The New "Right To Life"

Amidst all the doom and gloom this morning, some nice news for a change; Federal Finance Minister Penny Wong and her partner, Sophie Allouache, are expecting their first child (surely showing some confidence in the economy). Whilst it's no one's damn business how any child is conceived, unless the parents choose to say so, in this case Ms Wong has; thanking the IVF clinic and donor who have helped the couple to achieve their pregnancy.

Well, most people would think it lovely news anyway. But I'm sure talkback radio and the Murdoch press are soon to go into overdrive (edit: they already have) about the whole thing - two women having a baby together? Oh how icky, how unnatural. The more enlightened of them won't directly say such things, though - they'll dress it up in concern for the child. Such views aren't rare; take this piece from social activist Maggie Millar published in the Fairfax press last week. In writing that "Recent talk about the rights of gay and infertile couples, and some single women, to 'donor' conception and adoption emphasises adult entitlements at the expense of infants", Ms Millar confuses legal access to donor sperm and eggs with the horrific trade in human foetuses and live children. The heartbreaking trade in humans is something no one can condone, but Ms Millar and others like her apply the same moral standard to children conceived using donor eggs and sperm in this country. The rights of these children, Ms Millar declares, are overridden by the rights of the adults who wish to access donor reproductive technology.

It's a complicated legal issue, but not one that is helped by simplistic "won't somebody think of the children?" pleas. To quote again from the article, "According to Australian ethicist Professor Margaret Somerville, no procedure should be embarked upon unless we can be absolutely certain that children conceived by various medical interventions will approve of what was done to them as infants when they reach adulthood." Normally I agree that no medical intervention should take place unless it is to the benefit of the child (I've written extensively over the years of my horror of circumcision). But in this case, lack of intervention wouldn't result in a different outcome for the child - but no child at all. Should we weigh up whether every child will deem their existence worthwhile before deciding if they should be born? I think many people deep down can't quite shake the idea that the souls of unborn children are floating around, ready to attach themselves to live babies; in this case, we are condemning these kids to a less-than-perfect family situation, and if things had just been a bit different, they could have gone to a loving house with a Mum, Dad and huge mortgage in the suburbs.

But it's simply the case that without such reproductive technology, they would never have been born; without the particular combination of DNA their existence, such as it may be, would not have commenced. It is heartbreaking to read the stories of young adults, frustrated in attempts to learn of their genetic heritage, feeling rejected by their biological parents. But when Ms Millar writes "To force any human being to forfeit their own reality...in order that someone else can live out their dream of parenthood is highly questionable", she fails to realise that for many of these children, without donor reproductive technology there simply would be no reality. They would never have existed.

So what is the answer here? We have to balance the rights of the young people using donor technologies, with yes the rights of adults to access the technology...and an acknowledgement that for most people in this country, being born is better than the alternative. Should young people be born at all cots? Of course not, otherwise we'd be going down the uncomfortable path of banning abortions. But on the other hand, children born through natural conception also do not get a say in whether they feel their existence has been worthwhile - and nor do we have social commentators huffing about whether they really should have been born. Is this all a smokescreen for saying not only that if you're not lucky enough to be straight and fertile you don't deserve to have kids, but that some children - the offspring of the fertile and monogamous - have more of a right to life than others? God I hope not, but it's hard to escape that conclusion.

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