Recently Jennifer Lahl sat down with Jessica Kern, a young woman who was born through a commercial surrogacy arrangement and who describes herself as “a product of surrogacy.”
Whatever you think about third party reproduction, it is important to give people like Jessica a fair hearing so that we can fully understand the ways in which this technology affects the children involved.
Visit Jessica’s blog: The Other Side of Surrogacy
Last week I drove from Florida to Missouri to visit my baby sister and her babies — and it has been well worth the 15 hour drive!!
Just a little cute baby blogging to start your week off on a positive note — before I get into some the latest disturbing news on the genetic engineering front.
Rebecca Taylor’s latest at the Register focuses on “three parent ivf”, which I’ve talked about many, many times here and an emerging new technique that allows scientists to “edit” or modify nuclear DNA within human gametes or embryos:
There is a new genetic engineering technique that is revolutionizing biotechnology research. It is called CRISPR. CRISPR allows scientists to accurately alter the DNA in living cells using an enzyme discovered in bacteria.
Scientists have adapted CRISPR for use in plants and animals and can use the technology to precisely edit DNA. CRISPR can silence genes or add new ones into the cells of a living organism. Researchers have utilized CRISPR technology to introduce targeted mutations into yeast, plants, mice, rats, pigs and even primates.
CRISPR holds great promise. Ideally, CRISPR will only be used for gene therapy in humans, repairing a gene in a patient with genetic disease. But CRISPR technology could be used for virtually anything, including the creation of true designer children with DNA specified by parents.
Bioethicists and scientists are warning the public that now is the time to start discussing the possibility of designer babies. Dr. Tony Perry, from the University of Bath, was able to edit the genome of mice at the moment of fertilization with near 100% efficiency using CRISPR. He told BBC News that designer children were no longer H.G. Wells territory.
In fact, a recent article in Scientific American reveals that scientists may already be using editing techniques like CRISPR to modify human embryos. According to unnamed sources, papers on the DNA editing of human embryos are currently being reviewed for publication.
Dr. David King, from Human Genetics Alert, believes, inevitably, there will be technology available that will enable parents to create children designed to their specifications. He notes, “But that does not mean to say it’s inevitably the way we have to go as a society.”
King is correct: We do not have to allow genetic-engineering techniques to run wild. We can control them, using them to treat genetic disease in existing patients while rejecting risky modifications to future generations.
For a society that cares so much about genetically-modified organisms in their food supply, you would think we’d be a little more cautious about the genetic modification of people.
The other day I took Grammerly’s Who is your poet BFF? quiz and got Maya Angelou.
I didn’t immediately think much of the results. It was just a fun little distraction. But then I read the poem that was listed on the author’s page there, and wow. I was surprised by how much I was able to relate to it — as a disabled person. Particularly this excerpt:
“Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
We’ve come a long way from the days when people with disabilities were referred to as “human weeds” and forcibly sterilized, institutionalized, euthanized.
However, the heavy push for assisted suicide these days and the now near-standard prenatal seek-and-destroy mission for children with various diseases and disabilities, show that we still have a long way yet to go.
But, of course, there is always hope.
Last year I told you about ten-year-old Ella Frech, who suffered a mystery illness that worsened to the point she finally needed a wheelchair. This girl is certainly on the “rise”!
Where the world is only capable of seeing tragedy and loss, Ella saw what was still possible and embraced it with incredible enthusiasm, grace and good humor. And guts!
Img: via Facebook
I never cared much for science in school. At all. And, yet, last week I found myself sitting in front of my computer for a day and a half listening to public workshops at the Institute of Medicine on “Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases” — AKA “Three-Parent IVF”
The majority of speakers and panelists were clearly sympathetic to moving forward with this technology here in the states. The presentations were decidedly more scientific than they were ethical. And, I must admit, it was often very difficult to listen to so many otherwise brilliant people discuss the creation and manipulation of human life in such cold, calculating terms, no matter how altruistic their intentions.
During last week’s deliberations I was struck by a few things:
1. I was reminded of something I heard Dr. Gil Wilshire with Mid-Missouri Reproductive Medicine and Surgery in Columbia, MO say a few years ago that really got under my skin: “We need three things: a good egg, some good sperm and a good uterus. And we can mix and match these.”
This is the world we live in. The creation of new human life is nothing more than a biological formula — a science experiment, rather than the mysterious fruit of a loving act between husband and wife.
Even when the motivation is to eradicate disease, there’s something profoundly troubling and distasteful to this approach to human procreation. Creating disease-free people (ideally)? The term Brave New World gets thrown around a lot these days, but this really is eerily close to Huxley’s dystopian vision.
2. It was also clear from some of the testimony that nascent human life is being created, manipulated and destroyed far more often than we realize in laboratories all around the world — especially in the U.S. We don’t hear about it because its all pure experimentation and scientists don’t generally talk about their research with the public unless they’ve made some significant discovery.
But, as long as there are absolutely no restrictions on human embryonic experimentation, scientists can and will use nascent human beings as science experiments (and that’s just what children conceived via ‘3-parent IVF’ will be, experiments). If we do nothing they will clone — in fact, they are today!
If there is a silver lining to any of this it’s that, at least in regard to this technology — “three parent IVF” or what you will now see solely referred to by the scientific community as “midochondrial donation” or “midochondrial transfer” (MT) — we still have an opportunity to make our voices heard. To at least try to influence our policy makers before they change the course of humanity forever.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you have not done so, yet, I encourage you to let the FDA know how you feel about the genetic modification of future generations. It is my understanding that they will be accepting public comments for a few more months.
In the latest Vice for HBO documentary, Outsourcing Embryos, correspondent Gianna Toboni traveled to India to report India’s booming surrogacy industry where impoverished women are recruited to be “gestational carriers” for middle-to-upper-class Western women who don’t want to pay the higher rates in places like the United States.
What she found was more shocking than even I could have imagined. Not only are the surrogates routinely exploited and mistreated, but there is an emerging black market for “extra” babies.
To maximize results, surrogates are often implanted with multiple embryos. If the couple only wants one child, any “extras” born are sold on the black market. What’s worse, these couples often have no idea their children are being sold to the highest bidder.
NY Magazine interviewed Toboni, who said that most American couples turn a blind eye or don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes in Indian surrogacy agencies because, “they want their baby fast, and they want it done cheaply.”
While she wasn’t surprised by the existence of the black market for extra babies, she was surprised by how easily they were able to find it. “We didn’t find any orphanages,” said Toboni, “but then, when a couple offered me a baby for sale over dinner, it was shocking.”
The following video is from that exchange:
Horrifying. Surrogacy has become full-scale human trafficking. Can anything be done to stop this?
Toboni suggests more regulations. Certainly tighter (ANY) regulations might help lessen the damage. But I’m afraid nothing less than an outright ban on surrogacy will make any impact at this point.
At the very least, reproductive tourism to India should be outlawed. But, things aren’t so rosy here in the United States, either, you know. As Jennifer Lahl and the CBC showed us in their documentary Breeders.
I don’t deny that that this technology has helped create many beautiful children and loving families that might not exist otherwise. But it’s time to take our blinders off — to look past the feel-good narratives and think logically about what is really going on here and where it is taking us.
See also: Made in India
The dream team is back!
In the latest episode of BioTalk, Rebecca Taylor and I give an update on “three-parent IVF” (aka “midochondrial donation or replacement”) and genetic engineering, what it means for our human future and what you can do about it.
Or, if you prefer, you can listen to audio only:
There is a very real possibility that the United States may follow the UK’s lead here. Since recording this episode, I found out that the FDA is once again revisiting their policy on three-parent IVF here in the States. They have asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a consensus committee to evaluate the technology.
If you are in the DC area, please consider attending and making your voice heard! If you are unable to attend, you can submit feedback to the committee here by clicking on “Provide FEEDBACK on this project” or you can email MitoEthics@nas.edu. That’s what I plan on doing; I hope you will join me (Rebecca has posted a sample letter that you can use).
Let’s not sit idly by while the Brave New World advances. This technology is still new enough that we can influence public opinion — if we act now. If not, then it could take generations more to reverse what has been done.
Please let them know how you feel about the genetic modification of future generations.
This morning I was on the Mike Allen Show, talking with Mike about the upcoming 20th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and the 10th anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death, and the lessons both can teach us about human dignity and the sanctity of life. (My interview starts around the 15 min. mark.)
(Can’t see the player? Direct link to the episode here.)
After explaining that the book was a response to someone who asked him to write down his thoughts about Catholics in public service to help people considering a political career, Chaput says:
The irony, though, is this: A very good guide to Catholic citizenship and public leadership already exists. The pastoral statement Living the Gospel of Life, issued in 1998 by the U.S. Catholic bishops — though it had to survive a great deal of internal friction and wrangling first — remains, in my view, the best tool anywhere for understanding the American Catholic political vocation. Catholics already know that politics exists to serve the common good. But what is the common good? It’s a thorny question. Some issues have more gravity than others. Some methods to achieve a good end are wrong in themselves. We can never choose them without coarsening the society we inhabit.
Public officials have a special responsibility in sorting these things out. That is why the health of our public life requires men and women of strong moral character in political service. No community understands this better than the Catholic Church, from centuries of both good and ugly experience. The genius of Pope John Paul II’s great 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), is not that it gives us a specific, sectarian blueprint for building a moral society. It doesn’t. Rather, it offers a common architecture for humane political thought and boundaries for government action that cannot be crossed without brutalizing human dignity. When the U.S. bishops issued Living the Gospel of Life, they applied the best of John Paul’s encyclical to the American experience. Not surprisingly, no other document ever issued by the American bishops on political responsibility has the clarity, coherence, and force of Living the Gospel of Life. The only sadness is that so few Catholics seem to know about it. In fact, if this book does nothing more than lead more people to read and act on Living the Gospel of Life, it will have partly served its purpose. (Render Unto Caesar, p. 2-3)
I’m a little late (okay, really late) promoting this, but recently a couple of people started a special novena celebrating the 20th Anniversary of St. JP II’s Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) — which is this coming March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.
The novena started on March 16 (so we are on day five) and includes daily prayers and meditations from the encyclical itself accompanied by the following daily prayer:
O Mary bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life: Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy. Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time. Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build, together with all people of good will, the civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life.
To catch you up:
Day 1: Monday, March 16, 2015 – For an end to the contraceptive mentality.
As the domestic church, the family is summoned to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life. This is a responsibility which first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basis of an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique event which clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to be given as a gift. In giving origin to new life, parents recognise that the child, “as the fruit of their mutual gift of love, is, in turn, a gift for both of them, a gift which flows from them.” EV 92
Heavenly Father, please grant all women the grace to acknowledge the awe-inspiring potential of their bodies to bear new life through your creative power. Allow a greater communication between men and women in order to help them use their creative potential wisely and to be open to life within the institution of marriage. AMEN
Day 2: March 17 – For an end to abortion.
The pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the church’s teaching on contraception is rejected …. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion become the only possible decisive response to failed contraception. EV13
Heavenly Father, you intended the family to be the sanctuary of life. But throughout the world today, the family has become the author of the death sentence for its youngest and most vulnerable members. Please bestow your gift of courage on all parents facing an unplanned pregnancy, and raise up more people of goodwill to assist mothers in their time of need. AMEN
Day 3: March 18 – For an end to euthanasia of the elderly and disabled.
When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered ‘senseless’ if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and interesting experiences. But it becomes a ‘rightful liberation’ once life is held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering. EV 64.
Heavenly Father, we ask for an end to the utilitarianism that obsesses the world and has led to the devaluation of lives which are no longer deemed to be productive. Please grant Your grace of gratitude for the elderly and the disabled and relieve them of the fear that they are a burden to their families and carers. AMEN
Day 4: March 19 – For an end to the commodification of unborn children and mothers.
This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human embryos and foetuses – sometimes specifically ‘produced’ for this purpose by in vitro fertilization- either to be used as ‘biological material’ or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases. The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act. EV 63.
Heavenly Father, You designed conception to take place within the conjugal context of marriage. Please grant your grace of fortitude to all medical professionals who seek solutions to the problems of infertility. May they reject using immoral techniques when assisting with the creation of new life. We also pray that unborn human beings will no longer be used for experimentation and that existing frozen embryos will be treated with dignity. Father, please enlighten the world to see that surrogacy is not part of Your plan for motherhood, and help us to end all industries that commodify Your children. AMEN
Day 5: March 20 – For an end to the sex industry.
In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children …… The criterion of personal dignity – which demands respect, generosity and service – is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they ‘are’, but for what they ‘have, do and produce.’ This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak. EV 23.
Heavenly Father, the sex-industry is an ‘unfruitful work of darkness’ which many Christians would prefer to ignore. Please grant your grace of understanding to assist us in exposing this great evil. Help us to provide dignified work and physical support for sex-workers, and grant freedom to those who are held against their wills. We ask that all people will begin to nurture only those true and loving relationships which value the other over self, which promote mutual respect and which maintain the dignity of all persons involved. AMEN
The rest of the Daily Meditations will be:
Day 6: March 21 – For Legislators.
Day 7: March 22 – For a stronger witness from the clergy.
Day 8: March 23 – For a stronger witness from the laity.
Day 9: March 24 – For an increase in the virtue of chastity.
Closing reflection: March 25 – The Feast of the Annunciation.
Thanks to Birgit Jones, Kathy Clubb and Father Vincent Edward Mark Bertrand, MA, MDiv, JCLFounder/Director of Marian Advocates for Life for putting this together. You can keep up with the prayers on Birgit’s website or at the novena Facebook Page or click here for a full list of the prayers.
Of course, these are prayers we can and should be saying everyday — especially day four. Unfortunately this is a threat that far too many Catholics and pro-lifers either aren’t aware of or don’t fully understand and, as a result, are less proactive in this area as they are on abortion and euthanasia. Meanwhile, we are on a threshold here that could forever change the course of humanity.
This anniversary is a good time for Catholic pro-lifers to start getting serious about these issues! At the very least, they should be more regularly included in our pro-life prayers.
In his homily for “Evangelium Vitae Sunday” two years ago, Pope Francis said that “All too often, as we know from experience, people do not choose life, they do not accept the ‘Gospel of Life’ but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life.” Such ideologies, he said, “are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others.”
That is why it is important for us to never cease preaching the Gospel of Life, and, perhaps more importantly, living it in our own lives, as well.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us look to God as the God of Life, let us look to his law, to the Gospel message, as the way to freedom and life. The Living God sets us free! Let us say “Yes” to love and not selfishness. Let us say “Yes” to life and not death. Let us say “Yes” to freedom and not enslavement to the many idols of our time. In a word, let us say “Yes” to the God who is love, life and freedom, and who never disappoints (cf. 1 Jn 4:8; Jn 11:2; Jn 8:32); let us say “Yes” to the God who is the Living One and the Merciful One. Only faith in the Living God saves us: in the God who in Jesus Christ has given us his own life by the gift of the Holy Spirit and has made it possible to live as true sons and daughters of God through his mercy. This faith brings us freedom and happiness. Let us ask Mary, Mother of Life, to help us receive and bear constant witness to the “Gospel of Life”. Amen.