At last I am back from my travels and, for a while now, no travels before me. This means that I can get back to postings and comments here, too. I’m happy to be here and will try to play catch-up efficiently.
Though the focus of this blog is not exclusively ART (that’s assisted reproduction technology, or something like that) it certainly does come up a lot. And typically I focus on current stories of one sort or another. And the media being what it is, many of the stories are rather sensational, focussed on instances where things wrong, often terribly wrong.
I wonder if this has distorted the discussion. So today I want to take a step back for a moment and then focus on an instance where things went right.
It seems to me that fundamentally ART is a tool. It is something we can use. It is therefore neither inherently good nor inherently evil (Catholic teaching notwithstanding), any more than a hammer could be good or evil. It’s all about how it is used.
To be clear, I think it is possible to say that it is so easy to misuse and so hard to use properly that it still should be banned or sharply constricted. But that is not my take on it. Instead, I think we need to focus on ways to minimize /curtail the misuse of ART. (I don’t really think eliminating misuse is an attainable goal though I’d love to be wrong about that.) This in turn requires being clear about what constitutes misuse vs. good or productive use. I think this last is the subject of a lot of the conversation here.
As you may know I’ve been travelling a bit. I’ve spent some time with an amazing group of attorneys who spend a lot of time thinking hard about ART in all its complexity. I never fail to learn from them. But I was also struck–this time in particular–by the ways in which they use their authority to try and ensure that ART is used in the best ways possible.
It’s hardly original to note that lawyers are, in many settings, people with power, especially in the US where we set great store in claims of legal right. As with ART itself, law is a tool. It’s versatile and can be used for many different purposes, some good and some not so good.
I’ve often focused on lawyers who have misused the law even as they have misused ART. It’s just as important–perhaps even more important–to recognize that lawyers can be critical players insisting on the best uses of ART. Because lawyers can be deeply involved, particularly in things like surrogacy, they are well-positioned to insist that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. They can articulate the interests of children who may be conceived via ART. They can insist that their clients behave in ways that make ART all that it can be.
And it isn’t just theoretical. I just spend the weekend with lawyers who do just this, lawyers who are every bit as concerned with the potential and real abuses of ART but who also see the good it can bring. I think it is imporatnt to take a moment to acknowledge the existence of such lawyers and to appreciate the critical roles they can play.
And if there is any doubt that ART can be a good thing, check out this story from Time’s Healthland blog about a woman, Jessica Brown, who served as surrogate for her sister and brother-in-law (Melissa Brown and Steve Mohler.) Melissa had to under treatment for breast cancer and before beginning chemotherapy had preserved some eggs, fertilized to become embryos. When she could not carry the pregnancy that might result from the transfer of the embryos, Jessica volunteered.
Jessica doesn’t fit the classic profile of a surrogate–she doesn’t have children of her own, for example–but the sisters were clearly very close and it’s not hard to understand why she would offer to do this.
And it’s pretty hard for me to see anything that anyone could object to. Here’s a child who will always know her origin story and who will always have contact with the important people in that story of creation. This is, to my mind, ART being well and thoughtfully used.