Several liberal and progressive commentators have weighed in recently on emerging reproductive and genetic technologies. The authors differ about where and how to draw lines about troubling applications of these technologies, but they agree that regulation and oversight are necessary, and that we should begin working now to craft them.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opens "Birth Without the Bother" with his uneasiness about Americans traveling to India to arrange surrogate pregnancies on the cheap. He ends with a call to ban inheritable genetic modification - a position in keeping with existing laws in dozens of countries, and long advocated by CGS. But, Kristof writes, he'd allow markets in eggs and wombs, along with most applications of embryo selection.
So where do we regulate and draw the line?...What should cross the line into illegality is fiddling with the heritable DNA of humans to make them smarter, faster or more pious-or more deaf. That is playing God not just with a particular embryo but with our species, and we should ban it.
Kristof's column triggered over one hundred responses in his blog at the Times website. To these, he responded, in part:
[T]he wealthy could gain advantages for their offspring more than they already do, ultimately creating multiple subspecies of humans.… Maybe as humans we will choose to [transform ourselves into subspecies], but if so it should be the result of careful thought, not of marketing campaigns by companies invested in the technology. And once we embark on changing our germ line DNA, that is irreversible; if anything deserves monitoring and close attention and regulation, then it is the future of our species.
Dissent contributor Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow argues in "Designer Babies and the Pro-Choice Movement" [link available through Aug. 3] that concerns about misuses of reproductive technologies are best understood through the lens of social and reproductive justice. This, she believes, is also a better starting point for strengthening abortion rights.
The first and least controversial task for pro-choice activists…is to make it very clear that the rights for which they have fought are fundamentally different from the right to determine the genetic makeup of offspring. Whether the latter right is legitimate or not, it is not the same as or an extension of the former.
In "A Challenge to Progressives on Choice," Sam Berger of the Progressive Bioethics Initiative at the Center for American Progress writes in The Nation Online about the "novel challenge" that human biotechnologies pose for pro-choice progressives.
Progressives, then, will need a new way to distinguish what reproductive technologies and practices should be regulated....Whether we like it or not, some reproductive decisions are becoming matters of societal interest, and we need to be clear on where we think society should draw the line. In order to maintain existing protections for reproductive choices we view as self-regarding and personal, we need to delineate clearly which of them require oversight and which do not.
The publication of these commentaries coincides with a flurry of troubling news about existing practices in assisted reproduction:
"Women get the wrong dose of fertility drugs," New Scientist (July 15)
More than 90 per cent of women undergoing fertility treatments may be getting the wrong doses of the drugs used to stimulate their ovaries. As well as putting them at greater risk of side effects, the drugs may not work properly.
"Private IVF clinics are 'exploiting women'," The Guardian (UK) (July 15)
Britain's leading foetal medicine expert has condemned the IVF industry, saying some private clinics are exploiting women desperate to get pregnant by offering them unproven and expensive treatments.
"Taking on the baby gods," The Guardian (UK) (July 4)
IVF is expensive and harrowing, and carries significant health risks. That is why some fertility experts are turning to an alternative method called 'mild IVF', which they say is cheaper, safer and equally effective. But Britain's most powerful fertility doctors remain to be convinced.
"Is IVF Embryo Screening A Pregnancy Boost?" CBS News (July 6)
Screening the embryos of an older woman undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) for genetic defects - a procedure known as preimplantation genetic screening - does not boost her chances of pregnancy and appears to worsen her chances, Dutch researchers say.
"Study: Clinics overuse lab technique," Seattle Post-Intelligencer (July 19)
Fertility clinics are overusing a laboratory technique and costing infertile couples and some insurers hundreds of extra dollars, a new study suggests. At issue is a procedure that injects a single sperm into an egg…[which] often doesn't work as well as the standard lab dish method, according to a study in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
"Thousands of human eggs may be missing," Orange County Register (July 22)
More than 100 fertility doctors in dozens of states may have brokered unauthorized transfers of human eggs, according to the bankruptcy court filing of a local company and its former records supervisor.