It’s long been possible to separate sex from reproduction—it’s called “birth control”—but in the near future, according to Henry Greely (at Vox), human reproduction will no longer require sex at all. “In 20 to 40 years, most Americans won’t have sex to reproduce” is the disturbing lede to Greely’s disturbing article; and while Greely seems resigned to the prospect he describes, he acknowledges that it will bring with it a legion of practical and ethical dilemmas:
There are good reasons to be concerned about…the host of new reproductive technologies lurking at the horizon. Safety, coercion, equality, and family relationships raise real and tricky questions. Many people, though not me, will also consider questions of "naturalness" or "playing God" to be real and serious.
Should [selection] for cosmetic or behavioral traits be allowed? What about enhancement? Or parents selecting for certain disabilities, like deafness? Or picking boy or girl? Should unibabies be banned, or clones?
Will legislatures try, for the first time in America, to regulate assisted reproduction choices? If they do, will the Constitution, which has offered some protection for reproductive and parental rights in areas ranging from contraception and abortion to limiting state control over children’s education, allow them to? And if one state bans it, how will it stop its citizens from visiting more permissive states? Governments everywhere will have to answer these questions, and many will answer at least some of them differently, based on their different cultures.
Families will also have to answer these questions. How much safety from genetic risks will they want for their children in a universe where perfect safety can never be obtained? How much choice will they want in their child’s non-health traits?
What would you want? Would you use embryo selection or gene editing, and, if so, to what ends?
We need to start thinking about these questions. The future is coming. It may not be exactly the future I foresee, but, like it or not, it will certainly feature far more choices, for families and for societies, about making babies.
That sound you hear in the distance is Rod Dreher’s head exploding; but after that sound fades away, the rest of us, as Greely says, are going to have to grapple with a host of difficult ethical issues. Just as medical technology has forced upon us increasingly contentious end-of-life decisions: it will now pose equally contentious decisions about the beginning of life. I don’t envy those who will have to make those decisions.
Speaking of making Rod Dreher’s head explode: Emma Green (at The Atlantic) weighs in on a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Ms. Green concludes that “Even the government’s smartest lawyers can’t figure out religious liberty,” because “conflicts between secular ideals and tenets of faith are ultimately problems of culture, not law.” She quotes the commission’s chair, Martin Castro:
“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”
And then she quotes a dissenting commission member, Peter Kirsanow:
“The conflict between religious liberty and nondiscrimination principles is profound...The passions involved may be fiercer than in any civil rights struggle since the 1960s…Religious liberty is an undisputed constitutional right. With the exception of racial nondiscrimination principles embedded in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, nondiscrimination principles are statutory or judicially created constructs.”
Green quotes Kirsanow further regarding the fundamental conflict:
“Secularism…holds an individual’s unfettered sexual self-expression as a preeminent concern because it is an aspect of their self-creation…[Christianity holds that] individuals are not their own judge, but rather are subject to divine law and divine judgment. The morality of a person’s conduct does not ultimately depend upon whether he thinks it is right, or whether it accords with his desires, but whether it conforms to divine law.”
Ms. Green sees nothing but conflict ahead:
United States law holds that free expression of religion and [of] identity are both important. There’s no easy formula for pre-determining when each should be given precedence, particularly when they clash in fundamental ways.
These conflicts will continue…Specific cases will be judged against widely varying statutes and bodies of interpretation, and lawyers will continue to wage first-principle battles over the meaning of freedom. The system will remain confused, because the law is but clunky machinery for reconciling opposing world views.
It’s the “clunky machinery” and the resulting conflict, confusion, and uncertainty which so terrify and/or outrage Rod Dreher that he’s promoting the Benedict Option (due out in March 2017, pre-order now!). The rest of us will just have to put up with it all, yet more proof of the difficulty of living in a diverse society in which people have exasperatingly “opposing world views”.
It could be worse, of course; we could live in a totally homogeneous society in which everyone holds the identical world view.