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Reproductive technology has come a long way in the last twenty years and continues to make expansive advances. The question “where do babies come from” is becoming harder and harder to answer. The response used to sound something like “when a man and a woman love each other very much…” now with in vitro fertilization, fertility drugs, and sperm/egg donors as well as future advances the answer will take on a new twist “…they go to see a doctor and look through a catalog to pick what kind of baby they want.”
That is already true to some degree today. If a man or a woman is infertile they can look for sperm or egg donors, try fertility drugs or use in vitro fertilization to bring together their own genetic material in a petri dish. In the case of donors, potential parents are poring over the donor’s medical history, physical description, and social standing in order to find a worthy candidate to supply the genetic material of their offspring. This process has several moral implications. “Superior” donors, educated people, models, and other genetically “elite” are costing more on the genetic market. This practice is turning human beings into a commodity. Is it morally sound to be able put a price on a person?
Will the new genetically “superior” offspring have more worth in context to the rest of society? One can answer these questions with the observation that even in society today some people are consider higher than others. We live in a class system, therefore there would be no real deviation should genetically “superior” be considered the top of the social pyramid. It would only be changing who is at the top, and how the pinnacle is measured, not the actual system. Another scenario is that reproductive technology procedures as it stands today are expensive and not covered by health insurance companies and HMOs. New technological advances will lead to more exorbitant fees, which will in turn cause a reduction in the amount and types of people that can afford these new procedures. Will future generations of natural births then be lorded over by a genetically enhanced master class? Will these future “perfect people” segregate themselves from the flawed human class of today? Will they be at an advantage in the society? Another moral and social problem that arises from this genetic donation is the loss of the ability to trace genetic lines. If a man gives a sperm sample about three times a week, and each donation is split up into three samples, he has the potential to father a dozen children in one week alone. If this matter is shipped all over the country between different sperm banks how can we keep up who is from what genetic descent? This can quite possibly lead to inner familial (in the genetic sense) marriages, causing many genetic defects in future generations. These new technological advances can actually hinder the human race.
With the completion of the Human Genome Project rapidly approaching, the scenario becomes even more farfetched. Don’t want your child to need braces? Why then you can just pull out the gene for crooked teeth and replace it with the gene for a perfect smile. Does diabetes run in your family? Well then just check out your unborn child is a carrier for the disease and remove the gene before you even give birth. I can see the future already. Rather than having computer software that allows you to do virtual makeovers with a picture of yourself, you’ll have a program that lets you build the perfect offspring. This is all well and good, working towards building a better species, but several moral questions arise. Will these children, created in a lab, perhaps even reared in an incubator possess a soul or aura? Is it morally wrong to genetically alter a fetus in order to fulfill the parent’s expectations? Will parents be able to test for genetic defects and opt for an abortion should their unborn child be afflicted? If parents can choose the sex of the child will this offset the ratio of women to men? These are all questions that need to be answered. Natural law ethicists and people who believe the divine command theory would oppose reproductive technology. In the case of the natural law ethicist, human mortals are altering what is natural and that is morally wrong. The divine command theory believes that whatever God has created is what is good, and since these children will be created in a lab they are therefore violating this principle.
Act utilitarianism argues that we should “maximize the goodness for all people.” At first glance genetically altering fetuses to eradicate disease and undesired characteristics appears to benefit the human race and hence it appears to be morally correct. But we should take the future repercussions into consideration. What if eliminating disease and strengthening the human genome leads to overpopulation and consequently results in death and destruction of the planet?
Aristotle’s theory of the “golden mean” argues that we should act in accordance with the mean, or the middle ground. Reproductive technology is morally deficient according to Aristotle’s theory because if society instituted this technology, then the result would be an abundance of “perfect people” and a deficiency of genetically flawed people, leaving no mean.
The only school of thought that really seems to praise the moral implications of reproductive technology is the ethical egoist, which states, “One ought always maximize one’s own personal good.” A parent’s decision to have a genetically perfect child serves in their best interests and has moral standing. This can also be argued for the future child, it is in the child’s best interest to have superior genetic information and not be susceptible to damaging genetic diseases and health problems.
The future seems very scientific, and maybe even bleak. It’s not a question of what if this could happen; it’s more of a question of when. Are we destined to live in a society ruled by the genetically elite where natural born humans are seen as defects? Will the human race eradicate itself by mixing closely related genetic material until we are all just a product of incestuous genes?
Most of the schools of thought that we’ve studied seem to condemn these scientific practices, but maybe these new technologies will result in the creation of new philosophical schools of thought. There are positive aspects to reproductive technology, people who may not have been able to have children have been afforded the opportunity to do so, potentially fatal diseases will be eliminated, and the overall quality of life will increase, at least in the beginning.
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