Women who carry some genetic diseases may soon be offered access to a technique that will allow them to create children who do not inherit their condition. In an unsettling announcement, doctors hailed the creation of four baby monkeys who each have three biological parents. This was made possible through an IVF procedure that inserted the healthy DNA from their mothers into a donor egg and subsequently was fertilized and reintroduced into the female monkey.
If the animal trials continue successfully, scientists believe the first children could be genetically engineered in a few years. It has, in fact, already been tried in England, where ten human embryos were created and destroyed at Newcastle University (since the law there will not allow such babies to progress beyond 14 days).
Its supporters see in the process an opportunity to eradicate potentially fatal forms of inherited epilepsy, heart disease and blindness – but seem oblivious to the countless lives sacrificed in the process (those ten mentioned above are the tiniest tip of an enormous iceberg). Calling the children “hybrids,” ethicists have attacked the procedure, which will further erode the sanctity of life and cannot be justified by any purported benefits.
Beyond the issues of life and death – which must take precedence, there is the serious shift in thinking about what constitutes a family. Increasing numbers of people are stepping away from the fundamental premise that children are a gift entrusted to a committed couple who have given themselves totally to one another. Instead, babies are simply one more consumer item – acquired at the convenience of the caregiver. Thus the home becomes merely a form of self-expression rather than a place of communion in which persons may thrive.
Some might protest that guaranteeing a healthy child is in the child’s best interest but the argument is fatuous at best. How can one insist that health is paramount when the death of so many are guaranteed in the process? How can one avoid the obvious conclusion that invisible suffering (in the lab) is preferred to the more tangible suffering that parents themselves might endure with a sick child? And who has taken time to weigh the existential suffering of a child created through such a process? Is it not the parent who is ultimately relieved by sorting through DNA to find the perfect baby cocktail?
The integral needs of the human person should never be reduced to the flat analysis of mundane considerations. In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II decried the reduction of human life to “biological material” through just such heavy-handed scientific experimentation. That document also pointed out that “[t]he eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism … The so-called ‘quality of life’ is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions – interpersonal, spiritual and religious – of existence” (EV, 23).
And yet this jarring new twist on the horizon goes hand-in-hand with the push for same-sex couples, parents who are single by choice, serial monogamy and other creative jabs at the traditional family. Those promoting “reproductive rights” have worked relentlessly to recast motherhood, fatherhood and marriage into archaic phantoms. Those vocations are being eclipsed by choices so far removed from the authentic needs of persons that to insist that “healthy children” are the goal is ludicrous on every level. Ultimately, we must accept life on God’s terms – complete with the suffering he humbled himself to endure. In that way, we choose authentic love which alone bears all things.
Copyright 2009 Genevieve S. Kineke