Cloaking The Wild West

Back on January 14th, 2014, I posted my thoughts on egg donations. In that post, I quoted a New York Times writer (from 2011) who stated:  “… we haven’t decided as a society how we are going to deal with this …” tapemouth

Apparently, based on a May 2, 2014 post at The Public Discourse, we now know. “Fertility specialists” will be permitted to continue their reckless, predatory business of skirting laws that prohibit sales of human embryos. Cash-strapped gullible women will continue to suffer a multitude of ills caused by the foolhardy egg-harvesting procedure. But when legal proceedings are pursued, undisclosed monetary settlements will ensure women remain silent, an arrangement secured by their desperate signatures on confidentiality agreements.

Of course, the egg brokers, fertility doctors and their lawyers will be permitted to place their unique PR spin on such sealed agreements:  i.e. “amicable settlement,” “lawsuit dismissed,” etc., yada, yada, yada. Admission of any guilt perpetrated by the aforementioned defendants is conveniently cloaked from public scrutiny due to the confidentiality agreement. And other unsuspecting women will continue to be put at risk.

Grievously injured parties are paid for their silence and a public is lulled into believing this awful practice was nothing more than a charitable and egalitarian act gone awry. Too bad the bad actors’ deeds remain cloaked in secrecy. No story here. And the next generation of Kermit Gosnell*(s) continue to sleep peacefully at night.

*Warning:  the Gosnell link (above) takes you to the Grand Jury report which is both disturbing and graphic, but necessary to understand the horrific nature of his crimes.

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Brave New World: Engineered Embryos

The website headline reads:

Chinese firm’s bid to allow parents to pick their smartest embryos
femalebabies

It’s the advent of the SuperBaby! Underneath the headline, there’s a picture of three adults each holding a baby (all wrapped in pink blankets, one assumes the babies are females). The headline and picture present a slightly misleading impression because the first paragraph of the article explains the Chinese firm is actually just “getting closer” to refining its technology for so-called “designer babies” … but hasn’t yet achieved its goal.

This story from the UK Daily Mail website briefly highlights research being done in China that is focused on determining the key high-IQ genetic markers that would potentially enable hopeful parents to choose smart embryos as the first step to bear children with higher intellect.

The Daily Mail article mentions briefly one of the leading research firms conducting this testing, the Beijing Genomics Institute, or BGI. Given the web information about this company, it appears BGI was privately founded (i.e a non-governmental entity) to participate in the Human Genome Project back in the 90s. After funding from that research dried up, they eventually did some collaborative research on the rice genome and viruses before being officially recognized as a government entity. They receive significant funding from the Chinese and have relationships with international pharmaceutical companies.

One of BGI’s young researchers, a twenty-one year old wunderkind named Zhao Bowen (the Mail article calls him Bowen Zhao), openly admits his research is “controversial” in the West, but in China, “that’s not the case.” He compares the cost saving for “optimizing … heritable attributes” required to produce a bright child against the costs of a Harvard education. His conclusion is inferred:  the former is more practical and cost-effective.

This article also refers to another researcher, Stephen Hsu (Scientific Advisor for BGI and a university professor). Though the Daily Mail isn’t clear whether the final comment in its article comes from Bowen or Hsu, another publication clears up the confusion, attributing these chilling words to Hsu:

There are going to be countries that say this is part of our national health-care service and everyone is doing it,” he told the New Yorker. “And eventually it would become unstoppable, because the countries that initially outlawed it would have to come around. How could they not?”

Thoughtful people have multiple reasons for concern related to engineered embryos, but while reducing potential health risks for one’s offspring looks to be a desirable achievement on the face of it, other ramifications of a research-based genetic free-for-all seem remarkably reminiscent of last century’s Nazi Übermensch. (People have gotten progressively more uncomfortable with using this analogy, but perhaps that should be an indication of the similarities; will people turn their heads away again?)

If Westerners are “squeamish” about the possible applications for technology (specifically in this case, engineering embryos to choose DNA markers for intelligence), I consider that squeamishness a heartening sign. But if Hsu’s words are prophetic, will we have the stamina to hold off what Hsu says is “unstoppable” or succumb to a cultural and ethical disarmament with results as horrific as the Holocaust? Only time will tell.

Brave New World II: Welcome to the Wild West

BNWYesterday, I launched the first in a series of posts under the overall title Brave New World. My initial post addressed the current practice of egg donation. I noted that the various aspects of our Brave New World are numerous enough to require subsequent posts, but I’ve decided these won’t necessarily be consecutive posts. There’s simply too much to cover.

Just discussing the subject of egg donations (but perhaps extending to the entire reproductive landscape), similarities to the Wild West (in my view) would not be hyperbole. Frontiers are being crossed where no rules seem applicable and the lives and health of women represent an insignificant price in technology’s march across previously sacred natural barriers.

Speaking of a related aspect (surrogacy) that lies within the reproductive framework, one writer said:  “… we haven’t decided as a society how we are going to deal with this…” I think her observation goes beyond just the question of surrogacy and applies overall! We haven’t decided as a society? I recall an old saw:  not to decide is to decide.

Indeed, by refusing to “decide,” the Wild West is where we’ve landed as a society. Figuratively speaking, I can’t help wondering how many native tribes will be recklessly slaughtered while we’re figuring out the operational framework. What will be the cost? The long-term effects of our foot-dragging? The further deterioration of our humanity?gunslingers-page-holland

This is a discussion we (as a culture) should be having, and if you Google the term “egg donations,” 5.6 million hits will come up offering resources and pockets of discussion. But if, like me, your demographic doesn’t match the under-30 set, you may be unaware of the full-court press exerted on young people still forming opinions about reproductive issues, and they’re forming their conclusions on the fly.

Before I continue, though, I want to lay some ground-rules and a prefatory foundation … because I’m not an expert here. I’m not. I’m an observer of our culture, and the things I observe have become increasingly disturbing.

Briefly, I approach this issue (and all others) through the lens of my Christian faith. This means I believe every human being carries the distinct image of our Creator imprinted on and into his or her soul. In that regard, I believe every human life is precious.

Secondly, I use the Bible as my guidebook. However, because the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to every minute issue in life (i.e. should I drink Pepsi or Coke or neither?), I apply principles from the Bible for my decision-making. Within a general biblical Christian framework, there is freedom.

Third (and last, at least for the discussion at hand), I believe God gave me a brain to figure out ways in which to be life-affirming (my first point), to weigh scripture in my life while acknowledging not everyone considers the Bible the “Good Book” (my second point), and the ability to respectfully engage in rational discussion on important topics with people who may disagree with my worldview laid out here.

Keeping those qualifiers in mind, I’ll press forward. If you’re still with me, thanks for hanging in there!

Egg-Donor-Ad-300At its most basic, egg donation is one of a wide array of reproductive interventions. (Using the word interventions seems slightly ominous, doesn’t it? Maybe because reproductive interventions are, in fact, ominous?)

As with many developments brought forward from the 60s feminist movement, people tend to look at egg donation only as another spoke in the egalitarian wheel. For proponents of egalitarianism, the most natural argument might go something like this:  If men are allowed to donate sperm, then why not allow women to donate their eggs? (In short, the sauce-for-the-goose argument.) And I suppose, that’s a fair question … but perhaps a shortsighted one?

Writer Debra J. Saunders discusses “fair compensation” for both male and female donors and notes in her article Women at Risk When Donating Their Eggs“That sperm-egg parity argument is so bogus.” She says the “risks” for donors aren’t comparable.

While sperm donors may experience second thoughts, there are no serious medical side effects. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic website, “… there are no health risks associated with sperm donation.” No health risks. None.

lupron

The same cannot be said for egg donation. Powerful drugs are utilized. The primary drug used is Lupron. One website that I consulted (shown to the right) discusses their Lupron protocol and candidly admits:  as part of the egg-harvesting process, “… Lupron is not FDA approved for this use (it is an “off label” use).”

That second last sentence is telling. I’ve enlarged the applicable paragraph for you to view for yourself here:

lupron-better

So, we have a powerful drug, one being used for an “off-label” (non-conforming) application and it’s also a drug which has some demonstrable side effects! Truth is, we don’t yet know the full extent to which women may suffer health issues following the administration of this drug for the purposes of egg donation.

Does this seem at all egalitarian?

I’ve scraped the surface here, discussed just a snatch of available information to shed light on one aspect of the reproductive intervention on the Wild West landscape. There’s so much more … and I will continue to pursue in subsequent posts.

Your discussion and input are welcome and always encouraged.

Brave New World I: Egg Money

In case you hadn’t noticed it lately, we are living in a brave new world (BNW).BNW

In its derivative context (coming by way of Shakespeare‘s The Tempest), Brave New World refers to Aldous Huxley‘s sobering vision of a futuristic time when advances wrought by technology make for a much different world. (I don’t want to spoil your appreciation of the book, so please read it for yourself.)

An article entitled Modern Families and the Messes We Make by Jennifer Lahl at thepublicdiscourse.com perfectly illustrates today’s BNW. As Lahl notes, it is indeed a messy world and often, the messes we make are so avoidable yet we plunge forward willy-nilly into chaos! (And then, wash, rinse, repeat, as if we’ve learned nothing through previous rash acts and bad outcomes!) Although Lahl’s article first appeared last November, it becomes more relevant everyday as the web-links from her post point to a frequency of messes beyond comprehension.

There are so many disparate aspects to which Lahl refers, I feel compelled to spend several additional posts to address the complications and pitfalls as I envision them. I know I’m not alone in believing we’ve opened a Pandora’s box that’s unwilling to be contained. I’m of the opinion none of us can imagine where exactly it will end, nor how many people will be hurt along the way.

I’m no prophet but there have been road markers all along this road to Utopia. A person would have to be extremely naive not to notice at least some of them.

Heart strings are usually what gets tugged in my case; I can overlook lots of things but evoke my sympathy and I’m there. Give me a first-hand account of someone who’s done a seemingly good deed and been burned because of it, and I consider how I might have felt in the same situation.

When I came across the website www.eggsploitation.com, I couldn’t get my head and heart around the way in which well-meaning young women are embracing what at first they believe is a noble endeavor … but many realize their actions may have exposed them to lifelong consequences.

When I was a young woman eager to start a family with my husband, pregnancy came quickly. I bore four children in less than eight years, so fertility was never (thankfully) an issue. From an experiential viewpoint, I’m unable to identify with women suffering infertility. I simply (and gratefully) understand “children are a gift from the Lord.” (Psalm 127:3)

However, I do understand the yearnings that come when a woman hopes to become a mother. (I believe those yearnings are God-given.) Women generally have sympathy for other women unable to conceive. Hence, the potential for being seduced with a heart-tugging message of “be an angel,” “make a difference,” and  “help make dreams come true,” messages Lahl links in her article. Ah, the beguiling message of altruism!

Honestly, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been similarly induced when I was a young woman. It’s the nice thing to do, right? And if we women are anything, it is nice!

The sonnet below echoes the experience of (at least) one woman whose story was shared on the eggsploitation website.

brave new world, eggsploitation, egg harvesting, selling eggs, reproductive choice, sonnet, poetry, poem
Sonnet: Egg Money

In today’s brave new world, we’ve been taught everything has a price on it, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant it may be at a particular moment. (Think of the number of Hollywood films that have been developed around this theme!) But as we age, we learn things about which we were once casual have become increasingly precious.

… More tomorrow as we explore other implications of our brave new world.