Brave New Technologies

Several new medical techniques have been introduced in the past decades. These methods have revolutionized all what a medical doctor can do for people. Some of these activities, however, are going to bring radical consequences when they are implemented. Some of these are:

1. In vitro fertilization (IVF)

2. Artificial Insemination by the Husband (AIH)

3. Artificial Insemination by a Donor (AID)

4. Surrogate Motherhood

The Indian society is ill prepared either to accept these technologies, or even to evaluate their consequences on our social set up tomorrow,  and because of that it is necessary for us to consider the issues immediately. Every medical practice available in the west filters through to the Indian society sooner or latter. Since most of the people never even get a chance to discuss  such practices, they root themselves firmly   in our soil, changing the whole pattern of our thinking, many times for the worse. Abortion-on-demand is one such example, which is considered by most of our people as a trivial practice. But most of the Indians (including Christians) are blissfully unaware of the not so trivial mental, spiritual, and sociological consequences of this practice.

Coming to our subject, In Vitro Fertilization is that practice by  the help of which they give birth to babies which are erroneously labeled as Test Tube Babies. What they do is to fertilize a woman`s egg with her husband’s sperm in laboratory glassware. At a suitable stage this is implanted in the mother’s uterus. Although this artificial fertilization itself might not be unethical,the different practices associated with it can easily lead people into grossly unethical practices. For example, researchers in this field fertilize a lot of ova to study the effects. Sometimes these fertilized ova are kept frozen for long periods of time, for experimentation at a more convenient occasion. Once the experimentation is finished, these living entities (potential human beings) are destroyed.
Artificial insemination of a woman by her husband’s sperms (when his sperm count is low) is another practice which might be right in some situations, but again the practices surrounding it or prompted by it can go well into the realm of the unethical. For example, way has been opened up for Artificial Insemination of a woman by a donor other than her husband (this will be done in the case where the husband is not in a position of providing sperms for one reason or other). Then there is Surrogate Motherhood where a woman bears a child for a second woman for medical or even trivial reasons. The sperms come from the husband of that woman who is not able to or willing to go through the process of childbearing.

All these practices raise a number of unavoidable questions. A child is the result of a sexual union between a man and his woman, and thus a result of ultimate love. Is it proper and without consequences if we replace this act  of love with mechanical activities which have no connection with a sexual union. Now even if we justify the fertilization of a woman’s egg with her own husband’s sperms on the basis that there is nothing basically unethical about it, can we justify other practices as equally right or acceptable ? What about a man’s sperm being used to fertilize the ovum of a woman who is not his wife in any way ? Or what about a man who donates his sperms to fertilize the ovum of a woman who is not his own  wife ? Here pregnancy ceases to be the result of the natural and lawful union of a man with his own wife ! Whoever can justify such activities where procreation changes its divine role with assembly line production of a commodity which is greatly in demand ?

No one should be fooled into believing that such practices are emotionally neutral to anyone involved in this game. When a child is born out of questionable medical practices, the mother cannot feel the same natural love for   the child who is not born as part of her. Nor can a father get the right kind of emotional or spiritual involvement with the child born of his wife but not fathered by him. The trauma through which the child will have to pass when it grows up is another story for which no solution can be offered.

The emotional abnormalities through which all the concerned parties have to pass is illustrated by the recent case of Baby M. William and Elizabeth Stern of U.S.A. were childless. Mary  B. Whitehead, who already had two children was in need of some money. So she agreed to be artificially inseminated with Stern’s sperm, and be the surrogate mother of his child. The fees for all of this was to be $10,000 ! Once the baby was born, it was to be handed over to the Sterns who had paid for it.

However when the little girl known as Baby M was born, the arrangement fell apart. Whitehead refused to hand over the baby to the Sterns, saying that she had grown too much attached to the baby. She then fled with the baby  and was in the hiding, but the Sterns traced her and took her to the court. After a bitter battle from both the sides, the court handed over the baby to the Sterns. However the case has not ended here because Whitehead has vowed to fight to the end to get the child back. In between her sobs she announced that this baby was her child, her flesh and blood, and that  no judge was going to take away this child from her. It is not difficult to imagine the emotional trauma through which both the parties are passing and the way it will affect Baby M when it grows up into a teen-ager.

What will happen to the stability of the family unit if such practices become common ? By undercutting the spiritual and biological foundations of procreation, are they not going to weaken the already shaky  family unit. It will not only weaken the parent-child bond, but will also lead to mistrust between the husband and wife. This will in turn complicate the matters to such an  extant that these children will probably never grow into healthy and mature adults.

It will be premature to write off all types of artificial reproduction as unethical. It might  be of some benefit when practiced strictly between a man and his wife. However, when these practices are extended to such limits that they threaten to destroy the spiritual and biological basis of family and procreation, there is cause for alarm. Once we allow such practices by overlooking the ethical and socio-spiritual dimensions of the problem, the door will be opened for total chaos. Christians must carefully consider the issues which have only been touched upon lightly in this articles, and Christian doctors must start a dialogue to decide what their position will be when technologies of this kind become available  routinely in Indian hospitals and clinics.

Dr. Johnson C. Philip

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