Ever since the first “test-tube” baby in 1978, reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) have led to a host of ethical conundrums. In order to boost success rates, fertility clinics routinely produce many more human embryos than can be implanted. The excess “left-over” embryos serve as a backup plan, and are usually placed in cryogenic storage.
What to do with these excess embryos has always been a deeply troubling and highly divisive problem. Should they be stored indefinitely, discarded, donated for research, or implanted? Do they have any rights? Are they persons or property?
Our Christian pro-life intuitions tell us that we can somehow “rescue” this situation by adopting them. Childless couples can have frozen embryos implanted, giving these tiny beings a chance at a normal life. This is a noble impulse, but there are still problems.
Gracie Crane is a normal teenage girl growing up in the U.K. Take careful note of her story:
Gracie, who is mixed race, was one of the first children in Britain conceived from a donor embryo, which means she has no genetic link to either of her parents. As she was born in 1998 — seven years before amendments were made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allowing children born through donor conception to trace their genetic parents — she has no right to find out who her biological parents are. Or even whether there are any hereditary conditions which may affect her in the future. . .
Having reached 16, and with the support of her clearly devoted parents, Gracie is speaking out because she wants anyone contemplating such a decision to understand just how difficult her life has been, despite being raised by a couple who adore her.
[She says,] ‘There are times I’ve wished I’d never been born — as much as I love my parents, it’s just so sad not knowing who I am and where I came from.’
Clearly, the impulse to adopt embryos should continue, and we should do our utmost to help young men and women such as Gracie. But all of this technology comes at a price. To help childless couples to conceive is not inherently wrong, but our mass-production, throw-away culture seems to perceive children more as product than person, more like a commodity than a fellow human being given to us by God. And donor gametes (egg and sperm) mean that a young child conceived by IVF might never know her biological parents. This can be marginalizing and very upsetting to those we are trying to help.
These are some of the unintended consequences of the reproductive revolution.