A thought-provoking article on the June 18th New York Times’ Opinionator caught my eye. In Think Before You Breed, philosophy professor Christine Overall writes:
…people are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification.
I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Overall’s conclusion that choosing whether or not to have children is the most significant ethical decision of most people’s lives. But there is one group of baby makers who do have to justify their decision to have a child, and furthermore explain the ethics of the decision. As the mother of two children conceived with donor sperm, I continue to be troubled by the judgments hurled at people like us. Last month’s New York Times headline, for example, – “In Choosing a Sperm Donor, a Roll of the Genetic Dice” spawned the predictable accusations via anonymous comments online:
If God made someone sterile, can that person at least accept it?
If you are infertile, perhaps nature is trying to tell you something.
And my personal favorite:
I just can’t see why people spend tens of thousands on fertility treatments when they could open the door to an orphan.
Infertility is caused, in large part, by disease. And it can happen to anyone. In women, it can result from endometriosis, fibroids, or hormonal imbalances, amongst other ills. Many men suffered childhood mumps (like my husband) or adult cancer, rendering them completely infertile. People who seek a solution for infertility, whether assisted reproductive technologies or donor gametes, are not playing God. At least no more than someone undergoing surgical repair of a blocked artery, or chemotherapy in an attempt to destroy cancer cells. Most people with a treatable disease would be astounded by any suggestion to forgo medical intervention and accept what nature, or God, is telling them. In the United States people eat themselves into various states of disease and then expect to receive surgery to help alleviate self-induced health conditions. Infertile people, on the other hand, and especially those who use a donor, are expected to justify their choice as soon as any medical intervention is required to obtain pregnancy.
My husband and I did not choose infertility. We just chose to do something about it. We could have pursued adoption, but instead we sought to create a family using donor sperm. Are we selfish? Yes, but no more than anyone having a baby. Ease of conception should not be the leading entitlement for pregnancy over adoption. That’s like saying that people with celiac disease or other gastric disorders have less of a right to eat food than people with normally functioning digestive tracts. Infertile people should not be held more accountable for children in need of a family than fertile people, simply because we cannot conceive effortlessly. I am aware that many people adopt after having their own child or children, and I’m very glad those people exist. But, as Dr. Overall points out, few people challenge the legitimacy of those would-be parents to create a biological family first.
No one judges me for purchasing new kitchen appliances. Yet, no sooner do I funnel resources toward any aspect of assisted reproductive technology then I transform into an uncaring narcissist who ought to be thinking more about orphaned children. Yes, the money we spent to become pregnant could have been put toward the cost of adopting a child. So could the money that anyone spends on a new car, a new patio, or a family trip to Disney World. I applaud people who adopt when it’s the right decision for them, whether initiated by infertility or not. But I refuse to be vilified for spending money on donor sperm and IVF, any more than a fertile couple should be vilified for having their “own” baby and then buying a new minivan.