Dr. Dawg

The metaphysics of IVF

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The Globe and Mail ventures into metaphysics this morning, with predictably disastrous results.

Children who are conceived with an egg or sperm donor should have the right to know their biological origins. The quest for this knowledge is really a quest to know themselves.

…Research shows that depriving children of the ability to access their genetic backgrounds can cause them psychological harm.

This is, not to put too fine a point upon it, balderdash. And I think I know who its wicked stepmother is.

Some time ago, McGill University’s Empress of Ethics, Margaret Somerville, handed down another one of her decrees:

[T]he genetic relationship goes to our deepest roots of who we are and to whom we bond.

…Many donor-conceived adults are telling us they would not have consented to the way in which they were “brought into being” and the family structures in which they grew up.

We’ve also “known for a long time” that, in general, children do best when they know their biological mothers and fathers, and are reared by them within their own immediate and wider biological families. I believe that should remain the societal norm, with any exceptions requiring clear justification.

I called this twaddle at the time, and it remains twaddle. What of societies in which the connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy is not even acknowledged? What of the millions upon millions of adopted children (I am one, incidentally) who, while being mildly curious, have not felt a compulsive need to identify my biological “parents?” (Here’s a literature review on alleged higher rates of psychopathology among adopted children.)

The metaphysics of blood—the notion that in some way we are “connected” to previous generations by a mystical bond that the Globe and Mail editors absurdly call a “life narrative”—has been expressed in darker ways in the not-so-distant past. Blutsgefühl, the Nazi concept of “blood feeling,” was used to define not family but “racial” bonds. I mention this not to Godwin the discussion, but to point out that in each case the assumption is based, not upon facts, but upon ideology.

The conservative view of family is an ideological construct, a dead and mouldering horse that Somerville has been lashing for years. Her well-known opposition to same-sex marriage is based upon it, and it underlies her dislike of adoption and IVF as well. Never mind that various societies around the world and in history have had incredibly diverse family structures: “one man, one woman, one lifetime” just about covers it.

And this all plays into a kind of pathology that began in the 1960s, with large numbers of self-obsessed people setting out to “find themselves” when they were never lost in the first place. Some chose psychedelics, others embraced cults, still others travelled on magic buses to Kabul and Kathmandu. Not a few decided that meeting their genetic donors would relieve their profound alienation. Whole organizations sprang up to enable them.

Somerville and the Globe and Mail editorialist are promulgating a mischievous and possibly harmful doctrine by feeding these obsessions. Certainly we carry a genetic inheritance, and everyone has the right to know, if possible, what it is purely for reasons of health. But this does not oblige the release of further identifying information. With respect to the latter, there is no “right” to it at all—and no clear rationale for possessing it.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on February 22, 2012 11:58 AM.

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