Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Right to Life

This story and its fallout is brought to you by medical technology.

Synopsis: A woman living on the edge of poverty volunteers to be a surrogate mother.  She is implanted with embryos, and one of them takes.  During routine testing, it is found that the fetus has some severe medical complications.  The donor family wants an abortion and offers money.  The surrogate mother does not want said abortion and fights to give birth to the child.  The story unfolds, and the child is born with many medical issues.  The child is adopted by another couple who is caring for her, and the medical costs are significant.

Perhaps I am wading into some very troubled water by offering my thoughts on this story, but there were so many of them that I cannot help it.  Of course, the headline is the attention getter, "$10,000 to Get an Abortion."  But this story is actually more about the ethics of medical technology.

What does a person do now that we have the ability to diagnose severe medical problems while a child is still in utero?  Is it ethical to abort a child to prevent suffering?  Is it ethical to have children by any means including using donated eggs and/or donated sperm?  If a couple has used this method before and there are already children with significant health issues, is it ethical to strive for another child using the same batch of fertilized eggs?

Each and every one of these questions have arisen because of medical technology.  A hundred years ago, they would have been moot.  We did not have the ability to test children in utero.  We did not have the technology to harvest eggs, fertilize them, freeze them, and then implant them.  There was only one way to become pregnant--the old fashioned way (and, honestly, does anyone actually prefer any other sort of method?).

There are a few things I have a very strong opinion on, and I will begin point by point:

1. Is it ethical for people to strive toward having children at all costs?

Two of my children are adopted.  I understand infertility very well.  I wanted to be a dad, and badly.  But I was not going to drive my family deeply into debt to do so.  When my wife and I reached the extent of what our insurance would cover, we decided to head toward the adoption route.  I was not about to try and shell out $10,000 a pop for rounds of shots that may or may not work--not on my salary.  That was a big gamble.  I knew if I spent $10,000 on adoption, I'd have a child, and genetics was not the driving issue. 

I know that evolution has built into most of us a deep, deep desire to procreate.  From a faith standpoint, it's one of the original commands God gave to us.  "Be fruitful and multiply."  The urge to follow God's command or evolution, depending upon one's assumptions is not easily discarded.  And there is no sin in choosing to remain childless. 

But I cannot help but think that spending thousands upon thousands of dollars in pursuit of having a child is not ethical.  I cannot help but think that digging a family into debt to have a kid (which limits finances even further) is not what a family should do.  I believe there are limits.  Now, exactly what those are, I cannot tell you.  If you've got the expendable income, I've got no problems.  If you are octo-mom, I've got a major issue.

2. Is it ethical to have an abortion if the child is destined for a life of suffering?

The answer will depend upon the assumptions which drive your belief.  If you believe that suffering is sinful and to be avoided at all cost, then you will probably say it is not only ethical, but necessary.  If you believe that all life is sacred and that suffering is a part of life that we all must endure, you will answer in the negative.

I will be frank in acknowledging that my experience in dealing with children who suffer is limited to a particular area: those parents who have chosen to care for their children no matter what.  In every circumstance, those parents care for and love their children no matter the circumstance.  Even though those kids have undergone tremendous difficulties, the parents still consider the kids to be a blessing.  Despite the hardships and continuous medical issues, no parent that I know of would trade their kids for anything.

As I reflect upon my faith tradition, I do not see suffering as without purpose.  My faith teaches that suffering leads to something else.  The cross led to the resurrection.  We, as limited human beings cannot see far enough down the road to judge the possible outcomes of suffering.  Oftentimes our vision is myopic and can only focus on a limited stretch.  That stretch may seem overwhelmingly evil, disgusting, horrifying, and senseless; yet, there are very few people in life who point to suffering without also pointing out that there was something good that came out of it. 

The belief that there is oftentimes good that comes out of suffering and that human life is precious in the sight of God leads me to say that aborting a child who has medical issues is unethical.*

3. Is it ethical to continue implantation processes when children from the same batch of eggs already have medical problems?

In my mind, this is a risk/reward statement which has several assumptions to deal with.

If you believe abortion is an ethical way to end a chancy pregnancy, then you will say that it is more than ethical to continue to use that batch of eggs.

If you believe that abortion is not an ethical way to end a pregnancy and do not wish to be responsible for a medically challenged child, then the answer is no, you will not use that batch of eggs.

If you believe that abortion is not an ethical way to end and pregnancy and you will gladly take responsibility for a medically challenged child, then you will use that batch of eggs.

As I think about those three possibilities, I am comfortable with the ethics of the second and third scenarios.  Scenario number one is unacceptable because of my answer to #2 above.

4. Is it ethical to have a child knowing that you cannot provide for that child's medical situation and that society may be stuck with the cost of providing for that child?

Again, we must go back to the assumptions:

Is human life precious?  Can we put a cost on human life? 

If the assumption is that human life is precious--that even in suffering, there is blessing--that a society that cares for the least of these is exhibiting the highest of morals, the answer is straight forward. 
  • Since no couple ever has a child expecting that it will have medical challenges
  • Yet those complications happen and are often expensive
  • And many couples cannot afford those expenses
in a society that values human life, it will help pick up the cost of raising said child.

Now, if that same society believes there is a limit in how much life is worth--if it believes life isn't sacred or precious--if it believes life is simply part of the process and there is nothing significant about any given person, then such a child actually becomes a drain on society's resources and it would be better if said fetus were aborted.

I don't fall into that second category.  Just a note, many evolutionists don't either, so please don't head down that road.  I believe life is precious and should not be ended in such a fashion.  I also believe that if a culture prides itself in being pro-life, then it is willing to use its resources to help out parents who choose to care for medically challenged children.  I believe this is where the Christian faith leads.

*Note to anyone who wishes to argue to the contrary: please do not try to argue on the basis of reason and philosophy with me.  Argue along the lines of faith, for my argument is not based in reason or evolution but in a statement of faith and belief.

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