Monday, October 8, 2007

An Uncertain Future
A Guest Post by Fallen Sparrow

Much discussion of Catholic teaching concerning human sexuality focuses on birth control, abortion, and chastity; these are the politically volatile issues, the issues that generate robust debate and passionate argument. Lost in the fray are some more nuanced, but still important points.

I wrote previously about using chastity as an excuse to avoid intimacy, in part because there are some who believe we Catholics are opposed to sex because we are opposed to sex outside of marriage. I have a friend who is convinced that sexuality and spirituality are inherently incompatible, for example.

So, too, it must be said that, while we regard children as a blessing, and we believe that sex should always be open to procreation, the Church does not condone having children at any cost. The Church regards artificial insemination and similar techniques as "gravely immoral" not because it is in the business of saying "no" or because it is opposed to scientific research, but because, "[t]hese techniques...infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage," (CCC 2376) and because "[t]hey dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that 'entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the dominion of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.'" (CCC 2377)


I recently happened to see an article about a 60-year-old woman in Japan who was impregnated with a donated egg in the United States, placing her on track to be the oldest single mother in Japan. The article also mentions that a 66-year-old woman had a daughter in January 2005, and a 63-year-old Englishwoman had a baby boy last year.

After pausing to reflect on this miracle of modern science and medicine, I marveled at the bleak future the child faces, should he be viable. The article notes that Japanese medical guidelines strictly limit births from donated eggs to married couples, and that single motherhood is quite rare; as a result, it took the woman quite a bit of time to find a doctor willing to take her on as a patient.

"'Considering that she's 60 years old and single, which means high risk and an uncertain future for a child, I had to make a tough decision about whether to handle the pregnancy,' said Yahiro Netsu, gynecologist at Suwa Maternity Clinic in Nagano, central Japan, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. 'But she wanted a child, and I decided to do all I can to help her through expected difficulties.'"

And so, it would seem, a mad fantasy is in the process of being fulfilled. Three persons, possibly very much unknown to each other, are used to conceive and gestate a baby at considerable risk to both the surrogate mother and the baby himself, aided and abetted by American doctors. If she wanted a baby, why didn't she have one when she was of childbearing age? Why put herself at risk suddenly? More importantly, what will become of the child?

The story does not indicate what sort of support system this woman has: no mention is made of friends or relatives who will be there to support her and to help raise the child; what is mentioned is that she is single. And so, it is not entirely unlikely that this child will be alone with the surrogate mother. At 60, it is not unlikely that her own parents are deceased or certainly aged. He is not only being deprived of the opportunity to know his mother and father, but he is
looking at the prospect of spending his childhood and adolescence looking after an elderly parent.

As we place ourselves further under the dominion of technology, perhaps we will find we need to pause and reflect on the degree to which we are willing to go to fulfill our own desires, even at risk to ourselves; we will need to examine whether or not to implement our bad ideas, merely because they are scientifically possible.