Choosing your child

The oldest woman to ever give birth got to pick her child’s genes, or at least the donors, and then she gave birth to them:

a Spaniard, sold her home in Spain to raise 30,000 pounds ($60,000) to
pay for the treatment in the United States. She chose donor eggs from a
"pretty, brown-haired 18-year-old" and sperm from a blond, blue-eyed
Italian American.
"I picked them from photos in a catalog. It was a bit like studying an
estate agent’s brochure and choosing a house," the paper quoted her as

Amazing technology … three people came together to create these children.  Plus all the doctors that helped.

I keep thinking that the English language needs a lot more new words.  It needs a word for "my biological mom who donated an egg", "my biological mom who gave birth to me", etc.

Buying human eggs – who are we exploiting?

So I think buying human embryos is fraught with moral and ethical issues but what about human eggs?  This article seems to think it’s unethical because the program that buys eggs (for stem cell research) might exploit poor women.  There are two issues that are getting mixed up here:

  1. buying a human body part
  2. buying part or all of a human

In the first case you could look at buying an egg like you do buying a kidney or buying blood plasma.  Within body parts there are two kinds, ones with an infinite supply (like plasma) and ones with a very finite supply (like kidneys.)  For parts with a finite supply, I think we definitely have to make sure that we don’t take advantage of people.  Desperate people might sell something they really can’t afford to sell or they might be coerced into it and there’s no way to really give it back to them.  In the case of infinite supply, I don’t see any problem with paying for it.  We pay for lots of different kinds of output from our bodies like construction work, sitting at a desk for hours, or participating in medical studies.  Those all take a toll on your body that is supposedly reversible and replenishable but costs you something and you get compensated for it.  Eggs, if they are a "human body part" fall into the replenishable category.   We have so many of them, it’s unlikely we are going to run out.

However, if you look at human eggs as potential human beings, then you have a whole different issue.  This is like buying and selling embryos – you are just buying half of an embryo.  And since you can easily acquire sperm from a sperm bank or other source, you can easily make an embryo.  Add a surrogate mom and you have a human being.  When you sell human eggs, you once again come close to trafficing in humans and there’s a whole slew of legal, ethical and moral issues that need to be addressed!

So I’d argue that when an organization buys human eggs they aren’t exploiting the woman, but they are potentially exploiting a child depending on what they plan to do with that egg.

Using someone else’s sperm without permission

A few days ago I blogged about the adoption agency that is buying human embryos – I wrote that I think they are on morally shaky ground.  Well, today’s news gives me the same confused and uncomfortable feeling.  This guy’s family took sperm from his dead body, found a volunteer mom and they are having his kid!  They did have to prove in court that he wanted to have kids even though he hadn’t left a will or anything in writing that said that.

I’ve had lots of discussions about sperm, pregnancy and fatherhood over the years because I have several friends that are single moms on purpose.  We used to get into debates about how best to get pregnant without ending up with a dad in the process – just for fun, I used to think.  One of my friends ended up getting a volunteer egg donor and a volunteer sperm donor and going the in vitro route.  The donors are a relative and a friend and although they are not active in the parenting role, she still maintains contact with them.  The other friend only says that she used a "donor." 

So if the donor agreed to help her, I don’t see a problem.  So for argument’s sake, let’s say she found a way to get pregnant without him knowing.  Is that moral?  If he was dead like the guy mentioned above would that make the situation different?  Obviously she wouldn’t be able to tell him but it would still be doing something without his explicit permission. Did you know if a woman gets pregnant, doesn’t tell the guy, has the baby and then years later goes on welfare, the guy will be liable for current and back child support if the state can figure out who he is?  Kind of scary if you’re a guy right?  Does that change your answer to the "is that moral?" question?   I mean, if he has legal and financial responsibility for the child, it seems like he should be informed that the child exists.  In the case of the dead man, will the family be responsible since they are the ones who made the decision to have a baby?

I think once again technology has enabled us to do some amazing things (impregnanting a woman after you are dead!) and has brought along with it some very complicated moral and ethical issues.