Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Moral Obligations" and Reproductive Genetic Technologies

A couple of months ago, I read the novel Motherless, by Brian Gail. The book is a sequel (actually the second in a planned trilogy) to Fatherless. Motherless picks up the lives of the four main characters of Fatherless twenty years later. Where Fatherless took place some time in the late eighties or early nineties, Motherless clearly is set in 2008, with thinly veiled references to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

While the story lines in Fatherless were loosely connected, those in Motherless are much more tightly intertwined, with the common arc being the impending life sciences revolution.

After reading Fatherless, it seemed as though related items were appearing all over the news. In a similar way, two items from the May 2011 issue of First Things were clearly related to the theme of Motherless.

The first was an item from the “While We’re At It” section in the back of the magazine:

We should only keep the smart ones. So says Oxford ethicist Julian Savulescu, who recently declared that we will have a “moral obligation” to reproduce via in vitro fertilization and screen the resulting embryos for intelligence as soon as it becomes technologically possible to do so. Embryos not passing the test for intelligence should be destroyed for the good of society – the “economic and social benefits of higher cognition,” as he puts it.

God save us from the “moral obligations” of university ethicists!

The second item was a review by Wesley J. Smith of the book Contested Reproduction by John H. Evans. Evans, says Smith, “searches for common narratives and themes that those with religious views can employ when debating RGTs.” RGTs are reproductive genetic technologies – the life sciences revolution that are the subject of Brian Gail’s Motherless and Julian Savulescu’s “moral obligations.” Smith writes:

Evans concludes his call to find common ground with that he considers an obvious point: “We can all agree that an effective debate about RGTs would be healthy for the human future.”

No, we can’t – not if it requires diluting the discourse to the point that it amounts to forfeiting the game. We should heartken to the wisdom of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ observation that bioethicists are too often advocates who “professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as the unexceptionable.” A debate sapped of first principles would likely result in RGTs becoming viewed as unexceptionable. In fact, given the thousands of IVF births each year that involve embryo selection and/or “selective reduction” abortion, one could plausibly argue that we are already there.

In other words, as soon as you enter into serious debate with a fringe position, you grant that position a degree of legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. The moral position is portrayed as repressive and standing in the way of progress.

I have my doubts about the life sciences revolution that Brian Gail envisions, partly based on technological hurdles and costs of implementation, but I also want to believe that there’s enough moral sense left in the world to reject the underlying utilitarian philosophy. There are people working hard to erode that moral sense. We have to work just as hard to maintain and strengthen it..

1 comment:

abdulbaseer said...

Being a Muslim I can only say: We have faith in what has been revealed towards us and revealed towards you; our God and your God is one, and to Him we have submitted.