We are quickly becoming an entitlement culture that increasingly refuses to set self limits and presumes the right to harness technology to get us what we want—no matter how destructive to others and to the overall culture. Nothing epitomizes this anything goes, me-me/I-I mentality than the extreme uses of IVF.
When introduced, IVF was supposed to help infertile married couples have children. Now, it has become a mechanism for crass eugenics, such as using embryo or egg selection not just for health, but for hair color, intelligence, etc.. It is used by healthy, fertile women so that they won’t have to carry their own babies, by fertile single women to have multitudes of children—as in Octomom—and even by post menopausal women to give birth in late middle age or older. Sometimes, it is used for both, such as by a self described “baby addict” and her husband from the UK. From the story:
Eight babies should be enough for any mother - especially at the age of 54. Not for Karen Johnston. The self-confessed baby addict was so desperate to extend her already - extensive family that she underwent £3,000 of fertility treatment in eastern Europe. The happy result is twins, who yesterday were settling in at home after three months fighting for their lives in hospital. ‘When I was told I could finally bring Imogen and Asa home I was overjoyed,’ said Mrs Johnston, a housewife. ‘The past three months have passed in a blur of emotions and anxiety.
These things do not arise in a vaccuum. Ultimately, society gets dragged in to help pay the costs, which once the children are in being, are of course, moral and legal imperatives:
My husband Roger and I have spent all our time at the hospital watching the twins progress and praying that they make it. ‘We are looking forward to being normal parents of newborn babies. ‘Right now that means feeding them every two hours throughout the night. Although I’m exhausted, just being able to hold them makes it all worthwhile.’ The twins were conceived in the Czech Republic using a donated egg and 55-year-old car worker Mr Johnston’s sperm. They arrived 13 weeks premature on March 12, with Imogen weighing 2lb and Asa 2lb 5oz.
I bring this up not to focus on yet another example of extreme behavior, but rather, because the way IVF has been hijacked from being limited to real cases of need to also being at the service of pure self gratification is merely a precursor of things to come when even more powerful technologies are unleashed, such as cloning and synthetic life (about which more, soon).
Technophiles are fond of saying that resistance is futile. But I do think we can maintain reasonable control with a combination of proper regulations—circumvented in this case by the parents going to Eastern Europe—and by refusing to socially laud and coo over hedonistic solipsism, as if social outlawry were cute or cutting edge. In other words, we need to reinvigorate the power of cultural shame to maintain social proprieties—just as we do with good success in preventing racism, for example. Or to put it another way, while law can impede technological abuses, in the end, only a self restraint reinforced by the power of social disapproval and peer pressure, can truly prevent them.