Since the first tube baby was born in 1978 there has been a lively debate about the ethics of assisting Mother Nature. The current Pope, Benedict XVI has opposed any scientific procedure, including genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization and diagnostic tests to see if babies have disabilities, because these compromise the dignity of the human being by treating him or her as a thing (Ertfelt). Most Catholics suffering from fertility problems have ignored his opinion, just as those who have the opposite problem have ignored the Vatican’s ban on contraception. It will be argued that science should do all it can to make babies healthier and parents happier so long as that can be done without upsetting nature’s balance.
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Medical science has been “tampering” with nature for the last couple of centuries by finding cures for the diseases that have plagued mankind since the beginning. By now such diseases as smallpox have been completely eradicated, along with many others that once threatened the well-being of the human race. Some religious groups regard this as going against God’s will and some, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists and those who only accept faith healing. The mainstream religions, however, have no objections to medical help, and should therefore not criticize the kind of treatments that are now available to prevent babies from being handicapped for life.
Pope Paul VI was critical of parents who have used fertility treatments or in vitro fertilization because they could not conceive otherwise. He reasons that artificial insemination and fertilization disconnect the sexual act from procreation, and thus “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person” (Pope Paul VI).
The current Pope, Benedict XVI, also denounced the practice and parents who availed themselves of the new scientific procedures. The urge to “be fruitful and multiply” is strong in most people, as is seen in the hundreds of thousands of people who take these treatments regardless of Papal pronouncements. The main point about scientifically aided births is that there is nothing wrong with the children produced with the aid of technology.
They are indistinguishable from children conceived in the way the Catholic clergy regard as acceptable and even those children, it must be remembered, now have the benefit of advanced medical technology. As far as the parents are concerned, one bundle of joy is also much like another, whether it was created in an act of love, haste or error; or in a glass tube.
No one who thinks back on the days when women and children commonly died during child birth or soon after, or who has been to countries where this still happens, can help but feel that medical science has been a Godsend, one that should be extended to everyone, everywhere. That is not to say that the Pope was wrong in expressing his reservations about making science a part of the procreative process, or permitting it to tamper with genes. There are people who abuse scientific advances for their own gain, and they will no doubt make designer babies as big a business as cosmetic surgery is today.
A far greater danger is presented by the son-worshiping cultures which are eager to use new technologies to design babies who are male, not female. A recent report shows that among Chinese, Korean and Indian families in America, if the first child was a girl the probability of a boy next time increased to 1.17 to 1, and after two girls that number rose to 1.51 to 1 (Roberts). Nature’s wisdom in creating a female-male ratio of 100 to 105 cannot be doubted, yet today that ratio worldwide is estimated at 100 to 107 (Wikipedia, Sex Ratio).
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Whether parents use science to have children, or use science to change the color of their eyes, the shape of their nose or the color of their hair, is really the parents’ business. Designer babies only become a problem when, for reasons of greed or culture, they upset the natural balance of the world’s population. The trend in China, where the combination of the one-child policy and son-worship has caused the murder of tens of millions of female babies, could easily intensify and go global with the aid of science. It is to be hoped that science and religion will find a way to prevent that.
Ertfelt, Steven. “Pope Benedict XVI Condemns Genetic Engineering, Designer Babies.” LifeNews. 2007. Web.
Pope Paul VI. Humanae Vitae: Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Regulation of Birth. Vatican. Web.
Roberts, Sam. “U.S. Births Hint at Bias for Boys in Some Asians.” The New York Times, 2009.