February 20, 2008

Responses V: 10-11

(10) "...since no one elected you 'God', your truth is not THE truth....I am choosing to follow my own truth and am creating my family in a way that my husband and I feel is right for us."

You: purely subjective viewpoint - everyone has his/her "own" truth - in other words, there is no "truth", since the ethical reality of everything depends on perspective

Me: objective viewpoint - there is one truth, and we can't twist reality based on our own desires

This is a philosophical debate that could go on for a long time. Is there such a thing as objectively applicable morality, or is ethical truth purely subjective? Is it always wrong to do certain things, or does the morality of an act truly depend on whom you ask?

Our culture has lately leaned towards the latter rather than the former. Many people now believe that morality is subjective, and that "you have your truth and I have my truth," and all we really need to do is be "tolerant" of each other and not step on each other's toes.

If you beat your wife in your own home, and if that is not unethical in your culture, then all the more power to you, right?

Not quite.

The problem with the view that morality is subjective, and with the claim that "truth is in the eye of the beholder", is that this view is absolutely nonsensical and cannot stand up in real life. If truth is merely subjective, how could we have laws? The murderer, the thief, the drunk driver, the wife beater, the child molester, the racist, the bigot...these may all claim that in their world, their actions are not wrong. They are simply following "their truth," and it may even be backed up in some cases by their own cultures.

So should we just agree to disagree, turn a blind eye and be "tolerant" to their ways? Should we just say that hey, no one elected us God, so who are we to say that they are wrong to do what they are doing? What gives us the right to impose OUR morality on them, when they claim to see things differently?

The fact is that life in a civilized society demands the objective viewpoint. By having laws we recognize that ethical rules are objective and must be obeyed by everyone, regardless of their personal "truth." The opposite viewpoint, that truth is purely subjective, would bring us anarchy.

Moreover, imagine that kind of world - where everyone humbly "minds their own business" because they are not God, so what right do they have to meddle with the actions of others. Would you want to live in a world like that? In a world like that, no one would stand up for you if you were abused, violated, injured, threatened or attacked, because they would have no "right" to impose their own morality on the aggressor. In a world like that, you would live in utter confusion, because there would be no "truth," no "right," and no "wrong" - anything would go, and there would be no basis for ever saying "no" to anyone. In the end, the winner would be brute force, since rational argumentation would have run out of steam.

(11) "Tell me this, what do you think about donor frozen embryo transfers (FETs)? Those embryos are already made, for better or for worse. Without couples willing to undergo an IVF procedure, they have no other options but to be destroyed or given over to research. It's still "repro tech" but that procedure gives the only option for life in that situation."

In my opinion, Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) is a good thing as a way to save the lives of the embryos who have been frozen and who are waiting, in effect, to be able to live their lives.

That does not mean I support the creation of frozen embryos in the first place. However, once the deed is done, even though it was unethical, it creates a dilemma - lots of frozen little human beings who are not given the chance to live their lives. I've read that by some estimates, there are up to 500,000 of these beings in limbo in clinics in the U.S. What should be done with them?

One good solution, in my opinion, is to let them live!

For that reason I also strongly support embryo adoption. Those who adopt embryos are giving life to children who would otherwise probably lose their lives. Embryo adoption shares the characteristics of other adoption - it is an act of help towards a child in need - a child that already exists, a child whose problems the adoptive parents did not create but rather, they now want to help alleviate.


Tom said...

FET is the first place our views differ. I don't believe an embryo is yet a human life, or at least not one that is at all aware of its existence.

I think it's much less cruel to destroy frozen embryos than to condemn them to a life "transplanted" into the wrong family, without access to their true parents.

But of course avoiding creating them in the first place solves the problem.

Veronica Thomas said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for writing and for visiting my website. Your voice on these issues is irreplaceable. As someone who has been born of this social experiment, you have a personal experience that speaks volumes and cannot be negated.

Yes, I guess we do disagree to some extent - at least to the degree that I believe that embryos are human life/ human beings.

You share your view with Olivia Pratten, another DI-conceived adult...I met her once and was surprised that she seemed to believe that embryos are not human beings, just "balls of cells."

One of the reasons this is surprising to me is because I believe that unless we acknowledge the humanity of the embryo, we are in some ways "cutting the main branch" from underneath our position.
Nearly all of repro tech happens at the embryonic level. It is the embryo that is created, manipulated, genetically screened in or out, discarded, frozen, transplanted, etc. It is the embryo that is treated as an object, as a possession to be done with as its owners please. It is the embryo that is viewed as having no rights, precisely because it is believed not to be a person.

If the embryo really is NOT a human being, a living person at his or her most innocent and weakest, at his or her earliest stage of development, if the embryo is just a "blob of tissue" - then why NOT do all these things to the embryo?

The right of the child to its own parents can only prevent children from being born in families that are not their own. How can it prevent the sex selection or the genetic screening that filters out children for "undesirable" characteristics - or for "desirable" traits?

Surely, children who were "wanted" and allowed to born solely because their parents desired "tall girls without the deafness gene" (and whose siblings were discarded through PGD because they were not girls, tall, or had the deafness gene), can feel as much of an engineered object as the child who is born to biological strangers who "wanted" a baby.

Genetic screening and sex selection, as well as the creation of surplus embryos in IVF and the discarding of unused embryos, are all part of the same way of thinking that leads to the child being born to people other than its own parents. That way of thinking is based on the objectification of the embryo, which is viewed as having no human rights in the matter of its own life or death.

Certainly, embryos are not sentient and are not aware of their own existence. But how else can a human being begin in this world? Naturally, one must begin as a tiny organism and build all of these things on as one develops. Just because they do not have their nervous system and brain in place from day 1 does not mean they are not human beings or that they are not alive...in fact, were they not alive, they would never develop a brain and nervous system. Yet they are - they are so busy growing and developing that within nine months, that little few-celled organism becomes a (comparatively) gigantic baby with all organs and systems in place.

Veronica Thomas said...

About adoption of embryos, this is indeed a difficult decision either way. You have a good point, that the child suffers because it is not with its own biological parents.

For me, in the equation of "what is better: saving a life, or having the perfect life?" I would choose saving life. I don't think we can properly choose for someone else, who is already alive, that their life is not worth living, or that it is too painful to be lived.

That does not mean I would support the creation of such a life. Before the life exists, the equation is different, because we would intentionally be creating a great deal of suffering for the new person. But once the life exists, it becomes a question of saving that life, of allowing it to live.

Your argument could, it seems to me, also be used to justify abortion in cases where the mother intends to give up the child for adoption. Rather than giving that child to parents who are not its own, and inflicting a life of suffering, wny not just kill the child?

My answer would be that life is so precious and so beautiful that we cannot take it from others based on our own imperfect notions of how they will value their own lives.

Tom said...

For me there is a very important difference between the potential to become a human being, and actually being a human being.

I oppose sex selection, PGD etc. NOT because these acts are performed on embryos, but because they impinge on the lives of the fully-grown human beings that result from them.

In the UK embryos can be experimented on up to the age of 14 days. From my point of view it is not intrinsically wrong to do anything to these embryos.

For example, I would see nothing wrong with injecting a toxic substance into the embryo, because the embryo cannot feel it or experience it in any way.

If that embryo is then allowed to grow into a grown human it will suffer adverse effects from the toxin. From my point of view, the wrong act was allowing the embryo to become a baby NOT experimenting on it in the first place.

I can understand why some people like to see embryos as human. I would change my point of view on this if someone conceived with IVF (or similar) claimed that they felt their dignity had been violated by being transferred, frozen, etc. But I just don't think they'd care.

On the other hand, I oppose donor-conception because of its effects on the resulting, fully-grown human beings.

The argument of adoption vs. abortion is a false dichotomy. The correct option for the child to be raised by its own mother (and hopfully father) despite the difficulties that will arise for that mother, her family and the child.

(Of course there's an even better option: don't get pregnant, but that's a rather unpopular answer these days)

My point of view of these things is:

Once the human beings are here, what do they say about it?

A lot of donor-conceived people are speaking out and saying they shouldn't have been conceived that way. This leads me to believe DC is wrong.

If anyone conceived with IVF says they feel that they shouldn't have been manipulated, transferred, frozen etc. as an embryo then I would be most interested to hear about it. That would start to convince me we shouldn't be doing such things.


Veronica Thomas said...

Hi Tom,

Okay, that's fair. Perhaps this is an issue on which we will have to agree to disagree.

In my opinion, the humanity of the embryo is a scientific fact. It has been shown that the embryo is a living and developing, independent organism. it has been shown that the embryo has purely human genes - and as a living being, it is thus a human being. It will never become anything else, it will merely develop more. Of course, since it is at its earliest stage of development, it is simple and does not know what is happening to it. Some may see this as enough of an excuse to do with it whatever they please. In my own opinion, if we are to respect human life at any stage, we must respect it at every stage.

I acknowledge that in some ways, the visible "end result" of your point of view is similar. By advocating for the rights of those who are born, you do end up with a world where those who are born are raised by their own biological parents.

I would argue, however, that the "objectification" and "commodification" of children would not be eliminated in your world. Children would still be either chosen or eliminated based on their genetic features. Thus, the "manufacturer's defect" lawsuits of disgruntled parents who didn't get what they ordered would continue.

In my opinion, when children realize that they were "wanted" not for WHO they are, but for WHAT they are (their genes), they cannot but feel as the property of their parents, as objects that were ordered for a purpose envisioned by their parents. The message they are given is that their life has value to the extent that they fulfill these dreams of their parents.

The world I want is a world where all children, regardless of their genetic characteristics, are seen as having intrinsic worth and dignity - a world where every life is equally welcome as a valuable, beautiful and inexhaustible gift.

I appreciate that you are open to changing your mind, should you encounter IVF offspring who feel that their dignity was violated through the process of being manipulated as embryos.

One thought: if you do not encounter such offspring, it may be because the sample you are seeking input from is incomplete. Your research is focused on those who were born of the process. What about those who were not? It seems to me that for every living IVF offspring who feels his dignity was not violated, or who simply doesn't care, there may well be five or more others (the IVF process tends to be quite wasteful) who cannot tell you what they think - because they were discarded or used for experiments.

John Howard said...

I agree with Tom, at every point. I think embryos are human, but aren't alive until about 14 days when their heart starts pushing blood around. Up to that point they are an amazing sequence of programmed chemical reactions that build a body, but not yet home to a living will that ensouls the body, and that keeps itself alive with its own will. And I think it is better to not intentionally bring frozen embryos to life (or any embryos, for that matter) unless with the intended care of the mother and father consensually committed in marriage. And extra ones shouldn't be frozen, they should be taken outside and let go in the grass.

Lindsay said...

I agree with Tom on this one as well. To call a frozen embryo a human being is incorrect - they have the potential to become a human being, but in their current state (as a 4 or 8 cell blastocyst - not even correctly called an embryo yet as it hasn't implanted in the uterus) they cannot become a living being.

I'm completely opposed to embryo adoption as it is not "saving" these embryos from the horrors of not existing - an individual who does not exist doesn't know he or she doesn't exist and therefore cannot be harmed from it. This is not abortion, where fetuses with heart beats and organs are being terminated, and should not be compared with abortion.

An adopted embryo is not being given a family that it lacks as at the time of adoption it did not exist. And unlike in traditional adoption, since the social mother gives birth (usually) to the child they almost always lie to the child about their origins. Children in traditional adoption now are more often than not being told they are adopted even if they cannot trace their biological families due to closed records. At least their records exist somewhere in a filing cabinet though. A donated embryo on the other hand has no real birth certificate and is at even more of a loss than those of us conceived from a single donated gamete.

I don't agree with PGD as it's essentially eugenics, not because we are discarding human beings.

I don't see how you can call yourself anti-repro tech and still agree with embryo donation. To me it seems like this has become a religious belief and not a child's rights issue.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and am fascinated. I agree with you on so many levels. Ironically, I am the mother of a beautiful child whom my husband and I adopted as an embryo. We also have naturally conceived biological children. We do believe in life at conception (thus to us a frozen embryo would be a real human life)and our choice to adopt frozen embryos was a choice to save a life. I've found myself wondering more and more here lately about how our child will feel about their "beginning". We are not for the creation of embryos and I've been thinking about how we will explain it all - for we will surely not keep it a secret. Anyway, through my research I stumbled upon your blog and really have appreciated your writings. I'll continue to read. Thank you!