Endgame: Reproductive Technology & The Death of Natural Procreation

Peter Garrett
MA, Research & Education Director for LIFE
Reproduced with permission

'Love of the future begins where other loves end'

We live in a world of rapidly altering perspectives, a world in which the role of human procreation is being threatened by the emerging reproductive technologies. This paper begins with a collection of illustrative examples, moves onto a brief survey of some of the most threatening technological options, and concludes by analysing the relationship between reproductive technology, power and society.

Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, will be 21 on July 25th 1999, and she still appears on television from time to time. In fact, media interest in Louise always had a financial flavour as this short extract from her parents' book Our Miracle Called Louise clearly shows.

'Mr Steptoe and Dr Edwards seemed keen on the Daily Mail, and I thought that paper would do a fair job. "How much do you think they'll give us?" I asked. "Around £20,000," Mr Steptoe replied.

'As it turned out, the Mail gave us quite a bit more than that.'(p. 161)

In more recent times the full glare of media interest has often fallen upon reproductive technology stories from the 'tinsel-town' of Hollywood, where the role-models of today's young people are never slow to use the latest innovations to co-ordinate their careers and their families.

A few of years ago a famous Hollywood actor was going out with an actress and they decided to start a family. The actress was going after a part in a film and didn't want her body 'deformed' by pregnancy. The solution seemed to be surrogacy, and a surrogate with pre-selected characteristics was contracted to carry the pregnancy to term. Two of the embryos (babies) transferred implanted in the womb of the surrogate and everything was fine for a few months. Unfortunately, a rift opened up between the actor and the actress and their relationship ended. This left the twins at the heart of a custody battle which nobody really wanted to win.

Then, a couple of years later Jodie Foster decided to become a mum, but she didn't want to conceive by way of natural procreation, so she went to a sperm bank and she selected sperm from a donor with the right combination of athletic abilities and academic credentials. Jodie Foster was then artificially inseminated at the clinic.

Recently a newspaper article explained that Miss Foster had just purchased a £300,000 two-way video telephone, so that she could be involved in nursing her child while she was away on location making films. The technological means of conception had led on to the technological means to facilitate child-care at a distance. Technology is remaking parenthood.

A Brief Survey of Reproduction Technologies which Threaten Natural Procreation

A. Three Generations of IVF

In some ways Louise Brown represents something of a technological museum piece. She was simply the first successful experiment in a series of 103 attempts to create a baby in a petri dish and then transfer him or her to the mother's womb.

By 1992 when Chloe O'Brien was born the technology had moved on. Chloe's mother and father were both carriers of a single copy of a defective gene for cystic fibrosis. Both parent's knew that one child in four conceived by them would be affected by cystic fibrosis - with all that would mean in lung infections, tissue damage, infertility problems and a reduced life-span. They also knew that two in every four of the children would be carriers of the defective gene, just as they themselves were. Only one in four of their naturally conceived children would carry two good copies of the gene and be at risk neither of having the condition nor of passing it on to their own children.

Mr & Mrs O'Brien were put in touch with Professor Robert Winston at the Hammersmith Hospital in London. He was involved in a new technique known as pre-implantation diagnosis (P.I.D.) and was using genetic tests to de-select all those test-tube babies who didn't make the grade. By employing this form of laboratory eugenics, Robert Winston ensured that those affected by the condition cystic fibrosis were de-selected, along with those which would have been carriers of the single copy of the defective gene. Ironically those children with genotypes (genetic constitutions) similar to those of the parents didn't qualify for the right to spend nine months in their own mother's womb.

Throughout the 1990's the death rate for embryos produced in this country has been around 96%. As we expand the range of genetic tests, and as we incorporate the information derived from the multi-billion dollar Human Genome Project, the death rate will rise inexorably towards 100%. In other words, it will become almost impossible for a test-tube baby to pass the genetic tests and qualify for the right to develop in his/her own mother's womb. This is the future of IVF.

B. Surrogacy

Surrogacy will become more common in the 21st Century as it links up with other new reproductive technologies such as cloning. Surrogacy will continue to produce a flood of horrifying stories of neglect and abandonment, as well as occasionally generating situations in which the parties to the surrogacy agreement end up fighting over whether the baby should live or die. Three case studies clearly illustrate such outcomes.

One woman from Texas by the name of Denise responded to an advert for surrogate mothers placed in a supermarket tabloid magazine. It seemed like the perfect solution to her debt problems. Unfortunately, Denise's heart condition was not discovered by her doctor until she was six months pregnant. In spite of pleading with a cardiologist to find the cause of her rapid heartbeat and breathlessness, her calls for help didn't result in a proper investigation. She was unable to find the $250 she needed to buy the heart monitor which her doctor advised her to wear, and the baby broker offered no help at all. In the eighth month of the pregnancy, just twenty-five days from the baby's due date, she was found dead in bed with her unborn son nestled inside her womb. The bodies of mother and baby were sent to Denise's mother who buried them on her farm. Denise's mother never heard from the brokers or the contracting couple (taken from Living Laboratories by Robyn Rowland).

In another high-profile repro-tech case from California, Jaycee Buzzanca, was declared motherless and fatherless after a judge analysed the technological novelties in her conception and gestation. Donor sperm and donor eggs had been used to create Jaycee in the laboratory. She was then transferred to the womb of a surrogate mother. During the pregnancy the commissioning couple, who had paid the equivalent of £6,250 for Jaycee, separated. The commissioning 'father' successfully avoided paying maintenance by arguing that Jaycee was not his in any legal sense. In ruling in favour of Mr Buzzanca the judge also observed that Mrs Buzzanca was not legally Jaycee's mother either.

This case strongly resembles that of 10-year-old Stephanie Bloor, who was conceived by anonymous insemination. In 1995, she was financially disowned by the man she called Daddy, who, following a divorce form Stephanie's mother, refused to pay child support because he wasn't her father. Prior to the divorce Stephanie's real origins had been kept from her.

Stephanie and Jaycee are the real victims in all this, as the runaway repro-tech industry creates endless new variations upon the common theme that adults quarrel and 'their' children suffer.

Sometimes disagreements between the commissioning couple and the surrogate mother come to focus upon whether the baby should live or die. In one famous case the surrogate mother went for a pre-natal scan and was told that the baby was affected by Down's Syndrome. When she communicated this news to the commissioning couple they told her to have an abortion. When the surrogate mother objected by saying that she was against abortion, the couple told her that she would not be having her abortion, but rather that she would be having an abortion for them - in effect an abortion by proxy. Eventually the surrogate mother agreed to their request. To this day she believes that she had their abortion and not hers. Such cases have a devastating psychological impact on the surrogate mother, and they confirm that modern repro-tech commercialises motherhood, commodifies babies and denatures humanity.

C. Spermatogonia Transplantation

Another threat to natural procreation is that posed by spermatogonia transplantation. This technique was originally developed for race horses and is intended to enable prize stallions such as, for example, Red Rum (3 time winner of the Grand National), to sire or father larger numbers of foals without having to travel to stud farms all over the country.

The idea is to remove some of the tissue from the testes of the stallion donors and then transplant it into spaces created in the testes of other stallions. In one version of the treatment just part of the recipient's spermatogonia tissue is destroyed using a laser before the new material from the donor is implanted. This particular procedure results in hybrid sperm populations in which some are genetically derived from the donor and others are genetically derived from the recipient's own cells.

To ensure that all offspring are genetically related to the donor it is necessary to use the laser to burn out all the spermatogonia tissue in the recipients' testes.

When the two scientists who developed this technique applied for a patent in 1992 they concluded their applications by looking forward to the human applications of this technology.

With Spermatogonia Transplantation the invasion of the relationship between husband and wife is different from that envisaged in artificial insemination by donor (AID). In fact, some commentators have argued that Spermatogonia Transplantation is preferable, because at least the husband (recipient) is involved in the conception of the child, even if the child conceived is not genetically related to him.

In the hands of a dictator this technology could be employed with sinister effect. What if it became compulsory for all men to submit to this treatment? What if the dictator's spermatogonia tissue was proliferated in a laboratory and then implanted into the testes of all adult males? Such a scenario may not be that far-fetched, as we've already witnessed clinic directors at sperm banks and test-tube baby centre's using their own sperm instead of that provided by husbands and donors. These people are simply driven by the Darwinian idea that biological success is the ability to produce offspring in large numbers.

D. Egg-Fusion

Scientists in America working with the egg cells of mice have found a way to solve one aspect of what is known as the imprinting problem. In the past scientists have been unable to fertilise an egg because the genes derived from these 'identical' sources have refused to 'communicate' with each other. Clearly, something in the genetic chemistry of the cell nuclei tells the genes if they derive from a male or a female parent.

Now, scientists have found a way to switch off these genetic blocking devices, and have persuaded the egg nuclei to fuse and form an embryo. It is estimated that this technique will take two years to transfer from mice to people. When this technology transfer is accomplished it will allow lesbian mothers to have children which are equally related to each of them. This option may prove more attractive than the cloning option discussed below because the 'parenthood' is not asymmetric as it would be in the case of cloning. One thing is certain, the redundancy of the male is assured.

E. Male Pregnancy

Men need not despair because, just as technology is providing ways for women to have children without men, so technology is suggesting ways in which men may themselves become mothers.

In a recent article about 'male motherhood', Lord Winston argued:

'Male pregnancy would certainly be possible and would be the same as when a woman has an ectopic pregnancy - outside the uterus - although to sustain it, you'd have to give the man lots of female hormones.'(The Sunday Times, 21.2.99)

In fact, in Australia at least five male homosexual couples have already applied for this so-called 'treatment'.

The applicants have always been rejected, usually on safety grounds. In the early 1990s it was thought that such male pregnancies might kill up to 50% of the 'father-mothers'. Lord Winston seems confident that close medical supervision could reduce the fatality statistics to acceptable levels.

Dr Simon Fishel, director of the Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Nottingham, agrees. He has said, 'There is no reason why a man could not carry a child. The placenta provides the necessary hormonal conditions, so it doesn't have to be inside a woman'

F. Cloning

Since Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned copy of an adult male mammal, was presented to the world in February 1997, we have become accustomed to adverts, cartoons and news items on the subject of cloning. Indeed, human cloning has a funny side as was seen in the following themes for cartoons:

  1. Jack Straw solves the General Pinochet extradition problem by sending one cloned copy to Spain and the other back to Chile.
  2. The House of Lords is reformed using 'spare parts' cloning techniques and everyone ends up with facial characteristics donated by Tony Blair.
  3. A woman scolds her husband on Christmas morning for giving their son his chemistry set present too early. 'Now we are going to need a bigger turkey' she shouts as forty copies of Junior run down the stairs.

Such light-hearted treatment does not, however, exhaust the general public's store of knowledge about human cloning. In fact, the dominant theme has been provided by the science-fiction genre going back to the time of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with perhaps the most memorable example being provided by Ira Levin's Boys from Brazil. In this book, which later became a major film, a group of Nazi sympathisers want to bring 'Adolph Hitler' back to life.

They hit upon the plan of cloning lots of genetic copies of Hitler using material recovered from the original's body. A reproductive biologist helps with the experiment and a 'batch' of baby clones are gestated in the wombs of surrogate mothers. In order to maximise the chances of producing a new Nazi leader, the fanatics decide to recapitulate the upbringing of the original. This involves murdering the boys' fathers and providing an intellectual uncle who will introduce the youngsters to classical music, literature and the delights of art museums.

At the time Levin wrote the book this was scientifically impossible. Now, in 1999, in the wake of successful experiments to clone sheep and mice, it could be done, provided that some living tissue taken from the original is available as a source of cell nuclei.

Another important contribution to the pre-Dolly debate on human cloning was made by Dr Jonathan Glover. Writing in 1984, Glover argued that rich families might, in the not-too-distant future, make two spare copies of each child conceived. The first copy would be the 'social' clone of the original and would attend the same schools, colleges and job placement programmes. The second copy would be known as the 'vegetable' clone and would be fed organic food and used for spare-parts if the original should develop any medical problems. The vegetable clone might also be cannibalised for the benefit of the 'social' clone if the need arose.

Glover even addresses the problem of 'vegetable' clones trying to escape from the clone farms, and he suggests that lobotomising them surgically or with powerful lasers, shortly after birth, would prevent such problems.

If the original or social clone required only a blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant then the vegetable clone would probably survive the procedure, but if a heart were needed, the procedure would mean certain death for the clone.

We recognise immediately that such proposals instrumentalise and denature the 'vegetable' clones. These cloned people should not be used as a means to an end, but should be respected as ends in themselves. When human cloning is in this form the ethical dictates are clear, and the fact they are being violated is obvious.

Unfortunately, the real debate over human cloning in 1999 masks the most ethically offensive aspects of what is being proposed.

In order to understand the debate better it is necessary to say a few words about the distinction between full pregnancy cloning and so-called therapeutic cloning. This distinction was invented in January 1998 by the four person Working Group of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission / Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority charged with looking into the issue of human cloning.

Both types of human cloning begin by using the technique which was used to produce Dolly the sheep. Both involve moving a body cell nucleus of an individual into an egg cell which has had its own nucleus removed. A combination of chemical baths and electric shocks trick the new embryo into growth and cell division. The embryos can be either transferred to the womb of a surrogate or left in the petri-dish in the laboratory.

In full pregnancy cloning embryos produced thus are transferred to a woman's womb and gestated for nine months, while in the case of so-called therapeutic cloning they are kept in the laboratory until embryonic stem cells can be extracted from them. The cloned embryos are then destroyed, and the embryonic stem cells are converted into transplantable tissues by chemical manipulation. The exact moral status of the removed embryonic stem cells depends upon the exact time at which they are removed. (This is currently the subject of a complicated debate on the Internet). Regardless of the outcome of this debate, the early cloned embryos from which the embryonic stem cells are taken will always be killed to comply with the terms of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act as it will be amended. This represents another clear violation of the principle that human beings should never be used as a means to an end. The coverage of this issue in the secular media has, so far, obscured this fact and failed to present balanced arguments for and against human cloning in general. It is to this issue of media presentation to which we now turn.

Media Spin and the lack of balance in the human cloning debate

Over many years LIFE has observed the hidden agendas and media spin which have distorted debates over abortion and test-tube babies, but never before have those against us gone to such lengths to prevent a balanced debate taking place. Inspired by the fear that the overwhelming majority of the public is against human cloning (88% in a recent Channel 5 television phone poll), those who produce the news and discussion programmes have consistently given far more time to the pro-cloning lobby than to those opposing cloning.

Example 1.

A Sunday afternoon BBC programme chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby lined up three pro-cloning scientists against two 'concerned individuals' who were supported by Lord Robert Winston. It was a shock to see Lord Winston on the opposition panel, as he had recently written an article in the British Medical Journal entitled 'Reasons for Human Cloning,' which argued in favour of human cloning. This is not the only example of Lord Winston either changing sides or pretending to be on both sides simultaneously.

Consider the evidence,

'There is no medical reason for cloning humans and there are obvious risks. I dont think that anyone seriously believes that there would be any benefit to cloning humans.' This he wrote in The Times on 24 February 1997.

Less than five weeks later, however, he could write:

'Sadly the media have sensationalised the implications, ignoring the huge potential of this experiment. In human reproduction, cloning techniques could offer prospects to sufferers from intractable infertility. British Medical Journal 29 March 1997, article entitled: 'The promise of Cloning for Human Medicine. Not a Moral Threat but an Exciting Challenge'.

On 8 January 1998, writing in the Daily Mail (Beware the Charlatans of Cloning), Lord Winston had some different ideas.

'If humans could be cloned our whole ethical framework would be threatened. We must be on guard against any doctor who is making claims about producing humans by cloning. Alas, not all doctors through the world are as ethical and scrupulous as doctors in Britain. Virtually all European countries have now signed an agreement not to pursue human cloning.' (Note: the UK has not signed)

On the very same day that article appeared, The Times reported that

'...the test-tube baby pioneer Lord Winston called President Clintons response [to allow only a laboratory cloning and to ban cloning to produce babies] a knee-jerk reaction and said that cloning technology offered hope to many infertile couples.

Four days later, in the Independent(12 January 1998) Winston opined:

I dont know [if cloning human beings could bring benefits] but I think probably yes.

Example 2.

Professor John Harris appeared on BBC 2's Newsnight in February 1999 and was allowed to put his arguments in favour of human cloning without any opposition.

Example 3.

On Jeremy Paxman's 'Start The Week', Fay Weldon talked about her novel The Cloning of Joanna May, and her new play, The Four Alice Bakers. The play's format short-circuits debate and tries to present the case that human cloning is not a problem. When Weldon finished speaking Professor Lewis Wolpert supported her and claimed that he had been offering a bottle of champagne to anyone who could come up with a decent argument against human cloning. He claimed that the champagne had been on offer for two years, but nobody had tried to claim it.

You will note that none of these programmes attempted to balance the views of the pro-cloners with those from the opposite side.

The pattern which emerges is either that there is no debate or that there is only phoney debate. A year ago it was fashionable to have two people pretending to be in dispute. On close examination both would turn out to be in favour of so-called 'therapeutic' cloning, and one of the two would have worries about the short-term practical difficulties of full pregnancy cloning. The other person would dismiss these fears.

Such phoney debates took place on both sides of the Atlantic and excluded the voice of the anti-cloning community completely.

Now, as the Newsnight programme from February clearly illustrated, the phoney debates of 1998 have been replaced by a complete refusal to have the issue debated in 1999.

Where are we going and what is the future of natural human procreation?

In the early 1970s Dr Robert Edwards, the father of IVF, predicted that within 40 years most children would be conceived with the aid of technology. At present this prediction may seem fanciful, but the great leap forward which makes IVF the norm may not be that far off when you consider the following story.

In the mid 1990's, a meeting was allegedly organised by the Department of Health to discuss the teenage pregnancy problem. Britain had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and levels were (and are) running at twice those of France and seven times those of Scandinavian countries. When the experts at the meeting were asked for ideas to reduce the rate, Dr Carl Djerassi, inventor of the contraceptive pill, came up with a staggering suggestion.

He argued that making sterilisation compulsory for all 12-year-old boys would reduce the statistics substantially. Djerassi explained that all those reaching 12 would donate sperm to a frozen sperm bank. The boys would then be free to behave as they wished for 15 years or so. When the boys found their life-long partner and wanted to start a family, eggs could be collected from the partner and fertilised in a petri-dish to produce IVF babies. These could then be genetically screened, and the 'best' ones could be put back into the womb of the mother. This would transform, at one fell swoop, the multi-million pound IVF industry into a multi-billion pound one.

Others at the meeting are said to have raised objections. 'Wouldn't the teenage pregnancy rate remain high in view of the fact that 60% of teenage pregnancies are caused by men over the age of 20?' 'Yes, the legislation introducing the compulsory sterilisation would need to work retrospectively to enforce the sterilisation of all those males who had already passed the age of 12'. (imaginary answer)

Another doubter worried that tourism would continue to result in teenage pregnancies. Perhaps tourism should be restricted to those countries which signed up to a multi-lateral accord on male sterilisation.

The tone of the debate is utilitarian and fundamental objections to the denaturing of human procreation don't even enter the frame.

Those locked into such purely utilitarian thought processes are also often working with a very distorted view of what constitutes human progress.

The scientific or technological imperative - the idea that science should do whatever it is capable of doing - has been married to a cult of materialism to produce a very stifled and partial view of human flourishing, and the replacement of natural procreation by reproductive technology is a symptom of this distorted worldview.

To mount a defence against this onslaught we need to develop a fully worked out anthropology, which explains the beauty and importance of natural procreation and reminds us of those realities which go beyond the purely material aspects of human life.

Reflection upon the true nature of natural procreation will embody a broader definition of human progress, which elaborates the personalistic and ethical aspects alongside the material and scientific ones that currently receive so much attention.

Conclusion

The bringing into being of men and women has remained unchanged since time immemorial. Two became one flesh. Then, out of their union, as gifts ever new, their sons and daughters were created. In our own time we have learned to separate the union in sexual intimacy from the conception of children. The idea of sex without babies (contraception) soon leads on to babies without sex (IVF). Why should we now be surprised that babies without parents' -human clones- are about to be born?

The arena of natural procreation has been flooded by a continuous stream of technological innovation. IVF, surrogacy, and artificial insemination have now been joined by spermatogonial transplants, egg-fusion (fatherless babies), male pregnancies and at the apex of the post-procreative technologies - human cloning itself.

There is a relentless drive towards quality control and total product management, as the language of the production line has invaded the realm of human procreation. In the near future it may come to be considered irresponsible to resort to natural procreation without a battery of pre-natal tests being employed. The modern citizen of the near future may learn to be angry when confronted with the spectacle of a less than perfect baby. "Didn't you know you could have had that thing tested for abnormality?" Could this be the gentle rebuke of a concerned citizen in the face of a mother whose child is affected by Downs Syndrome? Is it really possible to maintain the current schizophrenia, which offers extra help and support to those already born with special needs, while seeking out and destroying those, with the same special needs, who have yet to be born?

New forms of discrimination will emerge and children will learn to distinguish one another not according to age or skin colour, but according to the manner in which they came into the world. Might not those produced by IVF (with genetic testing) come to be viewed as a class apart? Will not those produced by way of cloning become the victims of discrimination ? The echo of the alphas and deltas in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is all too clear.

All of this lies shrouded in the mists of the 21st century. All of it will shape what we become. But whatever the future, the coming to be of men and women will never be the same again. The idea of accepting a child unconditionally, regardless of perfection or imperfection, is gone forever. Gone too is the contingency and uncertainty of human procreation which traditionally underpinned the 'radical equality' of children and their parents; because that which is planned and ordered into being can not be equal to that which does the planning and ordering.

We must conclude by viewing ourselves from afar. From such a vantage point we find ourselves rushing towards a technological embrace, and we come to understand the truth of the quotation with which we began: love of the future begins where other loves end. We will become faster, richer, smarter, but at the price of being less than we were, less alive, less truly human.

We are in fact witnessing nothing less than the animalisation of mankind. The reproductive technologies of the farmyard are threatening to eclipse natural procreation and to obliterate a central component of human personhood. Only a renewed effort to explore the significance of the human body and of human procreative sexuality will provide adequate protection against this accelerating dehumanisation.

PETER GARRETT , 19 MARCH 1999.

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