Many people would struggle to produce their own offspring, indefinitely, if it were not for in vitro fertilization (IVF). This reproductive technology, like its counterparts, is nothing short of a miracle. In the film, Made in India, it is evident that infertile couples in America can deal with devastating emotional pain. One of its main characters, Lisa, explains that “a woman, a lot of times, defines herself by her ability to have children” (00:30). Surely, one of the most easily discernable differences between the male and female sex is in fact, the capacity to give birth. Most women are reminded of this every month when their uterine linings shed because fertilization has not occurred. Because we have been socialized to understand womanhood through such lenses, barren women suffer from societal depreciation. Susan Kahn speaks to this in her book about reproductive technologies with Jewish women in Israel. She writes, “the childless woman is to be pitied and prayed for; her suffering is the quintessential form of female suffering and her joy at childbirth the quintessential form of female joy “(3). Again, the linking of childbirth and children to womanhood plays a major part in many women’s’ understanding and appreciation of themselves.
Lisa’s options were limited to technologies requiring that did not carry a child. IVF was her last shot at having a child made from her and her husband’s genetic material. Unfortunately, Lisa’s uterus was precancerous and surgically removed (3:23). IVF’s technology provided her with a final chance at having a biological child through surrogacy. It is important to note that the couple considered adoption and support it, but found the process to be more expensive and complex than having a child through IVF. Although IVF could not guarantee that they would have a child with a less than 50% success rate and going through a difficult adoption process would, they chose IVF (04:13).
Lisa explained that it was important to birth this biological child to hopefully recover parts of her father, who died of lymphoma. She says, “he was witty and I hope my kids have the chance to be smart and silly like him” (04:35). Lisa’s husband responds with a remark on how “beautiful” a child they created could be (04:44). Similarly, in On Kinship and Marriage…, Susan McKinnon explains how evolutionary psychologists see genetic relatedness as the defining characteristic of true kinship and that “people do not want to ‘waste’ resources on children that are not genetically their own” (107). This notion appears to be at work in the case of Lisa and her husband, as they find value in their genetic materials and the ability to reproduce or combine them.
Some people may say that this mindset is problematic and can be likened to eugenics, but that is far-fetched. Finding value in one’s own biological qualities does not mean one finds them more valuable than anyone else’s. The drives behind the idea to create biological children are often both cultural and survivalist. We are continuously taught to apprize biological lineage through early kinship teachings in the Bible. For example, there is something interesting about the Bible verse that says, “God created humankind in his image” (1:27). A literal reading of this sentence conveys that there is something important about one’s offspring reflecting themselves. Many people may feel that children who share some of a parents’ genotypic and phenotypic characteristics could arguably do a better job at “reflecting” their parents than children who just share their values. In other words, people want to have their own children because it is a societal norm and contributes to symbolic familial legacies. The latter attitude can become especially important to families that have dealt with trauma, like Lisa’s.
Beyond the personal experiences of the American couple mentioned earlier, we must consider what God would desire for couple who wanted but could not produce a child.
The fact is, most women of child bearing age are equipped with the biological machinery to produce children. So, when a woman learns that she cannot, after years of believing that she could—why should she have to accept that? If we believe that God gave us this power, only to learn that it was unusually taken away, is it not okay for man-made technology to return it? Wouldn’t God want this?
I believe so. Children are so valuable that God “blessed” Adam and Eve with the power to create them or “be fruitful and multiply” in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:28). God then instructs humans to take over the earth and other lifeforms that come with it (1:28). This is the pedagogical basis for the pronatalist agenda that exists in Israel (Kahn 94). Whether you believe in God or not, most of us believe that the duty to control the earth lies upon humans because our brains are highly advanced. We are naturally equipped with brainpower, coupled with complex anatomical and physiological structures to do exactly what God instructed. We’ve been using technology to advance and aid our species for years, so why should IVF be forbidden?
Kahn shares words from Judge Tsvi Tal who says, “the interest in parenthood is a basic and existential value, both for the individual and society as a whole…” (68). Although I do not agree that everyone wants or should want to be parents, I believe that support should be provided to people who want to but cannot. The existential crises that Judge Tal mentions when it comes to infertility is not real for everyone, but for some, it can be unbearable. All people deserve the right to have children, if they want to. The government has no place in controlling people’s bodies, and preventing them from technologies that have no clear-cut designation as right or wrong. When people cannot support the children because of traumatic and uncommon reproductive hindrances, governmental assistance could be a huge gift to them.
Some may argue that IVF is useless. Some might ask: why can’t infertile couples just adopt? Well, there are many issues with this. First, it assumes that the adoption process is simpler than IVF. Again, as Lisa from Made in India mentions, the adoption process can be very expensive and tedious (04:13. This makes it virtually inaccessible to many members of our population. Interestingly, the price of IVF is lower than the average cost of adoption in the United States. On average, an adoption may cost a family about $35,000 more than IVF. Poorer families do not have the slightest chance at adoption. The interviewing processes required during adoption may also place an extra strain on poorer families who are viewed as less fit to take care of children. Although adoption’s legal measures are likely set in place with good reason, there is also bias in the fact that biological parents are not assessed as heavily when it comes to their children. Seemingly, these loopholes affirm the notion that non-biological parents are less motivated to care for children than biological ones.
Moreover, although I believe that people who go through the arduous task of gaining children through reproductive technologies are likely to care for them, I could imagine a situation wherein a huge financial investment may be detrimental to parent-child relationships. For example, children that understand how difficult it was for their parents to adopt them may feel constrained by expectations their parents place on them. Adoptive parents may also feel pressure to ensure that they “do everything right” to ensure that their children grow up to become what they expect or ensure that their resources were put to good use. Nevertheless, IVF would not only support the pervasive societal to have biological children, but funding it would be less burdensome on the government and families than adoption is.
In all, if we do not push for IVF funding, we will exacerbate the burdens of sterility. People who want children should not be denied by nature or the government. This could have even greater consequences for infertile, poorer and post-Cancer couples—who deserve to have children as much as anyone else but are obstructed by ability. Many poorer families, in the U.S. and abroad, rely on their children to survive. Teenagers may be able to find work to contribute to household expenses. Likewise, according to Seeman’s Blessing Unintended Pregnancy study, it is evident that having children (although a financial burden) was a catalyst for positive change in the lives of disadvantaged women (5). Moreover, as cancer remains a leading cause of death in our country, people who receive radiative therapy may beat cancer yet be left infertile. They deserve the right to reproductive technologies, like IVF, if they desire to as well. Although our government cannot play a role in every unfortunate aspect of our lives, its impact on our lives is significant. Government-supported IVF could give willing parents the children they deserve.