When Babies Become Commodities

The New Eugenics

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Several recent cases involving the rejection of babies by people who were using the services of surrogate mothers have drawn attention to the alarming ethical shortfalls of the surrogate industry.

The first example came from Australia, where a couple who had contracted a surrogacy agreement with a Thai woman, Pattharamon Janbua, rejected one of the two babies she carried because the child had Down syndrome.

The couple asked that the mother abort the baby and when she refused they only accepted the healthy baby, leaving the surrogate with the other one.

Later, it emerged that the father of the Australian couple had previously been convicted of the abuse of two girls under the age of 10 and was sentenced to three years in jail.

The news raised concern in Australia over the use by sex offenders and pedophiles of surrogacy arrangements in Thailand and other countries.

News of the Australian case prompted an American woman to reveal a similar experience. In 2012 Andrea Ott-Dahl agreed to bear a child for a lesbian couple but it turned out the baby she was carrying had Down syndrome, Yahoo reported Aug. 20.

She refused the request of the couple to abort the fetus and went on to keep the child for herself.

A few days later, on Aug. 26, the Daily Mail newspaper reported a similar case in England, where a surrogate mother, only identified as Jenny, decided to take for her own a disabled daughter who she had been bearing for another couple, as they did not want to accept what the mother of the couple said was a “dribbling cabbage.”

Ethical responsibility to abort

Atheist Richard Dawkins entered the debate, saying it was immoral not to abort babies with Down syndrome and that parents “have an ethical responsibility to ‘abort it and try again’” the Telegraph newspaper reported Aug. 20.

A number of opinion articles in the English press, including ones by parents with children who have Down syndrome, strongly rejected what Dawkins advocated.

In spite of that criticism it remains true that these recent cases exemplify the trend toward the practice of eugenics, that is, eliminating those people considered to be genetically defective or inferior.

A valuable guide to this issue is the recent book, “The Ethics of the New Eugenics,” (Berghahn Books). Edited by Calum MacKellar and Christopher Bechtel the book is based on research carried out by many people at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.

As the book points out in its historical overview of eugenics, the desire to improve the human race through selective breeding and the elimination of those who are considered weak goes back many centuries. The Greek philosopher Plato, in his book the Republic, proposed that human reproduction be controlled by the government.

Turning to the present day the book noted that there is a growing general consent that children with disorders should not be born. Society and public opinion increasingly accept the idea that those with conditions such as Down syndrome are better off being “terminated.”

Following an examination of the multiple ways in which eugenics can be implemented the book turned to the arguments in favor, and against, eugenics. The authors made clear their opposition to eugenics.

One of the fundamental problems with eugenics is that it undermines the unconditional acceptance by parents of their children. As a result there is a real possibility that parents who want a child will give priority to their own interests.

“This means that it is only when parents unconditionally value their children for who they are, as equal fellow human beings, that the children will enjoy a sense of healthy emotional development and acceptance,” the authors affirmed.

Consequentialism

The ethical reasoning underlying eugenics, the book explained, is the theory of consequentialism. Thus, the suffering of the parents and the child who has some disorder is not seen as being compensated for by the value of the child.

According to this reasoning a person’s quality of life is given priority over the inherent dignity of human life. This is the crux of the difference between promoters of eugenics and those who oppose it.

The authors clearly stated that they come down on the side of those who reject that morality can be reduced to science and biology. Instead, they insisted, the equal dignity and worth of all persons is a more fundamental ethical principle than that of the quality of life.

Discarding traditional ethical values will always end “in a moral and ethical wasteland,” the book warned.

To avoid this wasteland a compassionate civilized society needs to accept all possible future children with unconditional and equal acceptance, “accepting them for who they are and suffering or rejoicing with them in compassion and care.”

This is indeed a message that needs to be promoted loudly and clearly to a world that only too often is prepared to sacrifice human life for personal preferences.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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