Friday, February 26, 2016

First Uterus Transplant in the United States

Not to be left too far behind by the successes at the University of Gotheberg, clinicians here in the United States have carried out the first uterus transplantation.  In this case, the uterus of a deceased woman was used.

This newly developing practice will, of course, bring with it questions of how to allocate uteruses relative to the demand, not to mention thresholds of eligibility.  I don't see, however, any moral obstacle to these kinds of interventions.  One might even justify them on the grounds of that most bioconservative view of all:  Natural Law.  Clinicians are simply trying to restore a function lost to disease, disorder, or accident. 

For more on the United States venture, see:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Justice Antonin Scalia: No Friend to Gay and Lesbian Parents

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court died today. He was no friend to gay and lesbian parents.

During 2013 oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia raised the question of harm to children as part of his skepticism about same-sex marriage.

He said: “If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must – you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s – there’s considerable disagreement among – among sociologists as to what the consequences of – what the consequences [are] of raising a child in a – in a single-sex family: whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason. . . . That’s a possible deleterious effect, isn’t it? (See: Dennis Hollingsworth et al., v. Kristin M. Perry et al. No. 12-144. Oral Hearings, page 17, lines 6-13. At:

This Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court felt free to raise the specter of harm to children as the basis for throwing same-sex marriage into doubt, or at least he invited defenders of the ban against same-sex marriage to do so. 

In fact, one of the attorneys hoping to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage in California explicitly said that same-sex and opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated with respect to “responsible procreation.”

In response to this challenge to same-sex marriage, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy also raised the question of harm to children, but in an entirely different light. He asked how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage should not itself be understood as an injury to their children. 

Justice Kennedy knew better than to rise to Justice Scalia’s bait.  The welfare of children depends far more on the social status of their parents than on their sexual orientation. When it comes to understanding the meaning of the law for families, Mr. Associate Justice Scalia was on the wrong side of history.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Attention Same-Sex Couples: Margaret Somerville Feels Your Pain, but Don’t Expect an Apology Anytime Soon

By her own words, law professor Margaret Somerville feels the hurt gay and lesbian people experience when they encounter her view that the law should exclude same-sex couples from marriage.  Really, she does, or at least that’s what she says in her new book, Bird on an Ethics Wire. But don’t expect any apologies soon.

Somerville has long defended the view that the law should exclude same-sex couples from marriage, and this book doesn’t back down from that view. Far from it:  Somerville presents herself as speaking on behalf of Nature itself, on behalf of all children whose well-being is overlooked in the rush to  have children any old which way.

Somerville interprets marriage as having symbolic dimensions important in the “sexual ecology” of the “transmission of life.” Same-sex couples can’t – without other’s gametes – transmit life that way, and even if they could, they run into another problem: two men or two women cannot themselves offer a mother and father to children as they raise them.

Somerville goes so far as to maintain that children have the right not to be born to under these circumstances. Better that children should not exist at all than to be born to same-sex couples, maybe especially married same-sex couples.

Somerville offers a fig leaf of legal cover to same-sex relationships by endorsing the consolation prize of civil unions. But those unions are distinct from marriage and should not, as a matter of ethics or law, entitle couples to children. Children belong – so far as possible – in the moral and psychological confines of marriage.  Somerville calls on the law to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and thus to exclude those couples from the right to found a family as a privilege of the marital state. 

Somerville says that she recognizes that her “opposition to same-sex marriage has hurt some people who support it.”  “I genuinely regret the hurt it inflicts.” Rather than revise her views in order to avoid that hurt, she simply stands on her views and advocates “for children’s human rights” with “moral regret.” 

But all is not lost, as she sees it. The door is open for same-sex couples to adopt.  What’s the difference? Gay and lesbian couples don’t bring those children into existence, but they can help take care of children when no one else will, when all else fails. Second-class children are entitled to second-class parents, evidently. 

So, there you have it: Margaret Somerville can live with the hurt her views inflict on same-sex couples looking to have children and/or marry. I suspect, for their part, that same-sex couples can also live with the hurt they inflict on her when they marry and/or have children, as more and more of them do in more and more places around the world and do so under color of law. So sorry, Margaret. We feel your pain. Really.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Right Not to Be Born?

In her new book, Bird on an Ethics Wire, Margaret Somerville continues to make the case against certain kinds of assisted reproduction.  

In the course of making that bioconservative case, she urges recognition of a human right to be born from natural biological origins.

When it comes to law and regulation of assisted reproductive treatments, she says “we should work from the presumption that, ethically, children have an absolute right to be conceived from an untampered-with ovum from one identified, living, adult woman and an untampered-with sperm from one identified, living adult man.”

This presumption really represents a variety of conclusions, but let me here just sketch out what the position would exclude:

      1.    Anonymous donation of ova and sperm
      2.       Use for conception of gametes from deceased women or men
      3.       Mitochrondrial transfer to ova, intended to protect against certain heritable diseases
      4.       Any genetic modification to gametes used for conception
      5.       Intentional twinning
      6.       Cloning, should that prospect for human beings emerge
      7.       Use of synthetic sperm derived from a man to confer genetic fertility on him
      8.       Use of synthetic ova derived from a woman to confer genetic fertility on her
      9.    Use of synthetic gametes to enable transgender women to conceive children as their mothers and to enable transgender men to conceive children as their fathers. 
     10.     Use of synthetic gametes to create the prospect of shared genetic parentage in same-sex couples
     11.   No gametes from fetuses

Central to this position is the idea that children have the right not to be born, but what can this mean? Non-existing beings cannot have any rights. The only thing that Somerville might mean, then, is that parents should not bring their children into existence under certain conditions, because those conditions are very bad for the children.  But whether being conceived in the ways above leaves to very bad conditions is a matter of evaluation.  Somerville characteristically stays away from scientific studies, and typically deploys an anecdote as evidence. By contrast, I think it’s almost impossible to show that children must suffer some harm so great that they should never be conceived through the interventions mentioned above. She is also among the last true believers that ‘nature’ ought to be the arbiter of human decisions, no matter the evidence that Nature is profoundly indifferent to the well-being of human beings.  We confront nature on many fronts, in order to make lives better for ourselves. Why should only those lucky enough to be favored by the ‘natural lottery’ be entitled to have children without the kinds of help above?