Monday, February 14, 2011

"Of twiblings, terminations and twisted generosity"

My latest is up at Catholic Exchange, and can be found below:

IVF has been around a long time. In fact, the first child to be born from an IVF “conception,” made her appearance out of the womb on the tenth anniversary of the promulgation of “Humanae Vitae.” Still, in the past couple of weeks I have been overwhelmed by the number of articles, radio interviews and stories dedicated to artificial reproductive technologies.

The New York Times introduced us to Melanie Thernstrom in its weekly magazine. Ms. Thernstrom’s lengthy article, “Meet the Twiblings” chronicled her experiences with IVF, egg donors, “gestational carriers” and eventually holding two babies created with the same woman’s egg and her husband’s sperm, born five days apart to different “gestational carriers.”

Then there was the Australian couple who aborted their twin sons in the hopes of creating a baby girl through IVF to “replace” the daughter they lost soon after her birth.

Britain’s “Daily Mail” alerted us to the trend of women conceiving babies by IVF, only to later abort them when they get cold feet about mothering.

We learned about the future of Elton John’s son who will never know his mother – neither the egg donor, nor the surrogate.

And before all of these, the Wall Street Journal told us about, “Assembling the Global Baby,” with babies being produced with egg donors, sperm donors, parents, brokers and surrogates on different continents. Couples in the United States get their egg donors from Eastern European women, but they are implanted in Indian women, because these things just get too expensive otherwise.

The more my horror grew, the more these stories were being lauded, the individual players held up as heroes of generosity – the egg donors and “gestational carriers” for their selflessness, the doctors and brokers who operate in poorer countries for their economic concern, the parents for their desire to raise children. Children who were manufactured, whose origins were purchased and who were chosen for their desirability. Children whose parents decided to choose the smartest egg donor or the sperm donor who looks like their favorite celebrity.

Perhaps one of the most frightening things is to know that artificial reproductive technologies will be supported by Catholics, and even by many who claim the moniker “pro-life.” To be pro-life is to be pro-baby, so why not help women have babies? After all, instead of ending lives, they are creating them.

If we look at people’s intentions, they seem good at first glance – having children, providing children a good life, serving others. But then the closing comment of Ross Douthat’s much touted New York Times op-ed, “The Unborn Paradox,” comes to mind: “This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.”[1] There is an added paradox here – even in the seeming care and nurture of the artificially conceived children, there is selfishness and mistreatment.

How, after all, are these babies treated? They become objects for the parents to control and manipulate. Or they are trophies – the “perfect” child, the “perfect” genes, the “perfect” gender. And above all the parents become the replacement gods. In the end, it’s all about “my choice,” which is ironically how advocates of abortion speak as well. In both cases, the culture of death puts me in the place of God.

The dehumanization is evident in the terminology used. Melanie Thernstrom refers to her pre-born babies as “drafts” in order to “remind ourselves that they were notes toward the children we wanted, but if they died, they were just beginnings like all the embryos had been, and we would start again.”[2] There are donors, clinics, retrievals, fetuses, “gestational carriers.” Where are the babies, the fathers, the mothers, the marital embrace uniting love and life?

These tales of twiblings, terminations and twisted generosity sound vaguely familiar. There was once a woman who was offered the chance to be like God. She eagerly snatched the opportunity, grasping for whatever power and control she could get. But the irony was that this woman – Eve – was already like God. She was made in His image and likeness. She was called to receive everything that He had for her – more than she could have possibly imagined or planned on her own.

But Eve said no. And the people in these articles said no. And before we start pointing fingers, we say no all the time. No, I know what will make me happy. No, I can take care of myself. No, I don’t trust God to fulfill my deepest desires. No, I don’t believe that suffering can be a way of opening me to God and to others.

And Eve could have easily found the serpent to be so generous. He was sharing with her. He was offering something to her that she thought she couldn’t have. And she said yes. But her yes to the serpent was her no to God. And what has followed is chaos, death, sadness, confusion, and the culture of death.

Here we are many years later with the same classic story playing out once again. It’s not to assign a one-to-one relation between the people of Genesis 3 and the players involved in an artificial conception. But the temptations remain the same.

We have a twisted generosity that allows Melanie Thernstrom to refer to the egg donor as the “Fairy Goddonor” and the “gestational carriers” as angels. It allows a doctor to feel selfless in assisting a couple to abort their son and to use genetic manipulation and IVF to grasp at a “replacement” daughter.

But twisted generosity results in women choosing abortion when they’ve changed their minds. It gives “Fairy Goddonor” the ability to buy a classic convertible in exchange for donating a necessary ingredient to creating a child. It leads to women who die from the effects of a torturous egg donation process. It will lead a little boy like Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John to grow up not knowing his mother(s) and feeling rather like an object who was brought into existence to fulfill some need or want or whim of his two fathers.

All of this is not to demonize the people involved. But the question we must ask ourselves is what are we doing and how are we living? Are we living our lives as gift to be received, to be wondered at, to be received in gratitude? Are we living the gift of our lives for others, or are we preoccupied with seeking our happiness alone? Are we living the yes to God’s beautiful plan that is necessary for the culture of life, or are we fueling a culture of death by our own refusal to trust God’s loving plan for our true joy?

Nothing less than the future of the world is at stake.


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[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/03/opinion/03douthat.html.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/magazine/02babymaking-t.html?_r=1.

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