Artificial Reproduction and Moral Dilemmas


Published: April 22, 2010

Coming up this month on Oprah, the talk show queen will be doing a show surrounding the life of Nadya Suleman, the woman most Americans know as “Octomom.” Suleman came into notoreity after giving birth to octuplets, all of whom she conceived through the use of assisted reproduction technology. What’s even more interesting is that Suleman was already a mother of six, single and on welfare at the time. Her case has prompted some people to wonder if assisted reproduction technology is immoral.

The barrier between faith and technology is a tenuous one. In a time when we are producing technology faster than we can keep track of it, it seems that faith and morality come into play only as an afterthought. In the case of assisted reproduction, which includes in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy, a variety of debates from different religious and ethics groups have sprung forth. Without a doubt, the creation of life through unnatural means warrants cause for concern. While these treatments may give children to a person who otherwise could not conceive, many wonder if that child was then “meant to be.” For those who believe in God, taking the creation of life out of His hands and putting it in our own is completely immoral. For others, the ability of science to override the limitations of the body and help create a family is a blessing in itself.  This new type of technology creates a grey area for those enticed by the miracles of science and simultaneously compelled by the ethics of spirituality.

The problem I have with much of the opposition to assisted reproduction is not the opposition itself, but the reasoning behind it. For me, the sketchy part of reproduction technology is the unnatural generation of life; for some reason it just seems wrong. I also believed that religious organizations who trust the creation of human life to God would find this same fault with reproductive technology. When reading their stands on the issue, however, I immediately became unsure of their motivations.

The fact that many different religious groups have made a point to come out with an official position on the topic of assisted reproduction notes not only the passions that have sprung forth due to assisted reproduction but also the widespread popularity of such procedures. Catholics in particular have taken a stand against reproductive technologies. The catechism of the Catholic Church states that “techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus) are gravely immoral.” According to this statement, it seems that the Church’s problem with assisted reproduction is not the man-made creation of life but the so-called intrusion on the married couple by a third-party. The catechism goes on to say that such procedures betray a couple’s right to naturally become parents; but what if that right is one that the couple gives up freely, or, for that matter, never had in the first place? Many men and women struggle with issues of infertility in their marriages, and for them the “intrusion” of a third party becomes the only way to conceive. Is it fair then to deny them the right to start a family? And if it is immoral for a family to be created that doesn’t wholly match genetically, what can be said about adoption? Can someone really make the claim that it is immoral to include a child that is not his own into his family, based merely on the premise of mismatched DNA?

Some Muslim scholars on Islamic law have issued their own opinions on the issue of reproductive technology and, most interestingly, on the adoption of children who are conceived with medical assistance. While under normal circumstances, these scholars consider reproductive assistance that occurs only within the couple to be acceptable, they also believe that the introduction of a third party is immoral. Not only do they find the procedure to be unacceptable, but they also find the resulting child to be illegitimate. What’s worse is that the adoption of this child is, therefore, not allowed.

It seems to me that the reasons that are being offered by some religious groups as to why assisted reproduction is immoral are somewhat immoral in themselves. If we have no problem with the human creation of life, why criticize people who choose to start their families that way? If we see no fault in artificially producing children when so many are already homeless, why condemn the couple who is desperate to have a child of their own? It’s time for certain groups to reevaluate what they consider to be immoral.