CAN parenthood be redefined? Yes, suggests the title of an article in The New York Times: “New Reproduction Techniques Redefine Parenthood.” At one time there was only one way to have a baby, but modern technology has added variations that raise disturbing problems.
What are the “new reproduction techniques”? Five mentioned by the newspaper are: (1) Artificial insemination of the wife (either by the husband’s seed or by a donor’s). (2) Embryo transfer. If the woman cannot produce viable eggs, another woman can be inseminated with the husband’s sperm. The fertilized egg can then be extracted from the female donor and implanted in the wife’s uterus. (3) In vitro fertilization. The wife’s egg is extracted and fertilized in the laboratory by the husband’s sperm, then implanted in the wife. (4) Surrogate mother. If the wife is unable to go through a pregnancy, another woman can be artificially inseminated with the husband’s sperm and have the baby for them. (5) Frozen materials. Sperm, eggs, and embryos can all be frozen and stored for use in one of the ways outlined above.
These new ways of having babies are designed to help couples when either the man or the woman is infertile. The legal problems raised by such techniques were discussed at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The conference discussed such questions as, What is the status of an embryo in the laboratory before it is implanted? What should be done with frozen embryos if the couple that produced them both die? It was also noted that “nothing in the law [of the United States] at present bars the opening of ‘frozen embryo stores,’ where genetic materials would be sold commercially.”
The controversial arrangement of surrogate motherhood raised especially difficult questions. Is a surrogate mother, who is paid to produce the unborn child, selling her baby? If neither the couple nor the surrogate mother wants the child—perhaps because it is born with a handicap—who is responsible for it? What if a surrogate mother wants to keep the baby after it is born? What rights do the couple who initiated the arrangement have?
Truly difficult moral and legal questions arise when, as Dr. George J. Annas reported, the increase in sex without procreation in our time has come full circle with the advent of reproduction without sex.