Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When "playing God" is anything but

CNN's story released yesterday about a surrogate mother who was subsequently offered $10,000 to abort the little girl she was carrying has been getting some attention. It's a shocking story at first glance, but I think in reality it unveils the logic behind the baby-making industry. It's no longer about receiving a baby. It's about making one, controlling one, grasping for one.
Crystal Kelley, a single mother of two, needed money. She'd get $22,000 for being a surrogate. Another couple with three children conceived through IVF, wanted another. Crystal became the surrogate. 
Two embryos were implanted in her, and one "took."
The relationship between Crystal and the other mother was good until the diagnosis came. The unborn baby had a cleft palette, heart defects and other issues. 

In a letter to Kelley's midwife, Dr. Elisa Gianferrari, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Hartford Hospital, and Leslie Ciarleglio, a genetic counselor, described what happened next.

"Given the ultrasound findings, (the parents) feel that the interventions required to manage (the baby's medical problems) are overwhelming for an infant, and that it is a more humane option to consider pregnancy termination," they wrote.

Kelley disagreed.

"Ms. Kelley feels that all efforts should be made to 'give the baby a chance' and seems adamantly opposed to termination," they wrote.

The letter describes how the parents tried to convince Kelley to change her mind. Their three children were born prematurely, and two of them had to spend months in the hospital and still had medical problems. They wanted something better for this child.

"The (parents) feel strongly that they pursued surrogacy in order to minimize the risk of pain and suffering for their baby," Gianferrari and Ciarleglio wrote. They "explained their feelings in detail to Ms. Kelley in hopes of coming to an agreement."

The two sides were at a standoff. The doctor and the genetic counselor offered an amniocentesis in the hope that by analyzing the baby's genes, they could learn more about her condition. Kelley was amenable, they noted, but the parents "feel that the information gained from this testing would not influence their decision to consider pregnancy termination."

The atmosphere in the room became very tense, Kelley remembers. The parents were brought into the geneticist's office to give everyone some privacy.

After a while, Kelley was reunited with the parents.

"They were both visibly upset. The mother was crying," she remembers. "They said they didn't want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer. ... They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go."

"I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do," Kelley said. "I told them it wasn't their decision to play God." 

There's lots more to the story, which you can read in full here (including the parents' offer of $10,000 if Crystal would abort the child and a revelation of whose child -- genetically speaking -- the little girl was). 

What strikes me about this particular section is the exchange about playing God.  The would-be parents argue with Crystal that she should be "God-like" and not expect the child to suffer.  

But does God do that with us?  On on the one hand, He doesn't force us into suffering, watching us from afar as we squirm in pain, delighting in our anguished cries.  He doesn't make us suffer.  But He allows us to suffer.  And He allows us to suffer precisely because He loves us.  In loving us fully, He desires our love in return.  To be true, that love must be freely given.  To be freely given, we must have free will.  To have free will allows us to choose good or evil.  To choose evil results in chaos -- a lack of communion in the world and a result of suffering.  Our personal sufferings are not the direct result of personal sin, but the suffering in the world is a result of sin that has been unleashed upon the world since the moment of Original Sin committed by Adam and Eve -- and the sin that each of us commits.

So, to be God-like is not to take the child and remove her the gift of free-will (even with its effects) but to raise her in love in order to love others and to grow to become the beautiful young girl she is called to be. If it were God-like to not bring someone into a world of suffering, then none of us would be born.  The fact that sin is present means suffering is present.  And in some way -- physical, emotional, spiritual, mental -- each one of us will experience some suffering in a world that is not fully in communion with God, others, nature and even within ourselves.

But Crystal's response is also telling.  She tells the family that they should not play God.  But they already have.  The fact that a strange sort of custody battle is about to ensue with two would-be parents who wanted to control the coming into existence of a child and a woman who was struggling financially who was willing to have a tiny embryo implanted as part of an economic exchange already bespeaks an unfolding tragedy that is already a result of playing God.  

It's ironic too because in "playing God" the parties involved were anything but God-like.  This isn't to judge their character, their prayer life or any such thing.  But the actions involved (at least up until the point in the story chronicled above) is not focused on the interest of the little girl.  The would-be parents wanted a baby because they wanted a baby.  Now.  And Crystal wanted to carry a baby because she needed money.  Now.  Not because she wanted to be a mother.  

But God gives us existence simply because He loves.  He lets us be without conditions.  There is no money involved.  There are no retractions if we are less than "perfect."  He just gives.  And loves.  

Stories like this one are so interesting to me in large part because the tragedy of these circumstances makes visible the tragedy of donor-conception, IVF and "surrogatehood."  Babies used to come into the world for their own sake.  Now they come into the world for ours.  

You can read the rest of CNN's article about Crystal Kelley and the little girl she carried here.  It's a story worth reading.  And it's also a topic worth reflecting upon.  Does artificial reproductive technology really give children the best?  Or is that a task better suited to the One who is all good, all knowing and all loving?  

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