When is ART Too Much?

Once again, I’ve been quiet for a while.  Let’s just call it an end of the semester vacation.  And in truth, with holidays and all, my postings may remain sporadic for a time.  But you never know–today I find several things I’d like to get to. 

Let me start with this tidbit–which is really little more than a headline:  “Reproductive Scientists Create Mice From 2 Fathers.”     I must confess that a story like this makes me wonder–is there a point where we have enough reproductive technology?  Where do you draw the line?  

This is a tricky issue for me.  I’m supportive of a lot of ART, but I know it has to stop somewhere.  I’ve read (but not seen) Never Let Me Go , an excellent if troubling book by Kazuo Ishiguro.  (SPOILER ALERT  It’s about a world where human clones are raised to be sources of spare parts.   Indeed, the protagonists are clones.   It’s not a world I’d ever want to see.)  

If you like some of something (here reproductive technology) but don’t like all you have to find a place to draw the line.   That’s the challenge I’ll think about here.

To start, it’s probably worth noting that assisted reproductive technology (ART)might mean different things to different people.  For  some people a man providing sperm in any way that isn’t intercourse might count as ART.  But of course, insemination can be accomplished at home with technology no more advanced than a turkey-baster.   So for me, insemination isn’t always ART, though it can be.  

I suppose I’m thinking that the critical letters are the “RT” –reproductive technology–rather than the “A”–assisted.   So while I am aware that for some the issue arises with any assisted reproduction, even if it is totally low-tech, that’s not the line of thought I’m pursing just now.   (I will note that even considering all forms of assisted reproduction without any regard to technology may also raise line-drawing problems, but I’ll leave that for comments or another day entirely.) 

So on one side of the line, I’m comfortable with sperm banks.  (I’ll set aside the issue of donor identification for the moment, if I may, though I know this is a topic of great debate.   If you are unwilling to let me set it aside, then for the moment I’ll offer a narrower statement, which is also true:  I’m comfortable with sperm banks where the donors identity is can be made available to a resulting child.)   This form of ART does not strike me is inherently problematic.   Indeed, I’m in favor of structuring law to enable this choice by providing that a donor of sperm is not  a legal father.  

On the other side of the line, I do not accept the cloning depicted in Never Let Me Go.    But telling you that this is on the unacceptable side of the line doesn’t tell you exactly where the line is, nor does it tell you on what principle I draw the line.  It just gives you a rough idea.

Can I do better?   Can I say more precisely where I’d draw the line on ART?  Which side of the line is the mouse with two fathers on?

Thinking about this question has lead me to conclude that the “drawing the line” metaphor may not be entirely helpful.   Perhaps the idea of drawing a line only works when there a shared understanding of the terrain on which the line will be drawn.    So, for example, if I said “how far south on the west coast would you be willing to drive in a day” we might draw the line in different places (Portland vs. San Francisco), but we would agree that SF is further south than Portland.  

But is that true with ART?   I could make a case that surrogacy where the surrogate uses her own egg and is inseminated with an intended father’s sperm is less ART than IVF where a woman’s own egg is fertilized in vitro with her husband’s sperm and then transferred to her own uterus.   Certainly there is more technology in the latter case.   Would we all agree that it is “more ART” and thus, closer to the cloning side of the line?  

You can see that I haven’t gotten very far with this, but that is because it seems to be more complicated than it first appeared to me.  I need to ponder a bit more–so more to follow soon.

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7 responses to “When is ART Too Much?

  1. Do you find the two mother version of this technology equally off putting as the two father version?

    • To be clear, I’m not sure I’m exactly “put off” by either, though I will admit the story made me think. I suppose I did wonder “what’s the point of that?”

      It is not that I disapprove of two father or two mother families. (That must be clear to anyone who has been reading this blog.)

      But as you likely know, I have some problem with the primacy of genetics. I think people’s determination not only to raise a child but to raise a child to which they are genetically related drives a lot of very expensive/high-tech ART. I’m not sure that is, in the grand scheme of things, good. I worry that developments like this feed that appetite, as it were.

      I’m struck by the lengths to which people will go–including time, money pain, medical hardship and angst–to produce a genetically connected child. I wonder if at some point an individual (or a society) might be better off saying “Enough.” Perhaps there is some great value to the development noted here apart from selling it to gay male couples who might be able to produce a child genetically related to both of them. I don’t know. But it sure did make me think.

  2. The most disturbing aspect of Never Let Me Go is not the cloning itself, but that the humans born are treated as subhuman, and terribly exploited. So I don’t know if that film is a really good example of the debate. What if there was a film about humans made by cloning who were loved, supported and respected?

    My main issue is that I don’t like to see any aspect of science banned. There should be free inquiry. But eventually we know if successful, it will make its way to popular use and thats where the problem lies.

    • I think you’re right about that. I suppose this is a version of the observation that a particular piece of technology may not in and of itself be good or bad, it’s how it is used that matters. Yet more to consider.

  3. you’d think though, with all this experimenting going on, someone would try to invent an artificial uterus. There are so many women who can’t/ shouldn’t/ or don’t want t0 carry a pregnancy. The anti abortion folks especially should be all for this!

    • I think I have read that there are efforts to create an artificial womb, just none that are anywhere remotely close to successful. It’s interesting to imagine how the world might change were that possible. It is now possible to transplant a womb, at least for long enough to support a pregnancy. Even that creates new possibilities that are hard to fully imagine.

  4. It think it must say something about gender, that there seems to be so much more interest into alternative methods of conception and less about alternative methods of gestation.

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