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Ethical Implications of Assisted Reproduction

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Ethical Implications of Assisted Reproduction The ethical implications of assisted reproduction are obvious. There is no doubt the process of assisted reproduction has caused more harm than good as massive killing of unwanted fertilized embryos are carried out during the process. Also some of the babies born through this process have some serious physical and genetic deformities that make some of their parents regret having them. Even a doctor once asserted that he did not get into assisted reproduction to help in creating severely damaged babies (Pence 88). This concern expressed by a physician shows how ethically horrendous assisted reproduction could be. Assisted reproduction has been a hotly debated issue in recent times mainly because of its ethical implications. Despite the ethical implications, assisted reproduction also has some moral, social, and religious concerns coupled with some psychological and biological or genetic implications both to the conceived embryos and their mothers. It is not an overstatement to adduce that there are disastrous health implications and consequences associated with assisted reproduction, which more often than not are overlooked by physicians and those desperate for children. There are three main types of assisted reproduction namely – artificial insemination, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and surrogacy. The ethical concern of these procedures is that they are unnatural method of conception, creating life in the laboratory, and fertilizing more embryos than would be needed, which often leads to massive abortion. Creating “man-made human beings” could be morally and religiously unethical. Doing things unnaturally such as assisted reproduction could have some devastating consequences. For instance, in vitro fertilization usually comes with multiple births which are often accompanied by infant mortality, low birth weights, long-term disabilities, and thousands of dollars’ worth of medical care (Stephanie Saul, New York Times). Gregory E. Pence in his article “The McCaughey Septuplets: God’s Will or Human Choice?” asserts that it could take about “a cool million dollars” to cater for a set of septuplets from their conception to their delivery (Pence 87). This implies that assisted reproduction could also have economic implications both to the family in particular and the society at large. It should be noted that we live in a paganized, secularized, indifferent, and a godless world; scientists are keen at trying things that were hitherto unimaginable such as cloning and assisted reproduction. Assisted reproduction leads to massive abortion (of unwanted embryos) and reproduction of severely damaged children (Pence 88), and surrogacy leads to queer exploitation of women. Human beings in their inquisitiveness and quest for knowledge are always making some advancement in science and technology. Such advancement sometimes has adverse effects as some of the scientist carrying them out are seen challenging God by creating their own “man-made” human beings. Assisted reproduction has some questionable consequences that people ought to give it a second thought before carrying it out. It is unethical and immoral to try to manipulate nature in order to produce children unnaturally. That is basically what assisted reproduction is all about. At the end of the day, you find out that the children born through this process have some abnormalities such as cerebral palsy, Huntington’s disease, and developmental problems which could keep the children and their families miserable for the rest of their lives. To this effect, some renowned ethicists such as Gregory Pence, and feminist, Laura Purdy, coupled with disability rights advocate, Adrienne Asch, have written extensively about the pros and cons of assisted reproduction and its implications to the child, family, and society.
Socially, assisted reproduction has become a global phenomenon and a modern trend in the contemporary society. Childless couples and single parents have embraced it as one of the wonders of our generation. It all started in the late 1990s when biological scientists started animal cloning after the successful experimentation in cloning Dolly the sheep. There was every tendency that cloning experiments could be extended to humans which led to a universal ban on human cloning. However, it became unpopular due to Christians outcry coupled with international bodies such as UNESCO and some governments’ (U.S. and France) total ban on human cloning (Devolder, 2013). Katrien Devolder in her article “Cloning” argues that, “if cloning is banned, infertile couples may opt for embryo or gamete donation rather than adoption” (Devolder 3.3.1). This is basically what gave rise to In Vitro Fertilization and other forms of assisted reproduction. Human advancement in the field of science and technology has been extended to various developments in reproductive medicine thereby giving humans increasing control over fertility. Humans can now decide the sex of the child they want and the number of babies they want at a given time. The “Octomom” Nadya Suleman, from California who was lucky to have giving birth to eight premature but otherwise healthy children on Jan. 26, 2009 is a case in point. She became a media sensation. She went from medical marvel (hers are the only known full set of octuplets to live past their first week) to a celebrity and a single mother of fourteen (USA Today, 2014). This development in reproductive medicine has given rise to two basic forms of assisted reproduction namely: fertility treatment (in form of medication) and artificial insemination also known as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) which is literally fertilization without sexual intercourse. However, some of the medical and ethical concerns are that these treatments carry a risk for genetic disorders which are incurable. Also, there are some downsides to this treatment option such as the increased risk of multiple births. The medication also has a number of side effects such as hot flushes, headaches, mood swings, and may cause ovarian cysts (Purdy115). Not only that these fertility treatments are expensive; sometimes babies born through any of the assisted reproduction treatments have low birth weights and have a higher rate of dealing with cerebral palsy.
Scientist and physicians then resorted to assisted reproduction as an alternative to human cloning. As a result, assisted reproduction has become a lucrative business so rampant today because politicians endorsed it, celebrities embraced it, and childless parents cherished and adored it as a panacea to their childlessness. It has become a modern trend and most celebrities have made it more popular and easily accessible than ever. In so far as you have the money nothing will stop you from having the number of babies and the sexes you want through assisted reproduction. However, that is not the end of the story for anything that has advantages must also have disadvantages. Creating and killing embryos are one of the major concerns of assisted reproduction. The fertility drugs have serious effects on the fetuses and their mothers. The drugs also lead to multiple pregnancies which in turn lead to multiple abortions. Some other concerns are safety and efficiency of the process of assisted reproduction. There is no hundred per cent guarantee that a particular assisted reproduction must be a success. Assisted reproduction causes harm to the individuals conceived and to their mothers and others. Pence gave some instances of incidents to buttress his argument against the way assisted reproduction is carried out especially the non-adherence to the physician’s advice on “selective reduction” by the couples receiving assisted reproduction. Multiple babies, Pence argues, are usually premature, weigh less than two pounds and have three times chances of becoming handicapped at birth unlike single babies. The multiple fetuses have to scramble for the scarce nutrients and oxygenated blood from the womb of their mother. Also the babies may have to spend many months in the neonatal intensive care units which could be a heavy financial burden and emotional distress to the family. The Pence’s illustrations are breathtaking. From the McCaughey septuplets in 1997 who refused to reduce instead called it “God’s will” (and gave birth to babies with cerebral palsy) to the Denise Amen’s quintuplets featured in NBC News (1997), from the Mormon couple’s septuplets (1985) (who refused to abort and four of their babies died and three survivors remained severely disabled)to the 1996 gee-whiz case of Mandy Allwood in England also with septuplets. As Mandy refused to abort some of the babies, she ended up losing all of them. The most pathetic one was the one at West Virginia where a woman refused to selective reduction and finally lost all but one of the multiple babies who ended up being blind, paraplegic, and severely retarded (88) which made the physician who helped the woman to lament that he is not “into assisted reproduction to help create severely damaged babies” (88). In the Mormon couple’s case, the Frustacis were distraught, disappointed, and frustrated that they sued the physicians that assisted them (88). These are typical occurrences in assisted reproduction which calls for great concern in the procedure.
Also human dignity and religious beliefs are compromised with the issue of assisted reproduction. Catholics called it an abomination, Jews regarded it as intolerable, and Muslims referred to it as “haram” (not ‘Boko Haram’) that is, forbidden. Some other religions see assisted reproduction as morally and religiously unethical. Families with abnormal children put in a lot of efforts and time and suffer emotionally for the burden created by the disabled children (Asch 129).
Assisted reproduction for childless married couples is understandable and could be encouraged to a certain extent. It is different from that of the single parents who have bastardized the assisted reproduction process. Some single parents are confessing how tedious it is to raise children alone. From a religious viewpoint, this is indisputably a tool used by the devil to destroy the sanctity of marriage. It makes a man think that he doesn't need a wife in his life and vice versa. It is of ethical concern that if we continue like this, twenty to fifty years from now, marriage would become valueless and a forgotten issue. God forbid! The process has been so polarized and bastardized that some women display their wombs for sale (Purdy 90) to the highest bidder and some men sale their sperm to desperate women buyers and sperm banks. Some people that participate in assisted reproduction are ignorant of the medical condition of the donors and the surrogate mothers. This could lead to genetic abnormalities such as cerebral palsy and Huntington’s disease which Purdy says shows up at later age (30-50) and could be transferred to the offspring of the carrier unknowingly (Purdy117).
According to Adrienne Asch, in her article Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion: A Challenge to Practice and Policy, argues that “normal health” is not necessarily a prerequisite for living a satisfying life (Asch 123) Asch acknowledges that biological disability could have some devastating effect on people’s lives but she maintains that “most of the problems associated with having disability stems from discriminatory social arrangements” (123). As a disability rights’ advocate, Asch contends that “even very serious disabilities and disease are compatible with a worthwhile life” (124). Families with abnormal children put in a lot of efforts and time and suffer emotionally for the burden created by the disabled children (Asch 129). Asch argues that it is morally wrong and ethically unjustified to conduct prenatal testing and selective abortion in order to terminate any fetus that exhibits disability traits (127).This procedure is dangerous because babies with little or no disabilities could be terminated unknowingly. A just society, Asch adds, should endeavor to appreciate and nurture the lives of all people regardless of their physical or genetic impairments (127).
In conclusion, assisted reproduction, (surrogacy) exploits women, weakens family life, destroys family ties and turns women into fetal containers (Purdy) It increases population (like in the case of the Octomom - Nadya Suleman - who had only two pregnancies with fourteen children), and endangers the lives of the unborn and their mothers. On the other hand, assisted reproduction could bring a smile on the faces of childless and infertile couples who had no hope of bearing a child. Purdy calls it making impossibility possible. That notwithstanding, the pros outweigh the cons and therefore the process of assisted reproduction should be closely monitored, adequately regulated, and discouraged if possible.

Works Cited

Devolder, Katrien, "Cloning", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition),

Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

Kuhse, Helga, and Singer, Peter, Bioethics An Anthology Second Edition
Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Purdy, Laura M., Are Pregnant Women Fetal Containers? An Article in Bioethics An Anthology
Second Edition, Edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, Blackwell Publishing 2006.

Purdy, Laura M., Surrogate Mothering: Exploitation or Empowerment? Article in Bioethics An
Anthology, Second Edition, Edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, Blackwell Publishing 2006.

Saul, Stephanie, Article in the New York Times 2014

USA Today Newspaper 8 facts about 'Octomom' Nadya Suleman…...

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