Viewing Children As Commodities: Gosnell & IVF v. Life & Personhood

Baby At Seven WeeksI first heard of Robert George through his pro-life writings, but it’s not surprising that his most recent work has been defending marriage. Both involve family and the well-being of children. Recent events in the news have turned him back this week to writing about life and personhood. Yesterday he published this brief post,
Is Gosnell Really So Shocking?

Honestly, is it so hard to understand Kermit Gosnell? If respectable and influential people—cultural and political leaders—spend decades trying to persuade the public that “it’s not really a baby, it just looks like a baby,” are we shocked—shocked—that some people come to believe it, and act on that belief?

Of course, even before the newly conceived human “looks like” a baby, it is a living member of the human species—a human being. It is our duty to respect and protect him or her (sex is determined from the beginning in the human) not because of how he or she looks, but because of what he or she is.

This echoes what I wrote last week in Gosnell & The Pro-Abortion Right. If you’ve been horrified by the revelations at the Gosnell trial, why is what Gosnell did so horrible to you? Because the babies could be seen and heard?

Today George has an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, The Sanctity of Life, Even in a Test Tube, about “Sir Robert Edwards, the Nobel Prize-winning British “test tube baby” pioneer who died last week at age 87.” George writes that there were three categories of critics of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

First, there are the people who worried, and in some cases still worry, about overpopulation. They were among Edwards’s earliest critics in the late 1960s and the 1970s. For them, infertility, while perhaps a personal tragedy, is a social boon.

Second, certain feminists fault Edwards for contributing to what they regard as the commodification of women’s bodies. IVF, as it has come to be known, makes surrogate pregnancy possible, turning women, as they view it, into machines for incubation.

Third, there are proponents of the sanctity-of-life ethic, for whom Edwards’s experiments to perfect IVF and the actual clinical practice of in vitro fertilization (which typically means the creation of more embryos than will be implanted), involve the deliberate taking of nascent human life. Some of these critics also fault IVF for turning procreation into a species of manufacture, instrumentalizing and commodifying human beings in the earliest stages of their development.

Newborn BabyNotice that for the last two groups, treating human beings as com- modities was an issue. This is also an objection to the use of surrogates for conception as the French editorial I quoted in Parents, Not Breeders makes clear.

Propaganda about when life begins may confuse some, but George states that Edwards himself wrote of the embryo as “a microscopic human being—one in its very earliest stages of development.

Like the philosopher Peter Singer, Edwards distinguished those individuals—admittedly human—who in his view did not yet qualify for protection against manipulation and death-dealing practices like abortion and embryo-experimen- tation from those who were far enough along the developmental path to qualify.

It should be no surprise then that Edwards approved of both cloning and sex selection of babies. Look at why he viewed children as commodities:

Edwards stated that his work was “about more than infertility.” It was about “who was in charge, whether it was God Himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory.” Edwards supposed his IVF technology provided the answer: “It was us.”

Edwards echoes words found throughout the Bible in describing the rebellion of man against God because of his desire to be as God. From this thinking flowed his actions. For each of us our understanding of God and man, and right and wrong in responsibilities and relationships are upstream from how we live.
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Baby at seven weeks: Images of Fetal Development: Priests For Life.
Newborn baby, Catalin Bogdan: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts license.

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