The latest Mere Fidelity podcast was posted earlier today. This week’s episode is on the subject of gamete donation or, more particularly, artificial insemination by donor (I expect that a later episode will focus upon IVF). This is a particularly important issue, raising a number of questions that are seldom studied closely. Unfortunately, given the limited time we had, we could only scratch the surface of the issues raised by this. I dealt with some of the matters in more depth in this comment, which some of you may be interested in.
As I observe in the podcast, one of the most important matters for me is the relationship between the manner in which we bring children into the world and the way in which we perceive them. For instance, I have argued in the past that we need to recognize the practices and institutions that sustain our phenomenology of unborn children. The phenomenology of children involves reflection upon the manner of children’s arrival into our world, the meaning that can be perceived within this, and the ethical character of our proper engagement with it (James Mumford’s recent book, Ethics at the Beginning of Life, provides a helpful treatment of some dimensions of this). With the introduction of new modes of conception we are doing more than merely making a relatively insignificant change to a process, while securing the same results: we are establishing the basis for a new phenomenology.
The conception a child through the loving mutual gift of the bodies a husband and wife pledged to each other before many witnesses at their marriage is a profoundly personalizing fact—the wife is bearing her husband’s child. From the very dawn of its life, the child is situated in a tight web of loving relationships, being itself a concentrated expression of these bonds, not least a concrete expression of the loving one flesh union of its parents. The child is also a physical manifestation of a union to which its parents have pledged their lifelong commitment. The child thus enters the world as one afforded a natural welcome and accorded a natural claim upon both of its parents.
When a child is conceived with the donated gametes of a third party, anonymous or not, the child is not begotten from a profoundly personal loving gift of pledged bodies. Rather, its origins are now situated in a less personal realm of economic transactions, legal decisions, and medical procedures, in the realm of human construction. The donated gametes are not the expression of a loving marital gift of self, but depersonalized genetic ‘material’ from which the baby is to be formed. It shouldn’t require much reflection to appreciate the problematic impact that this can have upon the way that the child’s arrival in our midst, its identity, the manner of its being, and the being of children more generally will be perceived. Conversely, to the extent that we are morally formed by close attention to the natural phenomenon of conception through the loving procreative union of man and woman, will we readily countenance the use of such procedures as artificial insemination by donor?
Anyway, over to you. Leave any comments that you may have beneath this post, or over on Mere Orthodoxy.