Advances in reproductive technology have proven to be a blessing to many a couple suffering with infertility. Thanks to these advances, couples, who in the past would have been unable to have children, now happily bounce them on their knees. However, as thrilling as these new technologies can be, their application can be fraught with moral hazard. Ethical lapses can be avoided by thinking clearly about the principles that ought to inform our decision making in this area.
Principles of Human Dignity
Let's begin by reflecting on the right to life. The first principle that ought to guide our thinking is that all human beings have a God given right to life. Our founding fathers recognized this principle and emblazoned it in the Declaration of Independence. The right to life was deemed "inalienable" because it was "endowed" by the Creator.
The next principle we should consider is that human life should be protected from conception to natural death. Human life exists from the time it is conceived until it is extinguished. If the "right to life" is to have any meaning, therefore, it must be protected from its beginning until its natural end.
Additionally, humanity is a function of our essential nature (i.e., that we are the offspring of human beings) and is unaffected by age, size, location, state of health or circumstances of conception.
Finally, we should understand that human beings have dignity, worth, and value because we have been created in God's image (Gen. 1:27-28), and a great price has been paid for our redemption (John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:18-19).
Applying the Principles
A close examination of these principles reveals they are often violated by various applications of reproductive technologies. Consider the following:
"Embryo Creation." In order to enhance the potential for conception, numerous embryos are often created in the laboratory with a view toward making multiple attempts at implantation. Initial attempts at implantation often fail, so "extra" embryos are created for use in future attempts. These "extras" are typically frozen and thawed for future use. If not used, they remain frozen indefinitely or are discarded and destroyed. But can such a procedure be ethically justified? Is there really such a thing as an "excess" human being? Can human beings be fairly regarded as a mere "surplus?" Aren't basic principles of human dignity offended by such concepts?
The fact that embryos are small and not fully developed doesn't affect their worth. Size doesn't determine significance. We cannot credibly maintain that those who are fat are worth more than those who are thin, or that the tall are worth more than the short. Nor is an infant less precious than a full grown adult.