University of Oslo’s Anna Smajdor’s article “Whole body gestational donation” published in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, suggests some interesting ideas for the future of reproductive science.
She discusses Rosalie Ber’s idea of using women’s bodies (or men’s, to avoid feminist objections) who are in a permanent vegetative state, in order to help those who cannot or will not gestate their own babies. This concept would use the organ donation framework of either opting out or being automatically listed as consenting to such procedures.
Smajdor notes that if a person accepts organ donation, about which they likely do not know enough, might even change their minds if they knew more, then they necessarily need to accept the idea of whole body gestational donation. She adds that the fact that this has not been implemented anywhere so far is “surprising, given the degree to which surrogacy continues to provoke moral and legal controversy.”
Well, if gestating a child for another person has caused controversy, how much more controversial would using the body of a person in a permanent vegetative state for such purposes be? You are adding more variables and breaking additional moral barriers, therefore this would automatically result in more, not less controversy.
She believes that “at least one factor here relates to the discomfort that arises from the liminal state between life and death, that brain-dead patients occupy.” Indeed! There is an instinct that tells us when we are dealing with things we do not understand or are about to walk all over something sacred such as life or the respect owed to the dead. And here, terrifyingly, the line is not even clear.
The main issues with this logic stem from some contemporary problems.
The first is that children are seen as annexes to adult desires. We live in an age where the adults are not grown-ups but their selfishness makes the rules.
The second is that life has become a commodity, or a temporary assignment to be given to specifically chosen people at specifically chosen times in their lives. The right to life is given to some babies depending on whether or not their parents want them. People renting wombs of women for reproduction has become commonplace, with no thoughts given to the child’s needs and developmental requirements.
The third problem is that we understand enough of the science to play around with bodies and genes, but are neither patient nor willing to understand the long-term effects of the procedures we do or the effects of the connections we break (as we have seen in the past with lobotomies and in the present with transgender surgery, reproductive medicine, and vaccines for instance).
No matter how you look at things, from both logical and spiritual perspectives, there is a reason for the existence of “the natural way.”
From a religious perspective, it is because God knows so much beyond our understanding that He gives us directions so that we stay safe and stable. This is much like smacking a baby’s hand away from the fire because no matter how much you will try to explain to them that it is hot, they do not have the capacity to understand the harm that would befall them—all they can grasp is that they are not supposed to do it for some reason.
From a scientific perspective, everything developed because of and in relation to everything else. A mother’s body is not just a house for the baby to live in. It provides hormones, oxygen, nutrition, the sound of her beating heart, her voice—which they come to know and love-- different food tastes, movement, stimulation and so much more, beyond our capacity to understand at present. Taking away such stimuli and environments or artificially attempting to recreate them without a thorough understanding of the effects is criminal.
Reading through the whole body gestational donation article, an inevitable question comes up: What is it that scares us about dystopian fiction in general?
Such works often abound in images of freedom lost, individual sacrifice for the “greater good,” the suppression of critical thinking, the erasure of individuality. They are also replete with images of commodification of human life, people used as annexes or objects of desire-fulfillment for others.
These stories provide chilling images of children being taken away from their mothers and given as pets to others; fathers sent off to fight some foreign battles for the lives of whom the families are compensated, but the absence of which can never be replaced; women being used as breeding or pleasure vessels.
Or maybe it is a character that is slowly dying as they are left to ponder their life choices as the fear builds up in their chest knowing that they have taken all the wrong roads and are now of no value to anyone. They are alone, afraid and dying, perhaps clinging to some childhood memory of a time when they were innocent, loved and of importance to someone.
Or perhaps the script is even more sad and they have no such memories. They are simply spiritually feral beasts, never having been loved or learned how to love because they were created to serve some specific societal purpose which did not cater to their needs as individuals. And yet they die as frightened children.
What is so terrifying about dystopias?
They present the human tragedy…in a crueler and more unnatural setting. They hit at our instincts of self-preservation and good sense. They put us in nightmare scenarios filled with our fears of the unnatural, cold blooded acts which spring from the reality of “homo homini lupus.”
How many of the above scenarios already sound familiar to us from reality rather than fiction? And how many more dangerous and cruel scenarios would Anna Smajdor ‘s suggestions add to this picture of a dystopian, harsh and abject reality?
That “gut feeling” that we have which science is (nota bene!) only now beginning to understand is a good start for keeping away from horrors. However, it is not enough, the feeling is quite subjective.
A better solution is to ground ourselves in sound principles and keep away from abuses and excess of zeal. Christian ethics and morality have safety and sound reason to offer the world, when not taken out of context or misinterpreted.
The ideas presented by Smajdor (like many others), are ones which of course can be used as thought experiments, grotesque though they may be, in a society of freethinkers. But what this thought experiment should bring to reality is caution and an emphasis on the importance of a moral compass, compassion and humility, in a society that is not only aware of its capabilities but also very much conscious and dutiful towards its limitations.