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October 24, 2006

Our guest blogger is Aaron Costerisan, this year’s Center for Bioethics Fellow:

In an article entitled ‘Reproduction Revolution: Sex for Fun, IVF for Children,’ Jo Whelan marvels at our change in attitude toward reproduction since Louise Brown became the first “test-tube” baby in 1978: “Who would have predicted how common IVF would become back in 1977, when Louise Brown was just a speck in a Petri dish?”

Today many couples are using IVF (in vitro fertilization), with a success rate at least equal to that of natural procreation. In addition, couples are increasingly relying on IVF combined with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to select embryos that do not have inherited diseases.

Whelan sees in these developments the seeds of a radical shift in the way we view sex and reproduction. Might it be feasible in several decades for most people to bring children into the world through IVF, whether or not they suffer from infertility? Do the reigning attitudes in science and medicine indicate that, should such a possibility become reality, parents would be considered irresponsible not to screen for the best embryos? The rising practice of selecting embryos on the basis of male or female gender might be a clue to where we are headed.

While it may seem cruel or heartless to deny parents the opportunity to prevent having a child with a fatal or debilitating disease, we must ask, “At what cost?” Selection implies that other embryos – other living human beings – are passed over, and then “discarded” or indefinitely frozen. And the more embryos one has to choose from (or discard), the better the chances of finding a “good” one.

In addition, reproductive and contraceptive technologies are bringing about a widening divide between sex and procreation. More and more, we determine the timing and circumstances of child-bearing. By removing conception from the “imprecise” realm of nature, we can decide just what kind of baby we will have.

Surely, neither contraception nor assisted reproduction is illegitimate in all cases. Yet we cannot ignore the ways in which exercising such control can cause us to view our bodies as mere instruments for our pleasure, and our children as the products of our willful, careful choosing – arriving on our terms, fulfilling our hopes, and more or less matching our expectations.

Full article in the New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/sex/mg19225741.300

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