It is theoretically possible, using modern genetic processes, to create a mouse that carries the gene for human testes or ovaries. While possible in theory, some say possible in practice, the question is, does it make sense?
It is theoretically possible, with two mice, each carrying the genetic code of a human being in their modified reproductive organs, to suction the gametes from each mouse and create a “test tube” human being, just as we bring ova and sperm together today through in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
Therefore, it’s not a far stretch to propose that mice with these modified genetic structures be allowed to mate, and create a human embryo within the uterus of a mouse. Sound far-fetched? Think again.
The question we find ourselves faced with, in these remarkable scenarios of biotechnology, is this: Just because we can, should we? If we can learn to grow human kidneys in pigs, or human livers in sheep, should we proceed down that path in medicine? 80,000 people need a kidney, and a third might die waiting for a donor. If we could grow kidneys in pigs, people would live. On the other hand, we might bring a porcine virus into the human population that could sweep like the plague through dense population centers, and nullify any benefit that swine-bred kidney brought us. Sound far-fetched? It’s not.
Where do we draw the line in the determination of what’s right, moral, loving, and compassionate . . . and what’s too dangerous to attempt? Twenty years ago, no one might have considered bearing a child to create the blood and donor tissues for a sister in dire medical need. Nevertheless, author Jodi Picoult’s novels about families, relationships and love have captured the imagination of many with her novel and movie My Sister’s Keeper, a story about a child conceived for the explicit purpose of helping save the life of a dying sister. That it does not seem remarkable we can do this thing, this conception of one child for the saving of another, says much about how far we’ve slid down this slippery slope of biological ethics.
Infertile? No problem. There are many options available to the couple seeking a child, and I applaud the desire of men and women to bring children into the world. Children are a gift from God. But where do we cross the line of enjoying God’s gift, and controlling the outcome to meet our needs? I would not deny any IVF family the joy of bringing their children into the world, but how far is too far? Is it appropriate to shop for a donor egg, a donor sperm, then a surrogate mother, and finally a wet-nurse to feed the child? We’re there, folks. It’s happening today. At some point, our technical abilities outstrip our ethics and then we find ourselves in dangerous moral territory.
Readers will gawk at this blog, in wonder that I propose we have moved too far too fast. But before you critique my “condemnation of progress,” do a little survey on the Internet. Shop for a donor egg, surfing through the many sites that offer you a broad choice of ethnicity, physical features and intelligence, with gametes for sale from beautiful women all over the globe. Check out the numerous sites where men offer to fly to the woman and inseminate her for a fixed price, men who brag that they “enjoy the experience more than the end result.” Shop for a surrogate mother, willing to carry your child for a fee. Where do we cross the line of altruism, and cross into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? I propose that we crossed that line long ago.
I commend medicine and biotechnology for the advances that have saved so many lives. But I’ve come to a realization that some advances may better be left in Pandora’s Box than released without careful prior consideration of their impact. It’s important for us to search out God’s will in this new world of medicine that we’ve encountered, and with each new tool we find in the biotechnology toolkit, ask the fundamental question: “Just because we can, should we?”
Better to ask, and prepare, than to dash into an uncertain future with no moral compass and no plan.