Modern Families and the Messes We Make

By Jennifer Lahl, Public Discourse


Assistive reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization not only involve serious medical risks, they also disrupt family life and commodify human beings.


It almost always starts with an emotional story: an infertile couple trying desperately to conceive; a woman diagnosed with cancer, worried that she may lose her fertility when she undergoes chemotherapy or radiation treatment; a couple with a dreaded inheritable genetic disease that they do not want to pass on to their children; a sick child in need of a transplant from a “savior sibling.” And now added to the list is the same-sex couple or the single-by-choice person who wants to conceive a biologically related child. Even post-menopausal women can now—with the help of modern technology—experience the joys of motherhood.



With the birth of Louise Brown in 1978, the world’s first “test-tube baby,” the solution to infertility was seemingly found in reproductive technologies. The beginnings of life moved from the womb to the laboratory, in the petri dish.



As a result, we find ourselves in a world in which a global multi-billion-dollar per year fertility industry feeds reproductive tourism. Women old enough to be grandmothers become first-time mothers, and litter births like the Octumom’s (I prefer Octu vs. Octo, as she gave birth to octuplets, and she isn’t an octopus) are distressingly common. Pre-implantation genetic screening, which is in reality a “search and destroy” mission, has become the modern face of eugenics. Grandmothers are carrying their daughters’ babies (their own grandchildren) to term. Doctors are now creating three-parent embryos using DNA from two women and one man. Single-by-choice mothers and fathers, same-sex parents, and parenting partnerships between non-romantically involved couples have become “The New Normal.”



Stanford law professor Hank Greely, in a talk titled “The End of Sex,” made the bold assertion that within the next fifty years the majority of babies in developed countries will be made in the lab because no one will want to leave their children’s lives to nature’s chance.



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