Final Assignment: For the Continued Funding of In-Vitro Fertilization
The United States is a country commonly referred to as the “melting pot”. With centuries of immigrants bringing in their heterogeneous backgrounds of varying religions, ethnicities, and beliefs, this country has been at the forefront of promising liberty and freedom for all individuals, regardless of status and background. Interestingly, however, the American debate on reproductive biomedical technology has been built heavily on Christian principles, with conservatives seeking their position from Christian texts of what constitutes a family (Bhattacharyya 12), while liberals assume the opposing side of autonomy (Braun 43). However, while the discourse can certainly include religious values, the governing laws on reproductive technologies in America should be shifted from Christian principles to those that are secular in order to satisfy the overarching definition of America: a place of acceptance, regardless of identity. Thus, my testimony today promotes the funding of IVF: Congress should continue to fund for the reproductive technology of in-vitro fertilization, shifting discourse from religious and economical ethics to one that centers on the patient, her family, and the embryos at stake.
To begin with, discourse should not (have) be around maximizing production – economically or religiously; it should be about the ethics of the patient, and if she wishes to have a child, she should be allowed to do so. The fundamental rights of a human being include that of autonomy, to have the liberty to make one’s own decisions and act upon them, while maintaining respect for the rest of society and the ethics of that body (Braun 44). The ethics of a certain group of people can vary from the individual differences of the people that make it up, but for this particular discussion, the “body” in question is that of the American public. The ethics of the United States are mainly driven on the same basic principles to that of other developed nations, but with the rise of biomedical technology, there has been an increase in questions raised regarding what is considered “ethical”. However, autonomy has always been a given in the US, from the Bill of Rights to various promotions on self-acceptance. Even from the viewpoint of German skeptics, who strongly believe in “underscor[ing] the limits of technological solutions and the price that individuals and society might have to pay for them” (Braun 43), define autonomy as: “a society’s political capacity to control the development of science & technology despite structural constraints such as the imperative to increase economic competitiveness” (Braun 49). In other words, while German skeptics would be most analogous to the conservatives of America, they believe in not only the individuality of the patient, but also in the significance for governments to devalue the prospects of losing to international economic competition when considering the ethics of IVF. Thus, while it may be that other countries that actively promote research on this technology can capitalize off of the market, the United States should not allow this to be the driving factor of IVF laws. This can prevent the same conflicts that arise from pharmaceutical companies, such as the lack of development of a male birth control pill or medications for deadly but rare diseases, which are all deemed as unprofitable. With this having been established, IVF in America can be highly patient-centered, thus optimizing the patient’s autonomy of the process.
Likewise, the governing structures for IVF technology should not be driven from religious contexts. The laws that oversee a nation such as America, which celebrates independence, should not be hindered by religious texts that do not represent every individual of that population. For instance, why should a secular, infertile woman be prevented from attempting IVF due to Christian principles? Thus, if the opponents of IVF come from traditional values and the Christian belief system (Braun 43), their viewpoints should not be the determining factor of such a woman. However, this is not to say that religion should not be incorporated in ethical discussions – in fact, various backgrounds from all religious schools should be considered in order to determine the most ethical approach to IVF. Yet the legality behind this, particularly in the United States, should not be based on this singular belief system that is not demonstrative of the religious diversity that exists in this country. Thus, Congress should continue funding for IVF to promote autonomy, and do so in a way that does so completely, freed from economic greed and inappropriate religious enforcements.
Turning from the patient herself to the life forms being created, another opposing argument against in-vitro fertilization is the damage of embryos that takes place in its clinical process. The question that stemmed debate was what exactly constitutes a life form. When Nida-Rumelin of Germany’s Council of Ethics sparked an “intense public response” for establishing differences between a person and a human being, implying that the latter was inferior to the former, the German parliamentarians officially decided that embryonic stem cell research was prohibited (Braun 47). Likewise, Christian laws state that human life begins at conception, and every form of reproductive technology is negatively seen besides homologous marital IVF (Shannon 154). However, even in light of a Christian perspective, the evaluation of research on embryos establishes that it is allowed with “proper consent and insurance of no harm” (Shannon 153). In fact, in the Jewish community, which shares the same Old Testament with Christianity, IVF is encouraged, with more clinics per capita in Israel than in any other country in the world (Seeman 340). While this stems from the obligation that Jewish men hold to procreate and “to be fruitful and multiply” (Broyde 301), it is carried in a fashion that still maintains respect for fetal life, as the womb is still considered the “privileged locus of divine benedictions” (Seeman 342). Thus, with continued funding from Congress, in-vitro fertilization can be developed to minimize embryo harm and loss, and until then, the United States could take preventative measures that implement limitations on the number of embryos to be trialed on. This is similar to Germany’s approach to IVF, which prohibits women to only three eggs per cycle (Braun 44).
As technology continues to develop with the financial aid of Congress in this project, respect can be maintained for the embryo by limitations – this would satisfy both parties of the debate, by allowing the process to occur for those who believe in their moral right to do so while prohibiting excessive use and preventative damage to the fetal life. Therefore, the prior question of what constitutes the definition of life can remain undetermined while allowing legal actions to maintain autonomy of the individuals who seek this treatment. However, regardless of the existence of these limitations, Congress and all parties involved in this technological process should seek to incorporate the Hindi principles of karma, dharma, and ahimsa to further maintain respect for fetal life (Bhattacharyya 13). This is not to imply that Hinduism should replace Christianity’s influence on the US government; neither should be the deciding factor when laws are being made for a diverse group of people. Rather, I am suggesting the promotion of Hindi principles simply because of the relevance and benefit it can hold in doing so. Discussion regarding these values should be promoted in order to determine the best method in applying the sciences clinically because these three characteristics of Hindu thought reflect upon the consequences of this topic
Specifically, the theories of karma, ahimsa and dharma “ultimately hold each of us responsible for all of our actions” (Bhattacharyya 108). According to Bhattacharyya, “a human fetus is not simply inconsequential tissue easily discarded, nor is it a fully matured adult human being” (107), and taking life will have karmic consequences. These “karmic consequences” can be translated to the overarching idea of ethics that can vary from religious groups, but the idea that such results exist and are negative should be kept in mind to prevent avoidable damage. In addition, while seemingly out of scope within the discussion of in-vitro fertilization, the idea of dharma, or the harm vs good that can result from one’s actions, influences stem cell research that can potentially find cures for organ failure, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s (Bhattacharyya 108): while there may be some life-forms harmed in the process, the overall gains of society may trump the losses, and this is applicable for IVF as well – while IVF may lead to the destruction of some embryo, the baby that is brought into a seeking family may outweigh the deaths of the fetal lives. Lastly, ahimsa promotes the “sanctity of human life” (Bhattacharyya 107), which can further aid in the protection of embryos and other life forms, whether it be a cell or a fully developed adult, regardless of varying religious textual interpretations. Thus, while Congress continues to promote research and usage of IVF through funded supplies, limitations and Hindi principles should be considered to weigh the consequences that can come from potential destruction of embryos.
Lastly, I will briefly shift my testimony from the individual level to that of the family. The United Nations believes that “families can be created between any individuals of full age” (Bhattacharyya 94). This is simply a statement that highlights the diversity of families, which can consist of individuals from all different backgrounds. Therefore, if a Jewish couple is seeking IVF to fulfill their obligation of procreation, or if a Christian couple is looking for the safest way to have a baby that will still constitute the Biblical definitions of marriage, they should be allowed to do so. Some cultures strongly believe in their obligation to procreate, and those who do should be allowed to, unhindered by contrasting religious thoughts of government members. If the family is about to fall apart due to the tragedies that disallow them from producing a baby through copulation, they should have the power to mend the relationship through IVF, supported by the UN’s decree that individuals have the right to create a family.
On the opposing side to this discussion, there is a rising group of neoconservatives in America. Yuval Levin, a leader in the President’s Council on Bioethics, stated that new conservatives in America have a mission to “prevent our transformation into a culture without awe filled with people without souls” (Mackin 37) – this implies that if technological advancements are implemented into every day life, our culture will be dull and the people insensitive. However, this is a limited undertake on the sheer admiration that should exist with the joy of producing a child so willfully sought. The New Atlantis, a recent publication that explores the conservative perspective to IVF and other biomedical technologies (Macklin 34), adds extremist insights on the harms of artificiality. However, as Robert Veatch stated in 1971, artificial is not evil (Macklin 35), and the idea that cells extracted from real humans to produce a real baby that will develop into a real human is “artificial” can also be held for debate.
From the same President’s Council on Bioethics, which is a group established to “advise the President on bioethical issues that may merge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology” (Kass 224), Kass speaks about the major works and missions of the government that promotes diverse conversations on these topics. The Council is faced with high responsibility, with their decisions affecting the lives of scientists, researchers, and future patients, and thus, it is essential to represent all viewpoints on this topic. Therefore, I understand the burden that can be seen with the decision Congress faces currently, whether or not to continue funding for in-vitro fertilization. However, I believe my arguments today have established a viewpoint regarding IVF that attempts to mediate the conflicting religious and ethical concerns of the American population.
Ultimately, as ethical questions continue to be raised with the further development of biomedical technology, technology can also advance limit and resolve these issues, while the technicalities of their usage can be limited to satisfy the clashing values of community members. Extremist approaches from either sides of the spectrum should not hinder the liberty that defines America, and a middle ground can be established, as technology can be further developed to maximize fertility rates and minimize the death of embryos while using in-vitro fertilization. If Congress continues to fund for this program, the progress and development of biomedical technology in this sector will only continue to prosper, increasing the likelihood that the problems observed with harming various levels of life-form from in-vitro fertilization will be mediated. To insure autonomy of the patient, the wishes of the patient’s family, and the respect of the embryo, Congress should continue their monetary assistance for in-vitro fertilization. After all, the United States is the land of freedom, and while ethics from all backgrounds should fuel discussion on IVF, religious and economic reasons should not determine the governing laws on this sensitive issue.
Bhattacharya, S. (2006). Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Reproductive Technology. Suny University Press.
Braun, K. (2005). Not Just for Experts: The Public Debate about Reprogenetics in Germany. Hastings Center Report 35, 42-49. The Hastings Center.
Broyde, M. J. (2005). Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law. Marriage, Sex, and the Family in Judaism, 295-328. Rowman & Littlefield Pub, Inc.
Kass, L. (2005). Reflections on Public Bioethics: A View from the Trenches. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 15, 221 -250. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Macklin, R. (2006). The New Conservatives in Bioethics: Who are they and what do they seek? Hastings Center Report 36, 34-43. The Hastings Center.
Seeman, D. (2010). Kin, Gene, Community: Reproductive Technologies among Jewish Israelis (Vol. 19). New York: Berghahn Books. Retrieved from https://reserves.library.emory.edu/Shib/ares.dll?Action=10&Type=10&Value=447785.
Shannon, T. A., & Cahill, L. S. (1988). Religion and artificial reproduction: An inquiry into the Vatican “Instruction on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of human reproduction”. New York: Crossroad.