Should people be allowed to have children by artificial means?

Author: Chirin Soh
School: Raffles Institution
Year Written: 2020
Grade: A

Albert Einstein once said, “It is appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” With the development of many assisted reproductive technology, more people are having children by artificial means. This raises many ethical concerns surrounding our existence, as well as what makes us human. Assisted reproductive technologies include in-vitro fertilisation, inseminate surrogacies or gestational surrogacies. It has successfully treated infertile couples, providing them with the opportunity to have a child. 3.4 million children have been born worldwide through artificial means, with the utilisation of such technology increasing at a rate of 5-10% annually in developed countries. However, people should not be allowed to have children by these artificial means due to the ethical dilemmas raised in terms of embryo disposal and ownership, and the negative consequences this brings to both the patients and society.

Firstly, artificial means of reproduction crosses paths with several ethical issues due to the ambiguity on what to do with unused embryos. In the invitro fertilisation (IVF) process, several eggs and sperms are fertilised but only a few are selected to be implanted in the womb. Some believe that human life begins at conception and hence embryos should be treated with utmost care. The destroying of embryos is equivalent to killing of potential life forms and tantamount to murder. Different countries have different policies to dealing with unused embryos. In Britain, unclaimed embryos must be destroyed with 5 years of creation. Official statistics show that more than one million of these “leftover” embryos created for fertility treatment have been destroyed over the past 14 years. In the US, there are no federal regulations or statutes governing the disposition of frozen embryos created through IVF. Over 600000 cryopreserved embryos are stored in fertility clinics across the US. Couples who conceived through IVF may grow to view the additional embryos as additional lives and struggle with how to deal with them. This exerts a psychological toll on them especially if the couple has varying views or face pressure from others, eg. parents and friends. A study by Journal Fertility and Sterility reported after a successful IVF treatment, most of the couples surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with the education obtained from health care providers about disposal decisions. Therefore, the artificial means of reproduction should not be allowed as many potential lives of many surplus embryos have been sacrificed.

In addition, assisted reproductive technologies also create issues on the ownership of the embryo or the female body. It commercialises human reproduction and created a host of complicated moral problems without answers. Such ethical issues tend to arise with frozen embryos, such as when one member of the couple wants to have a child but the other does not. This is typical of couples who have broken up. A controversial case is that of Natalie Evans who was unable to have children due to her previous treatment for ovarian cancer. She wanted to use frozen embryos created with her former partner but he refused. She eventually lost the court case and the law required both to give consent before embryos can be implanted. Such dilemma would not have arisen if these artificial methods were not available in the first place. Also on the issue of embryos, some couples decide to donate their unused ones to other couples. This may lead to the controversial practice of creating batches of embryos and sharing them among several families. There is a higher chance of children unknowingly meeting and marrying their siblings. There may also be the commercialisation of embryos and more embryos will be created but not used. Clinic may buy eggs and sperms from donors whose profiles are likely to have broad appeal, such as being well-educated or having good looks. This buying and selling of gametes is considered immoral. Other forms of assisted reproduction include surrogacy. Many surrogate mothers are poor, uneducated, and easily exploited for their reproduction potential. They may be motivated by financial pressures.A surrogate in Ukraine, for examples, earns up to $20000 which is more than eight times the average yearly income. However, they may be kept unaware of the health risks and the emotional attachment they form with the infant that is not easily compensated by financial rewards. There have been reports of poor treatment of surrogate mothers, with some agencies refusing to pay surrogates if they do not obey strict requirements or if they miscarry. Hence, these artificial means of reproduction should not be allowed due to the many problems caused to parties involved.

Artificial means of having children also give rise to more new possibilities that cross ethical lines. For instance, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) involves embryos from IVF that have their blastomere removed at an early stage. The cell can then be tested for the presence or absence of a previously identified genetic condition. This is a method of selecting which embryos to place in a woman by determining which embryos have a chance of becoming children if implanted successfully. It is used to avoid children with serious early onset inherited disorders eg. Tay-Sachs disease. However, it is morally unacceptable that people are getting to choose what kind of children are to be born or not. The detection of disease is extending to bowel cancer, breast cancer and might not stop there. In the future, it may end up being used to check for all other genetic diseases, prevent being carriers of harmful recessive alleles, or even confer positive traits. This is similar to “playing God” and gives more power to technological interferences in creating the child. Such power is dangerous because humans lack enough knowledge to know what traits are good and beneficial to humanity. Giving parents the choice for traits such as gender can skew gender proportions in some nations if conducted on a large scale. There is an urgent need for limits and setting up of governing bodies worldwide such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in UK. Without which, allowing children to have artificial means may cause detriment society as it breaches ethical guidelines.

The artificial means of reproduction also pose a health risk to the mother, egg donor and babies. Drugs that stimulate ovulation pose a surgical risk of ovarian hyper stimulation and egg donors are inadequately informed. Many women who seek IVF treatment are also older and more at risk of an unfavourable pregnancy compared to women able to conceive naturally at a younger age. This option of reproduction by IVF has increased mortality rates of pregnancy. IVF also causes other side effects such as ectopic pregnancy that is life threatening. There is also an increased chance of premature birth and birth defects such as anatomic abnormalities and imprinting errors. Findings by the British government revealed that IVF babies have a 30% higher chance of genetic deformity. With the lack of long term safety data and little research on the health problems posed by assisted reproductive technologies, more advocacy groups are calling for more research. This can help people make more informed decisions about having children artificially as the birth defects may result in an unacceptable quality of life that is undesitable.

Some may argue that people should still be allowed to decide whether they want to have children, as this is a matter of free choice. Since such technologies are available to make it possible for people to overcome infertility and reproduce, they have a choice to adopt these methods. Only around 5% of the world population voluntarily decides to be childless. Those wishing to conceive but cannot suffer emotionally and psychologically, even resulting in distress, anxiety and depression. These methods also provide a chance for singles or same-sex couples to have a child of their own and fulfill their paternal or maternal instincts. They should not allow the tyranny of majority and support the freedom of choice. The Proclamation of Teheran recognizes the right to reproduce and acknowledges that parents have the right to decide on their choices of family planning. The American Civil Liberties Union also fights to defend an individual’s reproductive right. It believes that religion should not be a legitimate reason for denying people reproductive rights.

However, there are alternatives to having children such as adoption. Many children are in need of a home. For instance, many children in Cambodia are orphaned by years of war and in China, many females were abandoned due to the one-child policy. Mindsets should also be changed to be accepting of infertility and society should reduce the pressure to have children as fulfillment need not only come from parenthood.

To conclude, though the artificial means have given hope to millions of couples suffering from infertility, they have also presented new ethical, legal and social questions that society must address. The unresolved issues need to be resolved in future social and legal dialogue before more people have children through such means. Legislation is typically unable to keep up with rapidly changing technology. It is necessary that couples think hard about this deeply personal and important choice before deciding to undergo the various processes. Hence at the moment, it is my belief that people should not be allowed to have children by artificial means.