Tuesday, October 15, 2013
How Issues Explode
About 10 years ago, my husband and I went through a difficult few months as we considered whether to use a genetic screening technique to ensure that our second child wouldn’t inherit my painful bone disorder, as our first daughter did.So I guess her question is "Are there ethical situations where abortion, or even embryo destruction, can become a moral alternative?" After all, IVF and related technologies generally result in embryos (Life!) that is not brought to term and must somehow be dealt with. The problem is that there are really two levels of concern here. One is the ethical questions. The other is simply personal pain and grief. Clearly this woman's very personal suffering is causing her to question the basic ethical pretexts under which most Christians operate.
As we met with doctors and cared for our 2-year-old daughter, who went through a terrible cycle of broken bones, I was consumed by hard questions concerning the reproductive technology we were considering. Questions like:
- Do I have a duty to spare our next child the suffering that my daughter and I have endured?
- Does my deep desire to have a healthy child imply that I don’t value my daughter who is not healthy - or myself?
- Do technologies such as IVF (in vitro fertilization) and PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which we were considering) turn children into commodities rather than gifts?
- What values guide my doctors and the care they give? How do those values intersect with mine as a Christian?
When my husband and I were making our reproductive decisions, we had one pastor say that as long as we weren’t producing embryos that would be used in scientific experiments, we needn’t worry about the moral implications of our decisions. His laser focus on the embryos we might produce and what might happen to them is echoed in some evangelical literature directed to Christians coping with infertility.
Such responses utterly fail to address other key ethical questions around reproductive technology, questions such as those I posed above, which preoccupy many prospective parents making hard decisions about using that technology. Treating human embryos with dignity is certainly one important concern when we evaluate reproductive technologies, but it is not the only one.
Similarly, those who identify as pro-choice are often reluctant to acknowledge that some choices made possible by modern reproductive technologies, such as using genetic testing for gender selection or to screen for conditions that many people would not consider terribly disabling, raise deep ethical concerns with sobering implications for how we welcome children into the world (or don’t).
From this I draw two lessons. One is that Christian counseling can often be hamfisted. It sounds as if the counselors that she sought out worried almost entirely about the ethics and failed to empathize and sympathize with her personal pain. The other lesson is that it is in the face of personal sacrifice that our ethical convictions are truly tested.
The most difficult and painful decision of my wife and I's marriage has been to NOT choose to utilize reproductive technologies. We felt, and still feel, that the personal pain, and it must be said no small amount of social awkwardness if not oddity, that we experience as a childless couple was an insufficient reason to create the sort of ethical dilemmas that such technology forces on us. Our very real pain was secondary to the the ethics.
I will admit that people often overlook how painful that decision is. We are often commended for our courageous decision only to have the same person immediately launch into a telling of how wonderful their children are. Never realizing that while their children are indeed wonderful, each sentenice is a small prick at a painful wound.
We often allow our personal pain to cause us to question our ethical and moral concerns. That is an understandable human reaction. But ask yourself this - When Christ prayed not to suffer on the cross, He had a choice to walk away. He did not take it. Can we do less.