Human Exceptionalism

“IVF–Enough Will Never Be Enough”

I have a new piece out on IVF in the CBC’s newsletter.  It deals with IVF–which I don’t oppose assuming proper regulations and reasonable restraints.  Alas, that is not what we have–particularly in the USA, where the baby making industry is creating its own mini Gilded Age.

I start with the news that UK IVF practitioners may soon make embryos with three parents.  From my column:

UK scientists announced that they will ask the rarely-says-no UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for permission to implant an IVF embryo that is biologically related to three parents (two women and one man). The genetically modified embryo will be created by taking the mitochondrial DNA from a second (destroyed) embryo and replacing it for that of the first. The purpose is to prevent maternally passed genetic diseases. But health is always the justification for opening doors best kept closed. If it succeeds, the technology will not long remain limited to the few and far between. These things rarely do.

The three-parent child would not be possible without in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF has unquestionably helped bring great joy to the barren and brought precious children into the world who otherwise would not exist. But that is far from the whole story. It has also unleashed a terrible hubris around human reproduction, mutating it into a form of manufacture, including such staples of industrialization as special orders for style, warehousing, quality control, harvesting natural resources to support the industry, and independent service contractors who facilitate productivity and efficiency.

I point out that the IVF industry has become very aggressive, complete with the usual industrial components–including a powerful lobbying arm.  I note that we were promised at the industry’s inception, that IVF would be limited in scope and that the fears expressed by some about the consequences of taking procreation literally into our hands could have serious consequences.  I quote syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman’s statements in that regard and prove how here blithe assurances of restraint and the “willingness to say no” all proved utterly false.

I then go through a long litany of what has happened in the 31 years since Goodman’s false prophesy–such as biological colonialism, the “bitter irony of selective reduction” abortion, eugenic embryo selection, and the like–which I will let you read for yourselves.  I conclude:

Ellen Goodman and her ilk have been proven utterly wrong about the limited nature of IVF and our willingness to meaningfully regulate the sector. But it is too late to matter. IVF, which started from small and compassionate beginnings—one clinic—has grown into a voracious and very profitable industry that refuses to say, finally, enough is enough. Indeed, at this point, it is hard to see any reproductive desire or technology about which contemporary Ellen Goodmans won’t say, “Now we have to watch the development of this technology—willing to see it grow in the right direction and ready to say no.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Italy, for example, only permits three embryos to be made by IVF at a time and requires implantation of all that come into being.  But in the USA it is the Wild, Wild West, and as I stated above, for every new technological “advance,” there will be an Ellen Goodman soothingly promising that we will keep an eye on things to make sure they don’t get out of hand.  And then, we won’t.

Update: I forgot to mention in my litany of IVF consequences: Octomom!


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