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Author Topic: News Flash - Bio News by Prof. Sheila Briggs, University of Southern California.  (Read 8100 times)
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Political debates are often successfully waged by how one names the issue. In such debates instances the substansive moral concerns may become obscured and distorted. The so called "right-to-life movement has pressed for the recognotion of the rights of the "unborn child" from the moment of conception. Although this movement has achieved its goals of criminalizing abortion and banning embryonic stem cell research, it has ancouraged the public to think of embryos as if they were children. This has led to increased scrutiny of the scientific research and medical procedures involving human embryos. Such public scrutiny is not in its self a bad think if it leads to a robust and well informed system of regulations.
The role of the embro in human reproduction entitles it to respect-but this is a long way from recognising it as the moral equivalent of a child. In Britain, one has not reached the political extremes that have occurred in the United States, where in the state of Colorado there is, in the upcoming elections, a ballot on a measure that would define a "fertilised egg" as aperson in the states constitution. Fertilsed eggs and embryos lack the capacity for personhood by any standard of neurological functioning.
They cannot laugh or cry, feel frustration or satisfaction, let alone learn or make mistakes. In short, they are nothing like actual children and to declare them as such, devalues the personhood of actual children and to declare them to be such, devalues the personhood of actual children and exposes them to concrete harms.
A fundemental principle in our society is the priority of the best interests of the child. Admitted, this is sometimes difficult to enforse, especially when it conflicts with parental desires. Nonetheless, we should always encourage parents to make this the paramount criterion of their decitions, including the best interests of a child they expect to have through pregnancy brought to term. In the context of IVF, parents have achieved unpresedented reproductive choice and control but this freedom should be exercised only in the best interest of the child. It is here where confusion between embryo and child can have its most harmful effects. Since the enbryo does not have the physical or mental capacities of the child, it makes no difference to its existence whether it has  generic disposition to downs syndrome or deafness. There is indeed no such entity as an embryo with disabilities. Such a fundediagnosis to maximise their chances of a pregnancy leading to the birth of a healthy childmental lack of capacity leads in my view to the inescapable conclusion that an embryo does not have interests.
For example, an embryo has no hearing to lose or gain and does not exist in any social context. Therefore it canot be interested deafness would exclude it from any sport and prevent it to listening to music. However, a deaf child can be acutley aware of how disability limits her or his activities and choices. I do not believe that it demeans the embryo to say that it has instrumental rather than intrinsic value as long as its essential role in human reproduction is recognised. To deny that an embryo has rights and interests is not tantamount to saying that morrally and legally we should be able to do whatever we want with it.
A Child unlike an embryo, has intrinsic rather than instrumental value.
A child's value is not determined by the satisfaction or fulfillment that he or she brings to the child's parents. Parental desires and choice cannot trump all other moral considerations when persons seek assisted reproduction. Their expanded procreative choice must still be guided by the best interest of the child and that means they should seek to have an embryo emplanted that, as far as it is possible to know, will develop into a healthy child in pregnancy brought to term. They should make use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to maximise their chances of a pregnancy leading to the birth of a healthy child.
Recent arguments for a moral obligation of parents to strive for the genetically "best child" fail on two counts:
There is no consensus on what is the "Best Child" is and no genetic tests that can be reliably predict such qualities as high intelegence or superior musical ability. In contast there is very little disagreement on what constitutes an acceptable baseline of health. When no distinction is made between children and embryos, we lose sight of the basic endowment of the physical and mental capacities that a healthy child possesses. To insist on the implantation of an embryo at risk for Down Syndrome for a high IQ. In both cases the embryo becomes a tool for imposing the wishers and values of the parents on the child.

By Sheila Briggs, Board member of Catholics for Choice and Associate Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California.   

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