I’ve been thinking about what I wrote Friday, This is in part spurred by the comment by Kisrita about Never Let Me Go: It’s not cloning itself that is disturbing in the movie. It’s the way the clones are treated.
Thinking about this lead me to wonder whether there is really something inherent in the particular development that bothered me. I felt like I needed to think more carefully about exactly what lead to my reaction. For starters I have a couple of thoughts, though I’m not sure these are answers.
First, the project seems rather silly to me. Do we really need to be doing research into this? Aren’t there better things to spend time, talent and treasure on? Even as I say this, I have to concede that I do not know enough to know whether there are broader applications of this research than simply provide more ART that can be offered for purchase. Perhaps there are, in which case I am at best offering an incomplete analysis.
But even if the only importance of this research is for human ART, different people are bound to answer the question of whether this is worth it differently. It’s clear that some people are willing to spend a great deal more time/trouble/money on ART than others. People place different values on the worth of having a child with a genetic connection to both parents.
I think here of lesbian couples where one partner provides an egg for IVF and the resulting pre-embryo is then transferred to the other partner . This procedure, which is obviously far more complicated than simple insemination, might be chosen because of medical limitations of the two women, but sometimes I think it is chosen because the women involved are willing to do a great deal to give each partner some biological basis for the claim to parenthood.
So maybe the fact that I think the two father mouse story is a bit ridiculous says as much about me as anything else? It may even be a bit inconsistent–if I’m willing to have two men raise a child together (and I am) why not let them both be genetically related?
While this may begin as an observation about individual preferences, there’s more to it than that. There are so many needs in the world and it is increasingly clear there are not adequate resources to meet them all. Thus, we must consider how we allocate resources. If we could cure malaria or produce children from two men, which is the greater good? Just to be clear, I think the same thing about a huge number of the consumer products placed before us. The NYT Style section makes me crazy, featuring $500 shirts and such like. It seems to me only fair to ask whether this is something we need and can afford as a society, even though I do not know a systematic, objective way to answer the question. (I’ve discussed this in the past, but not for some time.
All of those reservations are really quite general. You could make the same points if someone was developing some particularly new spiffy stereo system, I think. But I have a second set of concerns that are more specific to ART.
The degree to which individuals value having a genetic link with their children varies–which is to say it is more important to some people than to others. (I’m trying to start with an uncontroversial statement–surely we can agree this is one?) It seems to me many things affect the individual calculus each of us performs. I worry generally that all the rise of ART as an industry and the promotion of ART generally leads people to value genetic connection more highly. (I should discuss this at more length in another post, but for the moment I want to just keep going to get to the point here.)
I’m not at all sure that encouraging people to value genetic connections more highly is a good thing. Here, too, I can discuss at more length and there’s already a lot on the blog that already addresses this. For now, I’ll just leave it here–I have misgivings about the way in which the technology drives demand for ART, which in many ways enhances belief in the primacy of genetics.