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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?

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