The brave new world of reproductive technology continues to widen. And as it does, it makes the wisdom of the 1987 Vatican document “Donum Vitae” (“Gift of Life”) look more and more impressive.
Consider the following scenario reported from London. A 35-year-old health worker by the name of Jayne Mugglestone has been artificially inseminated with the sperm of a homosexual friend. She and her lesbian partner plan to share parental duties with the child’s biological father and his homosexual boyfriend. The foursome see themselves as “co-parents,” all involved in raising the child, in Ms. Mugglestone’s words, “just like other parents are.”
Most people will not see this four-cornered arrangement of homosexual co-parenting as even remotely comparable to the traditional arrangement of one father who is married to one mother, let alone “just like” it. Does the child have any rights in the manner of his or her upbringing?
Underlying this scenario is the assumption that an individual has a “right” to have a child. Therefore, if this assumption is granted, then marriage, a partnership of two, or even a relationship (loving or otherwise) between a man and a woman is expendable. If the individual has a “right” to have a child precisely as an individual, that same individual has the right to determine what kind of arrangement will be used to raise the child. The child, on the other hand, would have no rights, but merely be the passive object of his or her progenitors’ rights.
The essential flaw in thinking that an individual has a “right” to a child lies in the simple fact that no human being has a “right” to another human being. Such a presumed right implies slavery, ownership, possession. All of these implications contradict the dignity of a human being, who has a right not to be treated as a thing, a commodity or a possession that is the object of another’s right.
In this regard, having a child is, in one very fundamental way, like getting married. A man may very much want to marry a particular woman. But he has no right to demand that she be his wife as if she were merely the object of his choosing. He must propose marriage, not demand it. Therefore, in respecting her dignity, he must wait upon her freedom. She may say yes or she may say no. But her dignity and freedom must be fully respected.
Likewise, when a married couple desires to have a child, the partners cannot take the matter into their own hands and synthesize one in a Petri dish, for example, by mixing together egg and sperm. Rather, they engage in intercourse, to which, as married partners, they have a right; and then, out of respect to the Creator, they wait upon God’s freedom. They invoke new life; they do not demand it. God may say no or he may bless their union with the “gift of life.” As “Donum Vitae” stresses, life must always be preceded by love. But, it should be remembered, love is always respectful of both dignity and freedom.
The Mugglestone scenario illustrates the bizarre extremes that can result when a child is looked upon as the object of an individual’s rights. Jayne Mugglestone views her peculiar arrangement more as an experiment than as an expression of love. In her own words, “I’d like more children but I’ll wait and see what this birth is like first.”
The “first” thing we should be concerned about with regard to bringing a human being into the world is that his or her conception is preceded by love and set in the protective framework of loving married partners who are joined to each other as husband and wife. Having a child as a test case and then evaluating the procedure after the fact must be regarded as an extreme form of child abuse.
Family agencies in England have criticized Mugglestone’s approach to child rearing (involving as it does, four homosexual co-parents) as an attempt to make a political point. This represents an additional strike against the child’s dignity, using him or her as a tool to gain political advantage.
The full title of “Gift of Life” is a bit lengthy, but it does bear repeating since it focuses on the ethical essence of the matter: “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day.”
Dr. Donald DeMarco is an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell.