It's not that there aren't nuggets of truth in the Slate article, "The Embryo Factory" by William Saletan. It's just that it's written in such a glib manner that any chance he has to convince me of his argument is lost as he screws up his analogies and slides around on the slippery slope that is ethics and fertility treatments.
Profiting off of fertility treatments doesn't feel ethically sound. Knowing that someone is netting $43,000 due to my medical condition is sort of shitty. I wish medicine was a not-for-profit endeavour.
Please show me the fertility doctor who isn't a businessperson. Show me the fertility clinic that charges solely the cost of the procedure along with minor additional funds to put towards future research, rent, or office costs. Show me the sperm bank or egg donor that provides their services solely at cost. Even if you can find a friend or altruistic donor who is willing to give this ultimate gift, there are still people in line waiting to make money--the people who handle the transaction or harvest the eggs or draw up the legal documents or perform the procedure. People see a place to turn a profit and they are making money off of the needs of others. On that end, how can one judge Jennalee Ryan unless they are judging the entire industry? And I'm fine judging the entire industry, but people should be careful when pointing fingers that they're not involved in other for-profit endeavours off the backs of others. Diamonds anyone?
Do I find her endeavour completely sound? No--but one of the non-monetary elements that bothers me is also what appeals to me. How is that for the screening paradox? On one hand, she has gotten around the inherent judgement and screening in adoption by calling this "embryo donation." Since it is a donation, the person accepting the embryo isn't chosen. Like every other easy breeder out there, they are becoming a parent because they want to become a parent. As opposed to adoption where a person may want to become a parent, but they need to be screened and have an agency agree that they are ready to be parents. This is, of course, in the best interest of the child. One wouldn't want to place a child in an abusive situation. But since easy breeders don't have to jump through these hoops and prove their worthiness (anyone who has dealt with CPS knows that it is very difficult to remove a child from their home even when abuse has been proven so the whole "we all do have to prove our worthiness" argument doesn't really hold up), why should people who need to use a donor's embryo due to a medical condition or age? That's the paradox--I don't want the screening, but I do want the screening.
There have been cries of racism and eugenics. Saletan sounds horrified that a blond-haired blue-eyed customer would like to have a blond-haired, blue-eyed baby. In a world where it can take an additional ten minutes to get through the food store as everyone needs to ask you invasive questions about your children, I completely understand the desire to circumvent that situation by using donors that resemble you physically. I completely understand the desire to have a donor who is at the same education level as the prospective parent. I understand the desire to find your almost-doppelganger. The You who can conceive. The You who can provide you with the materials to reproduce.
I understand Saletan's fear that reproductive technology is a racing train out-of-control. Technological advances are moving faster than ethics, with the philosophers chasing after the train shouting their theses into thin air. It doesn't truly matter what ethicists think because science keeps proceeding and proceeding. They can keep commenting, but it would be more helpful to gauge the reaction of the community and report it rather than imposing ethical debates on situations that are outside their realm of understanding.
Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist who often counsels families who are the products of A.R.T., asks two excellent questions (amongst many) in her book Mommies, Daddies, Donors, and Surrogates that ring out during this debate over Ryan's donation center. Do we (in this case, the collective we: Jennalee Ryan, reproductive endocrinologists, scientists, researchers, those who utilize A.R..T. to build their family) really know what we're doing--not just in regards to this donation center, but in regards to all the advances in reproductive technology? And what are we actually anxious about when it comes to these advances? I'm posing these questions to you because I have my own answers, but they're obviously not the only ones out there. And I'd like to add a third question: is science taking into account ethics when charging ahead--and whose ethics should be taken into account?
Maybe if Saletan had ever sat in the office at a fertility clinic and felt that desperation that comes from listing how long you've been trying and knowing the statistics of success, he would be able to form a better argument against Ryan's endeavour. It's not that one needs to have a personal stake in order to comment intelligently on an ethical dilemma. But Ehrensaft points out the obvious, "'Icky' feelings [about A.R.T.] reverberate loudly and clearly from people all around, in fact even more so because these folks have no investment in getting over their anxiety as they're not the ones who are hoping for a baby." Maybe the desire to have a child and the stark fact that I need assistance to do so enables me to quickly see the good in A.R.T. Or, on the other hand, perhaps if Saletan had personal experience with infertility or if he was a gay male seeking his best chance to become a parent, he would discuss the matter respectfully rather than trying to be sensational by creating mismatched analogies to wholesale vs. retail as well as finishing his article with the cold and crass statement: "Tested, personalized, affordable, disposable. You've come a long way, baby." Smoke this, Saletan.