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.