The Spectacle Blog

Reason and Reproduction

By on 2.9.09 | 10:24PM

On the new Secular Right blog, Heather Mac Donald comments on the cost of Nadya Suleman's excessive fertility:

Meanwhile, the backlash against Nadya Suleman, the mother of six artificially-conceived children who gave birth to another eight two weeks ago continues.   The nine-week premature octoplet’s delivery required 46 doctors, nurses, and assistants; in twelve days, their care has likely cost at least $300,000 and counting. Here’s a possible rule of thumb: If you are a radical pro-lifer and believe that every artificially-conceived embryo must be brought to term, no fertility treatments for you unless you are prepared to bankroll all the resulting medical costs yourself.  Either accept your God-given condition of infertility or accept a human condition on the man-made science for overcoming that infertility: use within reason. [emphasis added]

On the most basic level this appeal to reason seems entirely reasonable, though I think the wording fails to convey what Mac Donald intends. The same form could be stated: “If you are a woman and believe that every pregnancy must be brought to term, no sex for you unless you are prepared to bankroll all the resulting medical costs.” But presumably Mac Donald doesn’t have a problem with woman having sex, getting pregnant, or allowing their medical insurance to pick up the tab for obstetric procedures.

Still, Mac Donald's point is one that “radical pro-lifers” (like me) should find unobjectionable: reproductive technologies should be used within reason.

Naturally, we shouldn't dismiss the pain and suffering caused by infertility, a problem that affects thousands of potential families. (After one year of sexual relations, 15% of American couples are unable to conceive a child.) But the cost of fertility treatments– both financially and morally – should be borne primarily by the potential parents.

IVF is an extremely expensive procedure, often costing between $10,000-30,000 per treatment, and the likelihood of success is dismally low. Even the best of techniques offers less than a 50% chance that a live birth will occur. Because of these obstacles, couples may be tempted to set aside the ethical concerns in order to take steps -- such as the creation of multipile embryos -- that increase the chances of fulfilling their desire for a child.

But there are ethically acceptable ways to use such technology. Indeed, when all the possible configurations and therapies are considered, there are at least 38 ways to make a baby. Some methods, such as gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and even in vitro fertilization, do not even require the creation of multiple embryos, which are often either frozen, discarded, or "selectively reduced."

Infertile couples should never be willing to unnecessarily sacrifice an innocent human life, even for such a noble purpose as expanding their family. The extra expense required for ethical fertility treatments may be substantial or even prohibitive. But the cost of destroying a human life is even higher.

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