Everywhere you turn these days, a new organics-only grocery store or farmer’s market pops up. The phrase buy “fresh and local” rings out from blog posts, cooking shows and bumper stickers, on every other foodie blog, Barefoot Contessa episode and Subaru Outback. Bring up genetically modified foods or pesticides on a Paleo Diet Internet forum, and you might get your Internet surfing privileges revoked. We want a life that is that is 100 percent natural, with no added chemicals or hormones.
But ironically, when it comes to the birds and the bees and the “baby in the baby carriage,” many people don’t have any qualms (or even opinions) about the growth of the non-organic, added-hormones fertility industry. And I used to be one of those people.
The only time I had even thought about artificial reproductive technology (ART) and third-party reproduction (TPR) were when they were used as humorous plot devices in Hollywood comedies. Jennifer Lopez playing a single women having babies via in vitro fertilization and sperm donation. Vince Vaughn acting as a man who fathered 500-plus kids by selling his genetic material. Tina Fey acting as a well-off, infertile woman renting actress Amy Poehler’s working-class uterus.
On top of the fact that artificial reproductive technology is apparently a comedic goldmine, I’ve been single—nowhere close to getting married—and most folks keep assuring me that I have “plenty of time” to have kids. Combine any received advice with the aptly tailored advertising from the Shady Grove Infertility Center on Pandora, and I ended up with a “grand general idea that [I knew] it all and that everything [I happened] to have picked up in casual talk and reading is ‘the result of modern investigation’” (Lewis). Artificial reproductive technology and third-party reproduction sound like something out of a disturbing sci-fi movie—completely unconnected from me or my life.
During the last four years, I have been involved in ministry to the unintentionally single, and I’m well acquainted with the particular strains of worry and fear that run amok in the hearts of single women.
Loneliness and isolation, struggles with lust, feeling homeless, being unchosen and barrenness. I said it! The other “b” word. Politically correct or not, terrible dating conversation topic or not, single women worry about whether or not they will marry in time to have children, and usually, the desire to have biological children only grows with age, even as fertility naturally declines. Many single women feel this burden keenly and are aware that their dream of biological children may not ever become a reality. We want to get married and have children, but it isn’t happening fast enough for our reproductive timetable. In that fog of pain, it’s not hard to justify using gamete donation or surrogacy to ameliorate the ache, regardless of the ethical concerns or the unknown physical and mental health effects.
If something makes it easier to have babies and take away that ache, shouldn’t we—especially as singles who might get married and start a family later in life—support it? An entire library could be devoted to answering that question, and a host of other questions about the effects of gamete donation and surrogacy on children, on family dynamics, on surrogates’ and donors’ minds and bodies, on the gene pool, on prenatal material bonding, and on commodifying human genetic material and biological capacity.
I can’t answer them for you here, but I want to encourage you—even while you are single—to research and learn more about the ethical, cultural, legal and spiritual morass surrounding artificial reproductive technology. Because as adults who may want to start families later in life, you are the target demographic for these types of fertility services. The desire to have children is God-given, but as believers, we have to think critically and carefully about the line between grasping to fulfill our desires in any way that technology allows and trusting God to meet us in the pain of infertility and redeem it.
Although this topic won’t be popular at your next dinner party, I believe it is one of the more important discussions that we will be having as a society in the coming years. The fertility industry in the United States (unlike Western Europe or Canada) is largely unregulated, and there are only a few voices asking the questions no one wants to answer. Christian singles may not be directly participating in marriage, sex, babies, and family formation, but we can certainly start asking and answering the hard questions that have a significant impact on these foundational elements of human culture. God has called us to be salt and light in the world, and this is one of the areas where we need more MagLites and salt shakers.
If you’re interested in learning more, the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network is a great place to start. They have produced three incredible documentaries: Eggsploitation on egg donation, Anonymous Father’s Day on sperm donation, and most recently, Breeders on surrogacy. Also, Anonymous Us is a fantastic resource for learning more about the effects of gamete donation on children and donors.