Monday, June 05, 2006

Making Babies

We went to the used bookstore this weekend at one point. I know, horrible idea, especially considering we still have about half our books in boxes as not all of our bookshelf space is assembled.

Anyhow, our neighborhood used bookstore (a dangerous place!) has a "discount" area for books that they've had in stock for a long time or have too many copies of. I found a really interesting book about reproductive technology (published in 1999 by a lawyer who specializes in laws and ethics surrounding reproductive technology) and bought it for $2. I spent most of yesterday reading it.

Holy crap! The history of reproductive technology is just insane. There are so many issues that I had never even thought of, despite my genetics/ethics class in college and despite online perusal of infertility blogs. I think it's a strange thing that many women spend years and years trying NOT to get pregnant, and then when they want to, they spend years and years TRYING to get pregnant - often taking advantage of whatever the latest reproductive techniques might be. I've always been fascinated with the subject of reproductive technology since I learned about Louise Brown, the first "test tube" baby (she's only a few months older than I am). Then in middle school I first learned of the idea of "made-to-order babies" and have been intrigued and saddened by news stories about pregnant women in comas whose partners are waiting to become single parents, etc.

I had considered myself pretty liberal about most things before reading this book, but there are some ideas at which I just plain draw the line. I'm not sure how I feel about gestating a baby to (maybe) provide life-saving tissue for an existing kid (the Ayala family, for example). I am disgusted by the supertwin families like the McCaughys that have a whole bunch of embryos transferred or whatever and end up with seven children of indeterminate future health and life quality. I know I do NOT like the idea of using the product of an aborted female fetus to provide eggs for infertile women - stem cells, OK. Gametes, not OK. Nor am I comfortable with male comatose or PVS patients having their sperm extracted without consent to be used to impregnate a current partner (or given to the parents of said patient to make a grandkid! ack!).

There are so many things we can do to manipulate the original process of making babies - many of which are enabling women all over the world to get pregnant with and have the children they want. I don't begrudge those families their children, yet sometimes I have to wonder about people's motives when (and I am trotting out a probably very stale and possibly offensive position) there are so many kids out there that need homes. Seriously. They aren't all white babies without health problems, of course, and that's what most people in this country want. And if you have the money to do it, you can purchase just about any kind of reproductive service in this country - capitalism, yay! - so why shouldn't you be able to?

Another idea that gave me a bit of pause was that, as of the writing of the book, none of the children born from IVF or "test tube babies" had ever tried to have children. Checking Wikipedia, I see that Louise Brown got married in 2004. There is no mention of her having (or trying to have) children. My google-fu doesn't seem to bring up any cases of kids concieved through IVF who have gone on to have children of their own. That doesn't mean that it hasn't happened - but don't you think there would be some sort of news article? The point is, we DON'T KNOW what will happen to these million kids as they grow up.

At some point recently there was a dateline or something on TV about special-needs foster kids that need homes. And I know that the few kids they showed on TV, mostly adolescents, were the very tip of the proverbial iceberg. It totally makes me sad when there are thousands and thousands of kids, right here in the US, that would have much better lives if adopted earlier instead of being fostered out to home after home, each day growing a little more hopeless at ever being adopted and having actual parents. But that's just my personal soapbox, and I know that for some people, having children means either giving birth to their own (despite all odds, despite the risks of things like prematurity and placenta previa and disabilities) or choosing the child's biological parents (sperm donor, egg donor) or being the child's biological parent (gestational surrogate with IVF of parents' gametes).

I've never given much thought to what I, personally, would do if I found out I was unable to have children "the old fashioned way" if my partner and I decide to do that. I guess maybe I'll cross that bridge if I ever have to come to it. But a quote in the book from the Official Rabbi of England or something really stuck with me. It was something along the lines of "We don't give thanks on the Sabbath because of G-d's creations, we give thanks that He knew when to stop." And I guess that's the thing, because there really AREN'T a lot of laws or prescedents about new reproductive technologies - it's all kind of being made up as we go along. Will we know when to stop?


Yank In Texas said...

Just agreeing with you wholeheartedly.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

The interesting part is that the law varies from state to state and changes radically within months. And each option, IVF, sperm donor, donated egg, no donated material surrogacy blah blah-each one has different rules that are crafted pretty much ad hoc. Gotta love the common law.

MLE said...

Monks, I know, that's the scary part! There aren't any rules or regulations that you can look to and say "This is how things are."

SRB said...

I agree with you on the adoption part - I do find it somewhat ludicrous that people are SOOOO bent on having children from their own DNA. I mean, I guess I can see why someone would WANT to - because old fashion is considerably easier and cheaper, but really! If they want an imprintable baby they don't HAVE to be the same skin color! I think one of the most disturbing articles I've ever read was one where the woman paid for someone else to have her own genetic baby so that it didn't fuck up HER body - AND SHE WAS APPLAUDED FOR IT. Talk about capitalistic technology at its worst.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Well, I'll just say that I wouldn't mind outsourcing pregnancy if it weren't creepy. It really does do a number on you. Then again, I have some small nugget of morality such that wombs-for-rent makes me super uncomfortable and I'll just take the stretch marks and possible incontinence.

The only reason I would not adopt as opposed to have my own right upfront is that it is inordinately expensive to do so and the US tends to favour open adoptions and there are all sorts of problems in the caselaw in terms of bio parents being able to take their bio kids back way after bonding with the adoptive parents.

Sadly, even HAVING children can be a class privilege in this country if you can't have biological children. Adoption costs a bundle, as do reproductive technologies.

Personally, the reproductive industry skeeves me out a-plenty. The success rates can be so low, it's extremely expensive and the assignation of rights and responsibilties outside of registered sperm banks are exceedingly murky. Ferinstance, we allow anonymous sperm donors to sign away the rights of the child to support, but we don't allow known donors because in that case we follow the rule that the rights belong to the child (the same reason you can't pre-nup out of support in the event of a pregnancy). I've forgotten the issue on egg donors, who are almost always known given the difficulty in storing eggage for long periods of time (unstable). I suspect the fact that egg donation is almost always known given current scientific knowledge means that known egg donors will be allowed to sign away support rights whereas known sperm donors can't. There's the rub, it's positively frightening the way the law tracks the change of technology and I think that's a dangerous principal to follow. Isn't the law supposed to be somewhat above current trends? A higher principal that can be molded and interprete? Yet, in the murky area of bioethics, it seems to track the advance of technology more so than in other areas.

Healthcare law was the 2nd most fascinating area of lawschool for me (#1 being environmental). I was really hoping to get a hospital job but they can be hard to come by.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Here's another proposition that sounds coldhearted as hell...

But it STUNS me that in this country we spend more on end-of-live and near-death care than any other expenditure, short of research. For all that doctors quibble about med mal, it's less than 1% of what drives up costs in this country. You are MORE likely to get insane amounts of care and drive up the bill as a foetus born a micro-preemie or as an 80 year old with congestive heart failure than you would as an uninsured person of working age contributing to the economy.

It sounds cold but it kills me that we can spend millions on babies that would essentially be late-term miscarriages and grow them to god knows what type of adulthood (do they mostly end up with disabilities?) but we can justify uninsured women and healthy children have to go through complex state programs in order to get basic care.

Wow, I am a heartless meanie for sure. But if you trace the line of cases, you can see how averse the US is to providing minimum basic care to the healthy but perfectly willing to give crazy care to the terminal. There is a strong aversion to the inevitable in this country.

SRB said...

Hmm. Good points miss mcchaps. I've thought about this some, but not too terribly much - or as much as you. I do agree with the end of life stuff - I have strong feelings on that as well.