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Begotten, not made

For the sake of children, we need a global moratorium on bioengineering babies

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Begotten, not made
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Imagine a future Wall Street Journal headline on Oct. 28, 2079: “The MetaSphereÔ is abuzz over a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly 25,000 bioengineered people for “wrongful birth.” The article goes on to say: “Many born without either a biological father, or mother, the suit maintains that the bioengineered suffer irreparable psychological damage and insurmountable social alienation from traditional patterns of family life. After years of unsuccessfully advocating for the abolition of the ‘natural family,’ and the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother,’ some bioengineered people now seek compensation for damages. ‘I should never have been born,’ said Rudy Goldsmith, one of the most celebrated bioengineered people alive today. He was one of the first people to have been made using the DNA of two homosexual men. Consequently, he does not have a biological mother. ‘I’m a freak,’ claims Mr. Goldsmith. Compensation sought from bioengineering firms such as Conception Biosciences is said to be in the trillions of dollars.”

This probably sounds fanciful, or dystopian, but if some bioengineers are correct concerning what is possible, we might see something like this someday. What prompted my gaze into the crystal ball was an article published in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “What If Men Could Make Their Own Eggs?” As you can probably tell from the title, this takes in vitro into a brave new world. Here’s a description of the project from the opening paragraph of the article:

“Matt Krisiloff, chief executive officer of Conception Biosciences, has dozens of scientists working at a lab in Berkeley, Calif., trying to make eggs outside of ovaries. Such a technique could allow women to have biological children later in life.

“Krisiloff, who is gay, says technology, known as in vitro gametogenesis or IVG, could also help male couples have biological children without anyone else’s genes.”

Apparently, this isn’t idle speculation. Japanese biologist Katsuhiko Hayashi has turned skin cells from male mice into mouse eggs and used them to breed baby mice. Whether or not this is possible to do with human beings is unknown. But the question is, should it even be tried?

Too often the technologist’s conceit is that if something is possible it is permissible. Predictably, when objections are raised to the development of a new technology “benighted” attitudes from the past objecting to airplanes or indoor plumbing are trotted out. But the inevitable march of progress doesn’t have the same purchase it once did. Everything from climate change to the psychologically harmful effects of smartphones on adolescent girls has at last gotten people to reconsider the value of prudence.

We have a pretty good idea of what’s good for kids. And it is the interests of children that should be the standard, not the emotional gratification of adults.

Still, there is a wedge issue—there always is. And the issue is infertility. The argument goes, “What right do we have to deny a woman the emotional gratification that comes from being a mother if she desires it?” And in our vertiginous time it’s a short step from that to, “Who has the right to deny a man the emotional gratification of motherhood?” (Especially if he is willing to pay for it.)

But there’s more than emotional gratification to consider. There are other people to think about. What about their emotional gratification? And that’s merely a start. Really, the days of trampling on prudence have come to an end.

Laws are for keeping harmful possibilities from being realized. No one needs a law to prevent the impossible. And until yesterday, no one needed to think about this. There is a stock argument often made at a time like ours, “If we don’t do it someone else will.” But that begs the question. There are many things that people do in the far-flung corners of the world that are illegal here, and experimenting on people is one of them.

Besides, we have a pretty good idea of what’s good for kids. And it is the interests of children that should be the standard, not the emotional gratification of adults. Sure, if those can be satisfied while the interests of children remain primary, great. But societies throughout human history have celebrated the concept of a mother and a father who both love and authoritatively raise a child as being the best interest of the child. And there is an impressive body of social science to back it up.

With these things in mind, there should be a global moratorium on bioengineering with the express intent of transcending the biological design we have received when it comes to begetting children. Yes, I used the “D” word—“Designed.” Children are endowed by their creator with a biological father and a biological mother and in this brave new world in which the possibility of circumventing this through an industrial process, it should be enshrined as a basic human right.

Except in those instances where a child is legally adopted for entirely laudable reasons due to a tragic situation or where a child is in an abusive context, the legal reality is that children have a right to know and live with their biological parents. The last thing we need is a technology that undermines the very concept of parenthood.

C.R. Wiley

C.R. Wiley is a pastor and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of The Household and the War for the Cosmos and In the House of Tom Bombadil.

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