Reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection have undoubtedly brought much joy to many people, and therefore many ethical systems support its development. A good place to start when considering the benefits of these technologies is the utilitarian view. Utilitarians believe that man has a natural desire to reproduce based in human biology. Patrick Steptoe is quoted as stating that “It is a fact that there is a biological desire to reproduce”.
Likewise, Peter Singer, famous utilitarian writer, in his defence of IVF refers to the desire for a child as being a very basic desire. If there is such a desire then there does seem to be a strong argument in favour of developing techniques to overcome infertility. Such an argument might be based on the utilitarian principle of `maximising happiness’. This theory claims that where there is a moral choice to make the right thing to do is the action which is likely to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
This theory starts with the happiness involved in a situation, takes into account the wider happiness of anyone else involved and takes the action that will produce this result of happiness. This theory looks at the consequences and takes the action that will bring about the desired results. The Utilitarian wishes to maximise happiness and minimise the pain of infertility. When considering issues such as infertility we must not look at it in impersonal, philosophical terms. It is a problem that can only be truly understood at human level.
Those that have never suffered infertility will not know the true pain of being unable to conceive. Since successful IVF treatment will bring an enormous amount of happiness these theorists are in agreement with such treatments. In the case of an infertile couple the utilitarian will look at the options available and strive towards to goal of conception. To quote Laura Bush, “For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives. ”
Moving on to situation ethics, this theory is in favour of reproductive technology if it is the most loving course of action in the particular situation. It is not absolutist. This theory says that individual situations are different. This theory believes that there is only one underlying principle: you do whatever is the most loving thing to do in a situation. Ethical rules are secondary. In the circumstances of an infertile couple you take the line of action which will be the most loving thing for a couple in their unique circumstances.
There are many circumstances in which the use of reproductive technology would be the most loving course of action, such as when a same sex couple wish to experience parenthood. Techniques such as IVF using donor sperm/eggs can bring the joy of a child when they cannot conceive one naturally. Another more controversial scenario when a couple may benefit from reproductive technology would be when they desire a certain sex of child. Reproductive technology can accommodate consumerist type choices such as this.
Using technologies to determine a child’s gender before it is born could be considered loving because in certain countries, such as India and China, boys are more desired and therefore the child and family will have a higher quality of life overall. Personal autonomy and choice is key to this debate. Personal autonomy is the capacity to decide for oneself and pursue a course of action in one’s life, often regardless of any particular moral content.
Whether or not reproductive technologies are moral should be down to the couple to decide, not the government, because it is a highly personal choice. Finally, natural law is an ethical theory that is typically opposed to reproductive technology, because it is interfering with natural conception. However, there are some Christians who believe that natural law can be reconciled with reproductive technologies. If God has said that the final end of sex is procreation, then the use of technology is instrumental to the pursuit of the natural ends, which have already been stipulated in doctrine.
Thus, for example, IVF treatment allows us to pursue the natural end of reproduction through technological processes. After all, the Bible never directly mentions reproductive technologies. Nonetheless, this is still a minority view amongst proponents of natural law. Protestant churches tend to take a more lenient view. For example, the Free Presbyterian Church accepts IVF provided that the couple are married, spare embryos are not created and no donors are used.
Both the Methodist Church and the Church of England are quite positive about all forms of IVF and even permit research on spare embryos up to 14 days old because it can be of great help to doctors researching genetic diseases, although embryos should not be created solely for this purpose. Ultimately, reproductive technology causes us to rethink our views on family, marriage, sex and what makes a mother. Regardless of our views, we should be compassionate towards those suffering from the effects of infertility. You cannot understand their situation unless you have experienced it personally.