Brave New World: Gender Selection

I haven’t tackled a topic like this in a while.  But, y’all, I can’t write about pretty graveyards and fall hikes all the time.
Today I read this story  about an Australian woman who traveled to the United States to undergo in vitro fertilization and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to achieve her desired goal:  a baby girl.  “The process involves harvesting a woman’s eggs, injecting each one individually with sperm, then growing the embryo from a single cell to around 130 cells, at which point it’s possible to tell whether the chromosomes are XX or XY. Only embryos of the desired sex are transferred to the uterus.”
Here’s just one example of a facility in our country that provides this service.  From their website: “While the desire to choose whether a baby would be a boy or a girl has been present throughout human existence, it is only recently that the technology to do so has become clinically possible and available. With improvements in gender selection technology, demand for gender selection has also been growing steadily.”
There’s that slippery slope that I’m always being told is a logical fallacy! It goes on to say, “Sometimes gender selection can be “non-medical” or “elective.” In such cases, a child of a specific gender is desired without obvious medical indications. The most frequent indication for such gender selection is “family balancing,” when one gender is already represented in the family unit and the other gender is desired.”
Which makes me say, WHY IS THIS LEGAL AND WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
Y’all, please understand, after three boys in a row I was very much hoping #5 would be a girl.  I also was hoping #4 would be a girl!  Instead we got William, and unlike the lady from Down Under, I did not “[sob] with disappointment to discover I was having a second son … and then a third.”  
Anyway, I understand the DESIRE for a daughter.  But most of us just suck it up and appreciate the children we have.  Maybe we accept that God knows what he is doing and set about parenting the kids we were lucky enough to get.  Maybe we realize we should be grateful for conceiving in the first place and for producing a healthy baby of any gender.  Remember when our mothers were having kids, and there was no way to know in advance what they were having, what they said when people asked if they wanted a boy or a girl? “I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy.”  I haven’t heard that in a long time; have you?
Five Kids
I know that, to a childless woman struggling with infertility, I might seem ungrateful because I already have three healthy sons. But unless you’ve experienced “gender disappointment”, you can’t understand how crippling it can be. My desire for a daughter caused me to spiral into depression and left me virtually housebound. Every time I went out, toddlers in pink seemed to taunt me.”  
If “gender disappointment” was so “crippling” to her, what she needed was not a daughter, it was therapy and lots of it.  She doesn’t just SEEM ungrateful, she IS ungrateful.  One can only imagine what her sons will think of all this when they come across this article online in the future–if they don’t already sense her feelings toward them now.
And what about that little girl, who has a lot of expectations heaped upon her already?  My Facebook post on this topic has generated some indignant comments.  One person said, “I hope the little girl likes karate instead of ballet!”  Well, you know, since ALL KIDS tend to do the unexpected, and since they are, you know, INDIVIDUALS, that’s just as likely as not.  There’s no one kind of “girl” and no one kind of “boy,” which is why I always find these stories about “gender balance” so ridiculous, and why I always think it’s funny when people think one boy and one girl is the ideal complete family.  My three boys are NOTHING alike.  My girls are not much alike either, and their gender is only one part of what makes them unique and special.
There is so much about this story that is disgusting.  The fact that she paid $50,000 for this procedure.  That could have been used to send one of her boys to college.  Or to fund the adoption of a daughter. The fact that this is a for-profit venture in the first place. From an article in Slate:

“Just over a decade ago, some doctors saw the potential profits that could be made. . . They coined the phrase “family balancing” to make sex selection more palatable. They marketed their clinics by giving away free promotional DVDs and setting up slick websites.  These fertility doctors have turned a procedure originally designed to prevent genetic diseases into a luxury purchase akin to plastic surgery. Gender selection now rakes in revenues of at least $100 million every year. The average cost of a gender selection procedure at high-profile clinics is about $18,000, and an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 procedures are performed every year. Fertility doctors foresee an explosion in sex-selection procedures on the horizon, as couples become accustomed to the idea that they can pay to beget children of the gender they prefer.”
Then there is the immorality of the procedure itself.  What happened to all those little boy embryos, after all?  They were discarded.  Her own children, and she threw them away BECAUSE THEY WERE BOYS.  And where is all this headed?  Do you really believe that selecting for other desired qualities won’t be a thing in the future?  From the Slate article: “In 2009, [Dr.]Steinberg came under a worldwide media firestorm when he announced on his website that couples could also choose their baby’s eye and hair color, in addition to gender. He revoked the offer after receiving a letter from the Vatican.” Thank God for the Vatican, is all I can say.
Says the happy mother/satisfied client:  “It’s not about playing God, it’s about giving women reproductive freedom.”  Um, no.  It IS about playing God. And it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

Embryo Adoption: What Does the Church Say?

The following was one of my last columns for the East Tennessee Catholic.  I did a quick check before reprinting it here to make sure that it still accurately reflects the Church’s position on this issue.
Most of the mail attorneys receive is dry and uninteresting, as you might expect.  But the brochure I pulled out of my husband’s PO Box one morning last Spring was different—it was eye-catching, all pink and spring green and adorned with butterflies and an adorable baby peeking out from under a blanket.
It was an invitation to a conference in Washington, D.C.:  “Emerging Issues in Embryo Donation and Adoption.”  Sponsors included the National Embryo Donation Center, Bethany Christian Services, and UT’s Graduate School of Medicine.  The sessions looked fascinating, and I was particularly intrigued by one of the speakers, Father Peter F. Ryan, a Jesuit priest with an impressive array of academic credentials, who planned on “Making the Ethical Case for Embryo Donation and Adoption.”
To me it seemed like a perfect solution to the tragedy of the thousands of embryos abandoned to cryopreservation tanks after their parents “completed their families” through assisted reproductive technologies.  We Catholics believe embryos are morally equivalent to born children, right?  And it’s a moral good to adopt unwanted children, surely?   Says the 1987 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruction   Donum Vitae:  “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.”

Our evangelical brethren have embraced embryo adoption.  One prominent Christian adoption site has a program trademarked “Snowflakes,” a clever moniker referencing both the current condition of the embryos and their uniqueness.  However, reading stories of some non-Catholic couples who have chosen embryo adoption highlights some of our theological differences since evangelicals do not object to IVF.
What is the Catholic Church’s official position?
Donum Vitae was silent on the issue.  A 2005 article in the Washington Post, written by Alan Cooperman, said:   “[T]he debate over embryo adoptions is just beginning to take shape.  ‘There are very few moral issues on which the Catholic Church has not yet taken a position. This is one,’ said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.”  The article went on to say, “One of the leading voices in the church in favor of embryo adoptions is the Rev. Thomas D. Williams, Dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome.  ‘It’s reaching out to another human being, albeit in an embryonic state, in the only way that that little being can be helped.’”
Responding to the many new bioethical issues that have arisen since 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions in September 2008.  It addresses the problem of frozen embryos at length:  “With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them?  . . .  a grave injustice has been perpetrated  . . . The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;   this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.  It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of ‘prenatal adoption’. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.”
The USCCB’s December press release does not characterize this statement as an absolute ban on embryo adoption by faithful Catholics:  “The document does not reject the practice outright but warns of medical, psychological and legal problems associated with it and underscores the moral wrong of producing and freezing embryos in the first place.”  The National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an article written  by Director of Education Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D, concurs: “There is ongoing debate among reputable Catholic theologians about this matter, and technically it remains an open question. . . . Dignitas Personae expressed serious moral reservations  . . . without, however, explicitly condemning it as immoral.”
This is yet another debate that no one saw coming back when the birth of the first test-tube baby was celebrated.  The problem of the orphaned embryos underscores the intrinsic immorality of IVF.  As Dignitas Personae concludes:  “All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”
  
The column turned out to be eerily topical as only a few months later an unmarried teacher at the Catholic high school my children attend (as did I and my mother) decided to adopt an embryo.   She wrote the parents of her students a lengthy explanation of her research into the issue, which included consultation with the Bishop and the Principal of the school.  A minor firestorm erupted when one family expressed their disagreement by sending an email to every parent in the school and then withdrawing their children. 

 
 
Any thoughts?

Got baby?

Because I’m on vacation (where I envisioned I would have uninterrupted to hours to blog, but that isn’t happening) here is another column reprint for you:
Billboards. They are everywhere in our town and in our state. Their unsightliness mars the beauty of rural roadsides, and adds to the ugliness of already overdeveloped commercial strips.
The particular billboard I’m writing about is more attractive than most, though, because its subject is a baby, a winsome, chubby little thing with head slightly tilted and tiny hands clasped together, almost as if in prayer. Perhaps you might expect it to be an ad for baby products, or for an agency that helps children. I hope you’ll be as shocked as I was to see that the baby itself was the product this sign was selling.
emily-baby-1
“Want one?” the sign asks. Catchy, isn’t it? A bit like the “Got milk?” campaign. Maybe it’s cute and catchy so we won’t think about what is really going on here. The name and the web address of a fertility clinic complete the legend on the sign. Its message is clear: Babies are something we have a right to. Babies are something we can buy.
Many years ago another ad moved me to write a letter to The University of Tennessee’s student publication, The Daily Beacon. That time it was an ad for a local abortion clinic. Bracketed by Visa and MasterCard logos, its slogan read: “No one believes in abortion until they [sic] need one.” Once again, they treat human life like a matter of economics. In this case, babies are things we have a right to be free from. And we can be rid of them, for a price.
One ad promises us sex without babies, another promises us babies without sex. Neither is right, and both are related. Separate sex from procreation, and funny things start to happen. Pretty soon, and people start to forget why we have babies in the first place. Having five kids, my husband and I have gotten more than our share of teasing, for example: “Haven’t you figured out what causes that yet?” about 500 times. It’s good for a chuckle, but the fact is that many people haven’t figured it out, or else they’ve forgotten. Babies are caused–or they are supposed to be caused–by the physical expression of love between a man and a woman. An important corollary is that sex isn’t supposed to be a recreational sport.
I’m sure you are familiar with point/counterpoint columns, where self-proclaimed experts take on some controversial issue and argue opposing sides, usually divided straight down predictable liberal/conservative lines. I cut out one of these some months ago, planning to discuss it here later. This one discussed yet another side of assisted reproductive technology: is it a good idea for single women to become pregnant via sperm donors?
The “liberal” columnist predictably embraced the idea, with comments like, “Women who want children shouldn’t be barred from motherhood just because they never fell in love or don’t want to marry.” The only reason, she claims, that studies find two parents to be better than one is that two parents usually have more money than one.
The “conservative” columnist responded that it’s wrong to deprive children of fathers, and that there are plenty of parentless children in need of adoption already for someone with motherly love to spare; one parent is indubitably better than none! And I agree with her, as far as she goes. But it’s not far enough.
Both columnists spent a lot of time talking about the rights of women to become mothers, but neither mentioned in any way that children are supposed to be–that they have the right to be–generated by an act of love between their parents. Just like the concept of sex without consequences, the concept of babies without sex is already entrenched in our culture.

Who Gave You Life?

This originally appeared as a column in the East Tennessee Catholic in 2006.
Today is my “baby” sister’s 29th birthday.  My mother reminded me today that Anne owes her existence to her two big sisters. I remember well how much we begged and begged for a baby.  According to my mother, she decided to have another baby because she loved us so much that she wanted us to have whatever we wanted!  Luckily, we were very pleased with the gift.  We did everything for the baby except feed and change her. And I frequently said, “What if we had never had her?  It would be terrible if we never had her!”

Three sisters at my wedding
Three sisters at my wedding

When Anne was two or three, I taught her to recite a few lines paraphrased from George MacDonald’s poem “Baby.”  I would say, “Where did you come from, Baby dear?” and she would reply, “The blue sky opened and I am here.”  Then would come, “Where did you get those eyes so blue?” “Out of the sky as I came through.
That’s about all I remembered; then yesterday I happened to come across the book the poem was in, pulled out by someone and left lying on the back stairs.  What struck me upon re-reading was the end of the poem.  After cataloguing all of baby’s sweet little parts, the poet asks:
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.
Isn’t that a lovely thought? And how many people really think of babies like that these days, as a special gift, planned just for us and presented by a loving God? It seems to me that on the one hand people see babies as mistakes, accidents, inconveniences. Something like 60% of babies are unplanned, and don’t they seem to come at the worst possible times? They cost lots of money, they cause us physical problems, they interrupt our busy lives.
I think many times people don’t even consider their intended and wanted babies in terms of gifts from God.  No, then babies are something they planned, something they earned, something perhaps they even paid for, considering the widespread reliance on fertility treatments, artificial insemination, donor eggs, and surrogate mothers. If they think of a baby as a gift at all, it’s more like a gift they think they are giving themselves—there hardly seems to be room for God in the equation.
And often as kids grow we try to give them the feeling that it is we who gave them the gift, the gift of life. I hate that particular guilt-tripping phrase, “I gave you life!” Well, no, I didn’t give my kids life; God did. Life was His gift to them; they are His gift to me.
And I don’t always appreciate it either. Longfellow said that into each life some rain must fall and the Shollys have been in the midst of a rainy season for a while. Today at the dinner table we were discussing things we were grateful for and I talked about how 16-month-old Lorelei had given me a gift today. I was supposed to be working but she begged and begged to go outside.  Because of her I took the time to enjoy the Spring.  Because of her I got down on the ground, examined pine cones, smelled daffodils, tore up handfuls of onion grass, remembered what it was like to be a child in the springtime.
As I write, Lorelei sits in my lap, half-asleep, nursing. She is wearing pink striped long johns and a t-shirt which reads “Sholly Creations. Size small. 100% joy. Made in Heaven.” I couldn’t agree more.
Lorelei at about 18 months (with William, aged 5)

And tomorrow I will write something new, I promise.  So many ideas, so little time.