The Pew Research Center released a poll last week evaluating Americans' moral assessments, and it is well worth taking a look. The poll asked adults whether they viewed particular issues -- including embryonic stem cell research and in vitro fertilization -- as morally wrong, morally neutral, or morally acceptable.
Pew's results show that the vast majority of Americans -- at least two-thirds -- believe both embryonic stem cell research and IVF are either morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all. These numbers are especially noteworthy when compared to views on abortion:
The percentage of U.S. adults who consider abortion to be morally wrong (49%) far exceeds the percentage who express this view about in vitro fertilization (12%), non-embryonic stem cell research (16%) or embryonic stem cell research (22%).
Yet even among the groups one would naturally expect to hold traditional values, the numbers don't change much. For instance, only 15 percent of self-identified conservatives and 13 percent of self-identified Catholics view IVF as morally wrong. With groups like these being so small in their disapproval, Pew's results come as no surprise -- especially when one takes into account the steady increases in the use of reproductive technology over the past decade. According to the CDC:
The number of ART [Assisted Reproductive Technology] cycles performed in the United States has increased, from 107,587 cycles in 2001 to 147,260 in 2010. The number of live-birth deliveries in 2010 (47,090) was more than one and a half times higher than in 2001 (29,344). The number of infants born who were conceived using ART also increased between 2001 and 2010. In 2010, 61,564 infants were born, which was more than one and a half times higher than the 40,687 born in 2001. Because in some cases more than one infant is born during a live-birth delivery (e.g., twins), the total number of infants born is greater than the number of live-birth deliveries.
But going back to the Pew study: In considering the implications of its results, R.R. Reno at First Things has a very interesting take that merits attention. He writes that the poll indicates that Americans are mostly accepting of this "bio-technological revolution that will fundamentally change how children are conceived, gestated, born -- and understood." As Reno sees it:
Our society is committed to relationship and family “diversity,” and that will mean a commitment to allowing technical solutions to the sorts of limitations facing those who opt for non-traditional relationships and families. This is very likely to fundamentally change the origins, meaning, and status of children. Or perhaps more accurately it will accelerate the trend already in place that treats children as luxury goods that ornament the complete life of high achieving professionals.
Moreover, advances in reproductive technology, according to Reno, are already being pushed in the name of equality: for older women, same-sex couples, and single persons. Now I am not fully convinced that children will therefore be increasingly seen as "luxury goods." However, that fundamental changes will occur in how society views and interacts with children does not seem like a far-off claim to make. Those changes are simply difficult to measure, even with the decades of data we already have.
At any rate, I just wonder how far will be too far for the American public and whether science has already reached that distant point.
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