A deluge of recent news items over the past sever months calls to
mind the irritatingly memorable words of Saturday Night Live’s Doug and
Wendy Whiner (played by Joe Piscopo and Robin Duke): “We want our own
ba-byyy!!” Since the couple can’t seem to conceive a child of their
own, the doctor, played by Ron Howard, suggests the Whiners try
Doug Whiner: I'm the last of the Whine-rsss! Doc-tor, my genes must live onnn..
Wendy Whiner: Is-n't there some-thing you can do-o-o? I want to be a moth-errr!
Doug Whiner: And I want to be a fath-errrr!
Whiners: We want to be par-entsss!
Harried by the couple’s insufferable whining, the doctor then suggests artificial insemination using a surrogate mother.
Doctor: [ sticks his fingers in his ears ] We take Doug's sperm, insert
in an egg from Wendy, plant it in a surrogate mother, and, BOOM, you
got a Whiner!
That was 25 years ago. If written today, the
baby-on-demand skit may have taken a different direction – one of many,
in fact. Since 1982, when this episode was produced, the artificial
procreation industry, has burgeoned. Infertility treatments are now a
multi-billion dollar industry, and have produced embryo banks,
fertility brokers and even baby farms. At the same time, the whining
from infertile couples and single women (and even single men) seems an
awful lot like a Saturday Night Live parody. This whining
reflects the idea that everyone has a right to a baby – whether one’s
own baby or not — and to have it on demand.
As I noted in
an earlier column (Rejuvenalia), men and women are putting off marriage
until much later in life, often in favor of careers they are convinced
would be ruined by the inconvenience of a child or two. Even those who
tie the knot during their 20s are, more and more, putting off
childbearing until they hear those last ticks of the biological clock.
After two decades of living a self-indulgent “kidult-hood” in which
they have carefully contracepted real kids out of their lives,
they finally decide: We’re ready for that one kid, and we want it now!
is not uncommon that due to modern living – junk diets, venereal
disease, pollution, drug use, and sometimes even previous abortions
(all are frequent causes of infertility), the couple finds it can’t
produce that baby-on-demand. At least not naturally. For many, adoption
is not considered an option. The couple or single parent wants their
very own Whiner, with real Whiner genes. Some of the interested parents
are of traditional grandparent age – in their 40s or older. “40 is the
new 30” is a new slogan for career women. Sarah notwithstanding, the
naked truth is that God (and Mother Nature, if you will) never intended
“old people” to bear and rear children. Their bodies just aren’t
physically cut out for it.
Nevertheless, the fertility industry
is “impregnating” women at older and older ages and doctors vie for
mention in the Guinness Book. Most recently a 67-year-old Spanish woman
gave birth to twins. Even Dr. Severino Antinori, the Italian
“reproduction doctor” who has made a controversial career out of
boosting the fertility of middle-age women, denounced the unnatural
pregnancy as unacceptable. “The aim isn’t to make babies which will
soon become orphans,” he said. In vitro fertilization, test tube
babies and surrogacy are nothing new, but these “treatments,” coupled
with delayed parenthood, are increasingly being seen as the norm in a
sex-obsessed society that has largely forgotten the obvious link
between sex and babies.
Others don’t necessarily want a
Whiner like themselves. Biotechnology has been meeting the rising
demand for those who would rather have an off-the-shelf “designer
baby.” The traditional decades-old “treatments” have been joined
by embryo banks such as the Abraham Center of Life in San Antonio,
Texas – the focus of recent media interest in the U.S. and U.K and now
under investigation by the FDA. The clinic’s “fertility brokers” create
embryos from “qualified” donors — they have college degrees — of both
sperm and egg for a waiting list of interested parents. The child is
put together from an al a carte menu of traits that can be viewed over
the internet. The catalog includes photos of the donors as both adults
and as children. You want the Quarterback Special – tall, blue eyes,
blond hair, large hands, and competitive attitude? You got it – for a
price: between $14,000 and $18,000 plus travel expenses. The Abraham
Center doesn’t deliver.
Amazingly, some parents who choose
characteristics for their would-be children don’t always choose
desirable traits. Some select defects and disabilities – often so that
the child can be like the parent, a dwarf or deaf, for example. I can
hear the Whiners: “But we want a deaf ba-byyy.” Fertility clinics
actually honor the requests. Playing God, they and the parents decide
that this new human life will be permanently saddled with a disability
– all in the interest of parent selfishness.
Beyond this basic
human selfishness and greed, the artificial procreation industry is
even more sinister. What most don’t know or care about is the fate of
the embryos that never get used in this unnatural process. First, some
clinics are now screening embryos for genetic abnormalities that would
lead to an unwanted disability or medical condition. Those that don’t
pass the test are discarded – like a defective part on an assembly
line. Further, it is no secret that during the in vitro fertilization
process, unused embryos stored in cryogenic banks are often abandoned
and left to slowly disintegrate over time, or may be given away for
experimental purposes. This is way beyond Saturday Night Live parody!
is sad to say, but the artificial procreation industry is mistakenly
perceived by the American public as a positive good with laudable
goals. In truth, it is little more than the sick commodification of
babies in a throwaway culture. Aside from cleaving the act of
procreation from a natural sexual union, it is also in a sense playing
God. It is vanity. It is desperation. It’s also ironic, given that our
society is recklessly determined to promote contraception, abortion,
and population control as tools for the common good. Any way one looks
at it, the artificial procreation industry is an accomplice to
unnatural acts that wed the vices of selfishness and greed. It has no
place in the life of Catholics, whose understanding of human life and
human sexuality ought to preclude even the temptation.