the error as soon as discovered. People would have the right to challenge the validity of their own birth records by requesting genetic testing etc. Giving birth should no longer be proof of maternity and marital presumption should no longer be sufficient for presumption of paternity. If that were the case then people would not have to adopt their children if another woman gave birth to their child – the contract would not be for parental title over or custody of the child she gave birth to, the contract would just be for the service of gestation. Right now these gestational carriers are gestating egg donor’s children and they are helping people buy the egg donor’s children. That is horrible.

        Surrogates should probably work for companies that provide full benefits and hollidays etc so that their health is well protected and they are fairly compensated. As independent contractors there is very little safety in doing such a dangerous job.

        Ethically as long as it is providing gestation for the offspring of individuals that did not involve a donor being paid not to raise their child its probably just fine.

        How is that for logic behind some of the reactions.

        in offering the service of gestation because c

        • I’m feeling a need here to speak for myself because this is not an accurate summary of my views.

          I think (and have thought for a long time) that surrogacy is okay. I see this as autonomy issue for women. I think women can make their own decisions and one of the decisions they can make is to be a surrogate. That’s not a new view on my part (though lord knows what I’ve written back at the beginning of the blog.) What I mean here is that I think it sould be fine for women to take money in exchange for being pregnant.

          But this doesn’t answer most of the big questions about how the law should deal with commerical surrogacy except to say that the law shouldn’t prohibit it. And one key question is who should the legal mother be when the surrogate gives birth? And I think the legal mother should be the surrogate. (I believe this is the law in the UK.) That means if she wants to change her mind at that point, she can. I understand this make surrogacy less attractive (because it gives ultimate control to the surrogate rather than the IPs) but it’s where I come down. (Among other things, I have a lot of faith that women who consider carefully and become surrogates will typically follow through and give up the child.)

          This is about to go way beyond the scope of what needs to be in the comments (if it has not already done so) so I will stop. You can hunt the surrogacy posts on the blog for more or I promise the topic will come back again.

          • I am sorry if I mischaracterized your view point. The person that made this comment was saying she did not see lots of facts given in support of negative views on surrogacy given here. I thought think that many opinions given by you and your comment givers are evolving and there are times where comments lack a good strong foundation.

            My opinion was that everything was OK as long as people were allowed to know who their donor was then I found that was an opinion that was impossible to defend.

    • Not a dig Ki it’s the truth again
      go to surrogacy man’s website for details

      http://pictures.expectmiraclessurrogacy.com/2012/07/new-jersey-surrogacy-bill-is-reasonable.html

  9. I think it immoral to profit off someone else’s body.
    adoption services can be very problematic also.

    got no issue with services that broker goods and services.

  10. also, I believe while individual surrogacy cases may work out fine, the more widespread and mainstream it becomes the greater the potential for abuse.

    • like prostitution. Remember ex- NY governor Elliot spitzer who was discovered to have pain thousands of dollars to very pricey prostitutes? These women had other jobs, were living independently and made a very high rate of money per encounter- they were not exploited at all. But when prostitution is widespread it will almost invariably be exploitive.

  11. our resident surrogacy broker on this forum claims “his” surrogates are motivated to help others…. he doesn’t advertise almost none of them are college graduates and are either unemployed or working at labor-intensive, low pay jobs while having to support their own children. this is the information they provide about themselves.

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