As vehicles of our genes, does every couple have the right to assisted fertility treatments?

Nov 10, 2013

Discussion by: sg408

As humans who are driven by their genes, do all heterosexual couples have the right to assisted fertility or is society making the right to a child into a fashionable commodity?

I'm doing a seminar on this subject at Uni and could use a few different opinions!

25 comments on “As vehicles of our genes, does every couple have the right to assisted fertility treatments?

  • 1
    QuestioningKat says:

    What about gay single women or women who are not married but want a kid? What about two gay men wanting to raise a child? I’m not completely certain what you are asking. I assume you are wondering if assisted fertility is putting the wants of the parents above the actual child. Why don’t you give us a specific situation or news related case?

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  • 2
    Kim Probable says:

    We have a lot of genetic failures that we fix surgically. We’re fighting against genetic selection there, too. I think we’d be a poorer society if we let genes completely dictate our health when we have alternatives. It seems so obvious to do what you can when it comes to an individual’s health – I don’t think it’s much more of a leap to assume the same with fertility.

    There were some ethical issues raised with the announcement that mitochondrial diseases could be fixed by using mitochondria from a third person. Some said it gave the resulting offspring three “parents” and that would be wrong. They were upset that someone might pass on their genes that they would not have otherwise, and that it should be regulated, but we don’t regulate other ways people want to pass on their genes. But it brought to mind another question – would the genes of a surrogate mother impact the developing offspring as well? (Assuming that the fertilization of the egg took place outside of her body.)

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  • This question can be broken down into many parts:
    1. “Why do you want to have children?” I ask this question each time I encounter a couple/person who wants children. Invariably, the answers I get are “I’ve always wanted a child”, “To carry on my family name”, “I”, “me”, “I want”, selfish answer after selfish answer. Are these parents going to raise their children? Or is a nanny (or manny) going to? If times get hard, who is going to pay for these childrens’ school/medical/food? My taxes are already 33% of my income; much of which pays for public school (which I am happy to do; but many of the poorer parents don’t pay into the school system that educates THEIR CHILDREN. I do.) Schools are overcrowded (my heart goes out to any and all teachers)….There are so many social problems linked to overpopulation and sketchy, if any, direct parenting by parents that need to work 2+ jobs just to keep their heads above water. If you are independently wealthy (which I am not, which is why I don’t have kids) knock your socks off. If not, consider the toll your kids will have on the rest of an already burdened society.
    2. Global: When these children grow up, into our already overpopulated world, what will the unemployment rate be in 20 years? Will these ‘parents’ be able to afford college in 18 years? In our extremely uncertain economy, no job is guaranteed; no income is perfectly stable. How will these children fare in the world of 2033? Again, selfishly bringing a child into this world has long-range consequences that ‘parents’ don’t consider.
    3. Evolutionary: I am NOT an evolutionary biologist (Hey Richard!), but, I personally think that folks are playing their version of god (so to speak), or at the very least tampering with Mother Nature by artificially bringing humans into the world. If Nature didn’t get you pregnant the natural way, She’s trying to tell you NOT TO PROCREATE!!!! Who do these people think they are that THEIR specific offspring will be Sooooo special as to warrant artificial conception? Another example of how we, as full-of-ourselves humans think that we are all that and a bag of chips.

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  • It sounds like two separate topics to me. Personally, I don’t think anyone should have assisted fertility, but that’s just me. I don’t see society making having children a fashionable commodity. It seems more and more it’s making it an entitlement.

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  • I don’t understand what that has to do with genes. We do not live to replicate our genes. We live for whatever we want. We live because our genes replicated, but we have no duty to evolution.

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  • Coming from a country with a low birth rate, of course I think everyone has the right to experience the joys of parenthood at least once in their lives. As long there is no risk of passing on a serious abnormality, I think it unethical to possess the technology and not make use of it.

    There’s a big difference when comparing a couple contemplating their fifth child in an already overcrowded country to that of a gay couple who would be able to provide a child with an enriched environment. We have a vast number of tools at our disposal in the area of reproduction. Embryos can be screened and selected, artificial insemination and surrogacy are other options and IVF can maximise the chances of having a healthy offspring.

    If an individual irresponsibly passes on their genes to a child doomed to a life of misery, I consider that a cruel thing to do though I’d imagine it to be very rare. IMO we should accept that rare possibility rather than cut off the options for many other excellent potential parents.

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  • 7
    OHooligan says:

    As humans who are driven by their genes, do all heterosexual couples have the right to assisted fertility

    Well, they’d be expected to try to claim this as a right, but it doesn’t mean any other human-gene-vehicles have any obligation to assist. Unless they’re closely related, I suppose. Vehicles of competing genes would have as much right to oppose them.

    So much for trying to see it from the gene-vehicle perspective.

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  • Given that the earth is seriously overpopulated, I would like all manner of measures instituted to discourage people from having children. We should not subsidise fertility treatments. We should stop tax breaks for children. We should stop subsidised daycare. Education should continue to be free because the consequences of an uneducated generation are too dire. We need contraceptives that require special action to turn them off.

    Fertility treatment needs to be deprecated as selfish. Why are you making more babies where there are parentless ones already?

    One problem with any high tech treatment, is at some point when civilisation collapses, a large proportion of the population will be born sterile or unable to live without high tech. We should be moving to treatments that correct the underlying genetic defect. More controversial would be removing such defective individuals while they are still a single cell.

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  • 10
    Reckless Monkey says:

    When considering whether or not to have a second child (we still only have one and likely only will) we considered our right to breed against the impact that would have on the planet. When telling people that it was one of many factors we considered I was amazed at the dumbfounded looks and open astonishment that this should even be considered as a factor. I agree with Roedy that we are overpopulated (particularly in the West – in terms of resources used per/person) but I could not be without the joy of parenthood. In fact having a child makes me fight harder to get people to see sense on things like global warming as I have someone in my life who will very much be effected by it. We came to the conclusion we had the right to replace ourselves (our stance-no judgement intended on others) but it would probably be better for the planet if we kept to one (but this was only one factor in many).

    I also think that the fertility treatment is bound to break new ground in that you cannot do it effectively unless you understand how it foetuses develop etc. Ultimately it will benefit all. I don’t think it should be free, but I’m okay with some subsidy. Reasoning there is people need to be committed to having children I teach too many children who are victims of parents who didn’t take a care in the world and treat their children worse than pets, I suspect anyone prepared to pay thousands of dollars, go through invasive and embarrassing procedures to get pregnant are more likely to make caring parents than many who are just too childish, selfish and thoughtless to give a damn about their own fertility and make their children lives a living hell because they couldn’t be damned taking a single precaution and when discovering their situation resent the child for the existence they caused! (note-I know plenty of parents of unplanned children that are brilliant I refer to a subset here who care not a whit for their offspring – any teacher can name of dozens).

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  • Genes are templates for protein structures in cells. They don’t drive anything. Reality is the driver, and the genes follow, enabling stability and the potential for variation and future adaptation, at least until reality changes its mind again. Collectively our cells create extraordinarily complex systems, including our minds which enable us the ability to determine the extent we choose to conform to fashions and other social urges, including reproductive activities and indulgences. But fashions are temporary or cyclical. Having a child can’t be considered a fashion seeing as it has never yet gone out of fashion, at least so far – some millions of years according to the fossil record. Such a long run might be stretching the concept of ‘fashion’.

    No one has the right to expect someone else to be compelled directly or indirectly to provide them with assisted fertility, just as for the more fundamental commodities of food, clothing, shelter, etc. But anyone has a right to supply or obtain it willingly by negotiation.

    Assuming some people want children but are struggling then it’s probably an easier option for them to do away with assisted infertility. Crap food possibly has the most significant impact on fertility. Not eating crap should be the first thing to try for a year or so. Much easier than trying to campaign for more coercion to generate greater availability of fertility assistance, and it’s associated expensive expertise and technology.

    Similarly no one has the right to arrange things, via deception or otherwise, so that addictive crap food is now regarded as so normal it takes a great effort to acquire any alternatives. Nevertheless that seems to be what has happened. But compelling some different people to compensate for such problems caused by other people’s misdeeds seems to be the opposite of what our minds, ‘driven’ by our genes, would consider as something we might wish to accept.

    There can be no outright entitlement to medical care of any kind. Only the right to be willing to provide it and/or benefit from it. All communities willingly assign substantial resources to medical systems to support unexpected or unavoidable illness and similar misfortune. But these systems inevitably include processes for rationing those resources. Generally these resources are prioritised to people who already exist and are already afflicted, rather than the inconceivable. So you’d expect that fertility assistance would have to sit well outside the scope of those resources communities already allocate to dealing with illness. Even more so if, as now seems to be the case, a great deal of infertility is a known consequence of crap food.

    Possibly it’s a similar issue to the drain on health system resources imposed by cigarette and alcohol consumption. Perhaps if resources were withheld from cigarette smokers. E.g. no funds for heart transplants for smokers, then there might be more scope for assisted fertility via coercive or voluntary tax revenue.

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  • 13
    Zeuglodon says:

    As humans who are driven by their genes,

    Genes don’t “drive” anything except protein synthesis. They build human bodies, but the whole point is that the bodies drive themselves after the major organs are assembled.

    Moreover, the right to assisted fertility has nothing to do with our being “gene vehicles” and everything to do with the two facts: that some people want kids but, for whatever reason, can’t have them; and there are technologies available to help them. It’s an interesting topic, but don’t pointlessly drag genes into a discussion that doesn’t really need them. This is about individuals.

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  • 14
    SaganTheCat says:

    As humans who are driven by their genes, do all heterosexual couples have the right to assisted fertility or is society making the right to a child into a fashionable commodity?

    If humans have the right to reproduce then all humans, heterosexual, homosexual, couples. singles or multiple-partner relationships. These people are vehicles too

    I hardly see how the right to a child is a commodity. it can’t be traded on, it’s a right and “fashionable” is just an emotive term used to make anything sound a bit negative.

    children themselves have been used as fashionable commodities for years though. when do you think the first mother ever boasted about her offspring for social capital? probably not that recently.

    as for the right to fertility treatment, well that should be considered carefully. lets not forget humans don’t clone themselves (yet) so their offspring get only half their genes from each parent. however, each parent supplies virtually identical genes in the forst place so it should be remembered that adoption is in itself a form of propagating ones genes. maybe not as many as supplying genes directly but still enough to make rearing that child a perfectly natural experience.

    in my opinion, all have the right to consider having children. society has the responsibility of ensuring the right people raise them. so far thanks to religion it’s done a fairly poor job and many politicians these days still try to force the notion of “traditional” families on the public (e.g. tax breaks for married couples).

    Society needs to take responsibility. a couple who have a terrible track record for leaving their children playing in the cat litter tray might be best persuaded against having more, and we have a responsibility to the planet too. maybe the validation of having a genetically similar child hanging around should be weighed up against its resource needs.

    fertility treatment is a good thing and all who want it should be considered. as for a right, i’m not so sure but then i’m not sure all perfectly fertile heterosexual couples diserve the right to children even if they legally have it

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  • In reply to #9 by Sally:

    One must be a very sad human being if one’s primary self-description is “a vehicle for my genes”!

    That is the closest thing we have to an inborn purpose. It is why try to survive despite extreme discomfort. It is why we continue to seek a partner no matter many times candidates kick us in the teeth. It is why you will take extreme risks to protect your children or grandchildren. It this is not fairly high on your list of purposes, you will not successfully reproduce, and you will be taken out of the gene pool. You will be a one-hit wonder.

    A have personally created a number of other purposes which certainly make life more interesting: ending gay discrimination, eliminating religion, protecting the environment, promoting the evolution of computers, legalising euthanasia, treating animals humanely, stopping wars… I am surprised that people desperately want some a-priori grim single religious purpose foist on them. I am so glad I get to choose my own.

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  • In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

    joy of parenthood

    You can still have two kids without making things worse. My complaint is with people who make it as goal to breed an many kids as possible. Another complaint is with people who get pregnant through carelessness who don’t even like babies, who have the baby anyway then makes its life a living hell, unable to let it behave like a normal child.

    My mother loved puppies. She used to breed Maltese (small fluffy stupid white dogs) for extra cash. When her sister had a baby, she went all puppy-eyed and decided to have me, not in the least prepared for what caring for an infant entailed. She treated me a bit like a puppy, training me. She rubbed my nose in feces for toilet training. She made no bones about it, she hated kids. Then by accident she
    had four more. I once asked my Dad why he married such a bitch. He said, she was a wonderful companion, up until I was born.

    I don’t know quite how it would work, but people like my Mom should have been strongly discouraged from having babies.

    There are clueless parents who know absolutely nothing about the care and feeding of infants and children. I wish it was like a driver licence, where you have to take a course and pass a test.

    Very selfish people should not have kids. People who are very sensitive to noise, should avoid kids. People who are control freaks should avoid kids. Yet such people are just as likely as anyone else to become parents.

    We are extremely careful with adoptive parents, but take no care at all with natural parents to protect the kids.

    About age 12 I decided not ever to have kids, both for concern with overpopulation, and because I did not want to saddle kids with my mother’s genes. Two of my siblings had kids, and there are no signs of my mother’s negative traits in them, except 1. It turns out I need not have worried. Mom’s genes would have been diluted by 3 other people.

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  • 17
    godzillatemple says:

    In reply to #8 by Roedy:

    Given that the earth is seriously overpopulated, I would like all manner of measures instituted to discourage people from having children. We should not subsidise fertility treatments. We should stop tax breaks for children. We should stop subsidised daycare. Education should continue to be free because the consequences of an uneducated generation are too dire. We need contraceptives that require special action to turn them off.

    Although I agree with this sentiment in principal, I’m not sure whether it would work out that well in practice. And that’s because the countries that currently subsidize fertility treatments, give tax breaks for children, etc., are probably those that already have declining population rates. The parts of the world that are seriously overtaxed due to booming populations aren’t likely to be affected by laws passed in the U.S. or Canada.

    I suppose it would work if we had some sort of world government with the ability to enforce such things, but we don’t (and likely never will).

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  • 18
    canadian_right says:

    You are confusing rights and entitlements, a very common mistake.

    Rights are things that you can try to do that no one can morally stop you from attempting. Like speaking, walking, thinking, applying for a job, or hanging out with friends.

    Entitlements are things that society has decided everyone should work together to provide to everyone, like education, medical care, roads, courts, etc…

    Everyone has the right to decide if they want children or not. No one has a right to expensive infertility treatments. A society may or may not decide to make these fertility treatments an entitlement.

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  • 19
    canadian_right says:

    Before reading these comments it had never occurred to me that anyone would think that having children isn’t one of the basic, inalienable rights, that no rational person could possibly consider denying to another.

    Over population is used as a reason to deny people the right to have children. The population is no longer growing in most of the rich countries. Canada’s population would be shrinking if not for immigration, for example. As the rest of the world gets richer its birthrate will fall. Over population is not a long term concern.

    Some people are bad parents. Yes, we should take children from bad parents, but do we have the right to stop people from being parents because we suspect they will be bad parents? I don’t think it is morally defensible to punish someone for something they haven’t yet done. What about people who have proved they are bad parents? Do we sterilize them? Again, I could not support using force to prevent someone being a parent. I can see this power being abused.

    I guess I’m just less comfortable telling people how to run their lives than some.

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  • 20
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #19 by canadian_right:

    I guess I’m just less comfortable telling people how to run their lives than some.

    I think over population is a big problem and I agree that a rational responsible person would not have more than one or two children and even better would just adopt. But I agree with you that the casual manner in which people talk about giving the state the power to interfere in these kinds of personal decisions is frightening. It’s something I see too frequently on this site, when it comes to talking about things like medical decisions, child birth, mental health of theists, people are cavalier about promoting ideas I associate with tyrannical governments that I would expect all rational people to abhor.

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  • 21
    steve_hopker says:

    One major point might be if there is something morally different about wanting children through assisted fertility (AF) versus wanting children in the usual way.
    On the question of the virtue of procreation generally you might want to check this out:
    Am I right to think that the subject has been confined (by yourself or the Uni?) to heterosexuals so as to avoid sidetracking into debates around AF for single mothers or LGB couples?

    Personally I think that claiming assisted fertility as an unqualified right goes too far (it is only qualified so far as sexual orientation in the OP). Maybe in a particular jurisdiction AF should be clearly (and if necessary legally) provided equitably. So if there is state subsidy or even full payment then the criteria should be fairly applied eg irrespective of socioeconomic status. (If this was not specifically regarding heterosexuals I would argue AF should be equally available to LGB ad heterosexual couples)

    But AF being a treatment will have medical criteria – likelihood of success perhaps the greatest, at least where a third party (eg government) is paying. That might well lead to age limits for the mother. (And any good private service would advise against AF contrary to good medical opinion).

    So I think the assertion of a right to AF is at the very least complicated by financial resources and medical criteria.

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  • 22
    OHooligan says:

    In reply to #19 by canadian_right:

    it had never occurred to me that anyone would think that having children isn’t one of the basic, inalienable rights, that no rational person could possibly consider denying to another.

    In a word: China. The one-child policy has been around for several generations now.

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  • 23
    functional atheist says:

    As humans have individual liberty and personal autonomy (not because they are driven by genes), every individual has, in principle, the right to assisted fertility.

    Note “every individual” please. Limiting your proposition to “heterosexual couples” is offensive: gays and bisexuals, and singles of all orientations, should not be arbitrarily excluded.

    And note “in principle.” Doubtless there are individuals and couples who should be denied assisted fertility. The very old, the terminally ill, those incarcerated due to felony pedophilia convictions–it isn’t too difficult to think of individuals who should justifiably be denied access to ‘assisted fertility.’

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  • Nobody has the ‘right’ to have children in my opinion. It is merely a biological function, or not as the case may be. I particularly question the continuance of genes promoting infertility. This seems a road to problems for us as a society further down the line. Some argue that it might be the natural course of events that our technology will take over the role of natural selection entirely and we will program fertility back into those babies born to couples artificially. I’m not so certain on this, as we’ve yet to fully master these technologies at the molecular level. I would turn this question on it’s head and say that ideally, people should earn the right to have children by attaining some simple measure of competance, such as having a regular, lawful income, not being addicted to any substances, etc…and anyway, what about the endless unloved children who need families? Is it not immoral to artificially create children when there already those that need caring for after abandonment?

    Rights do not exist objectively and are a function of human civilisation which have to be built on and enforced by law and culture. So while I agree that rights are important, I say it is more important to never forget that they are easily cast aside in the face of some of the grim realities that could come our way. I should not need to spell these apocalyptic scenarios out.

    On the issue of using children as a fashionable commodity…those people truely are idiots.

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  • 25
    RealEyes says:

    Absolutely not. Homosexual couples on the other hand? Most certainly. The question you raise is one of human rights. I agree with others in the belief that all humans should have the right to access/request fertility treatment (in accordance with the concept of freedom and free will), but not all requests should be granted. Suitable candidates for refusal have been listed in a previous response and include ‘The very old, the terminally ill, those incarcerated due to felony paedophilia convictions’ etc. These are moral and ethical judgements. If we were to take the hard-line (or fanatic) approach and assume that because we are vehicles of our genes (or simply gene factories) that ALL humans should be able to do whatever they please to ensure the transmission of their genes, then I think you could provide a pretty compelling case for the right to rape. The point is, we are not simply gene factories. We are humans living in a civilized society, and as such there are other considerations.

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