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The argument for unlimited procreative liberty: a feminist critique.

From a feminist perspective, unlimited procreative liberty risks treating children as property, distorts understanding of the family, and neglects moral concerns about how we reproduce.

As growing numbers of infertile heterosexual and gay and lesbian couples, along with single individuals, seek to parent through techniques that facilitate conception or permit the use of a genetic and/or gestational donor, and the boundaries of the "scientifically possible" enlarge, we are confronted with a host of increasingly urgent questions. Can the components of parenting--genetic, gestational, and social-be separated at will without harm to the participants? Do new forms of non-coital and donor-assisted reproduction threaten the foundations of the family, and hence, social existence as we know it? Are there "natural" limits to human intervention in the procreative process? Ought artificial reproduction be permitted to become a commercial venture? Does the right to engage in coital reproduction, protected for married couples under the U.S. Constitution, extend into a right to engage in noncoital reproduction; if so, for whom, and under what circumstances?

Questions of liberty and individual rights are emotionally charged ones in American public discourse. Moreover, family autonomy has long been held as a value worthy of such firm protection in our courts and legislatures that policies of minimal interference by the state into domestic life have been maintained even where it has meant a certain institutional blindness to the reality of spousal and child abuse. This context explains why the question of procreative liberty is important in current public policy debates surrounding the "new reproduction." Decisions with respect to the limits that may be placed on efforts to procreate, on which parties may be permitted to seek technological assistance in procreation, on the amount of public protection or funding to be extended, and on the conditions under which funding or protection might be warranted turn, many legal scholars believe, on the question of whether we have a right to procreate. Some maintain that the Constitution provides for virtually unlimited right of access to reproductive means.

The freedom to decide whether one will bear and nurture children, and under what circumstances, has been a central issue in the women's liberation movement. As persons whose self-identity and social role have been defined historically in relation to their procreative capacities, women have a great deal at stake in questions of reproductive freedom. Early feminists expended significant energy to secure the right to use contraceptive measures and to seek legal abortion, as well as to gain recognition of their rights as consumers of gynecological and obstetrical care. To say that feminism has promoted procreative liberty for women is not, however, to say that contemporary feminists have welcomed recent developments in reproductive technology without reservation.(1) Nor is it to say, despite the central importance given to the protection of women's autonomy in reproductive decisions, that feminists in general would treat procreative liberty as an unrestricted value. Rather, a feminist perspective includes commitments to human relationality as well as autonomy, and attention to the social context of personal choices. Thus questions of individual freedom, even in matters of reproduction, must be raised in conjunction with other equally compelling considerations about what is needed for human flourishing and what is required for a just society.

I want to highlight these themes by attending to the arguments for an unlimited right to procreate raised most cogently by John Robertson.(2) This position, based primarily on the importance of procreation for individuals, contains several elements that are troubling from a feminist perspective. My concern will not be with matters of constitutional law, but instead with the underlying model of procreative liberty, and its consequences for our understanding of reproduction and our attitudes toward human persons in general and children in particular.

The Case for Full Procreative Liberty

Robertson's argument for the protection of a right to reproduce noncoitally or collaboratively (that is, with the participation of a gamete donor or gestator who is not one's spouse) is based on a historical protection of intramarital reproductive rights and the societal interest in safeguarding family autonomy. Since courts have recognized persons' rights to reproduce coitally, and not to reproduce coitally, their right to pursue those ends by noncoital means, if necessary, must also be protected. As a consequence of the natural lottery, infertility ought not prevent some from pursuing what has been recognized as of value to all.

Because childbearing and rearing have been viewed as experiences of great significance to persons, constitutive of individual identity and notions of a meaningful life, the courts have tended to take a position of noninterference in procreative decisions, particularly where married couples were involved. However, while an individual's right not to conceive, gestate, and rear has been explicitly protected in cases like Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, as has the right of parents to rear according to their own beliefs in cases like Wisconsin v. Yoder, the fight to procreate has been addressed only implicitly. Robertson argues that one could and should infer from the fight of couples to avoid procreation a correlative right to procreate, and from the unregulated freedom of married couples to add to their families coitally a freedom to do so noncoitally. No clear distinction should be allowed to stand, when procreative means exist, between fertile and infertile couples:

The reason and values that support a right to reproduce coitally apply equally to noncoital activities involving external conception and collaborators. While the case is strongest for a couple's right to noncoital and external conception a strong argument for their right to enlist the aid of gamete and womb donors can also be made.(3)

Since reproductive rights are derived from the central importance of reproduction in an individual's life and are limited only by a capacity to participate meaningfully and an ability to accept or transfer rearing responsibilities, all those persons meeting this minimum criteria, whether married or not, ought to be free to pursue it.

Having argued that procreative autonomy is finally rooted in "the notion that individuals have a right to choose and live out the kind of life that they find meaningful and fulfilling," Robertson will allow for the use of technology for any reason that would realize the couple's "reproductive goals":

The right of married persons to use noncoital and collaborative means of conception to overcome infertility must extend to any purpose, including selecting the gender or genetic characteristics of the child or transferring the burden of gestation to another.(4)

Because procreative interests are for some persons dependent on the offspring's having certain gender or genetic characteristics, procreative liberty includes, according to Robertson, the freedom to manipulate egg, sperm, or embryo to achieve the desired offspring, and the freedom to stop implantation or abort a fetus with undesirable characteristics. A couple is not free to alter genetic material in a way that would cause serious harm to the offspring (that is, harm so great as to make life not worth living), but they may do whatever else will facilitate the development of an offspring possessing those characteristics and traits that make having a child meaningful for them.(5) Claims of harm made in the name of society (threats to the ideal of the family, etc.) are not compelling enough in his view to override individual rights.

Many people have taken issue with this position on the grounds that a right to assistance in reproduction simply does not follow from the right not to be compelled to bear a child.(6) It is one thing to say that no one ought to be made to reproduce, or no one ought to be prevented from reproducing by decree; it is quite another to say that society ought to provide whatever is necessary for reproduction to occur.(7)

While sharing these reservations, I wish to raise a different set of objections: The view of offspring presupposed in such a position is unacceptable from a feminist perspective; further, treating the act of reproducing in such a way has serious implications for efforts to bring about a society free of oppression. My concerns lie chiefly in three areas: the tendency in this position to treat children as property; the use of "rights" language and a contract model to define the family; and an imbalance of concern for reproductive ends versus reproductive means.

Attitudes toward Children

The success of Robertson's argument depends upon accepting the view that persons can be the object of another's right. Since he is not arguing for the protection of the right to engage in procreative activities, but the freedom to "acquire that sort of child that would make one willing to bring a child into the world in the first place,"(8) he is asserting the right to acquire a human being (and one with particular characteristics). Nor is Robertson referring simply to the right of persons to share in the experience of child nurture (since ability to adopt would satisfy that), but to have a genetically related child. As a feminist, I would agree that persons ought to be protected in their light to determine when and in what manner they will reproduce, and that they should be free to shape familial life in a way meaningful for them. But such a right should not be understood as unlimited, as extending as far as the acquisition of a concrete human being. Every exercise of freedom has a history and a context; our liberty is thus conditioned both by our potential for causing harm to others and by our responsibility for the quality of our common lives. A view of unlimited procreative liberty does not give sufficient attention to the ways in which not only individual offspring could be harmed, but the human community. Nor does it take seriously enough the possibilities for conflicts between claims.

First, such a position fails to respect offspring as autonomous beings, as ends in themselves. While a child's special dependency requires a condition of compromised autonomy vis-a-vis his or her caretakers, still that child comes into this world as a human person with the potential for self-determination. Although we might grant that the experience of reproduction appropriately fulfills needs and desires for the adults involved, advocating a model where children are brought into this world chiefly for that purpose gives too much weight to parental desires and too little to the protection of the offspring's essential autonomy. I am not saying that the desire to reproduce must be altruistic to be morally acceptable, nor that the experience of reproduction ought to be, or even could be, free of parental hopes and expectations for that offspring. My challenge is to a framework wherein the basis for unlimited procreative liberty is an individual desire for a particular type of child, a desire that is seldom weighed appropriately against the reality of the child-to-be as a potential autonomous human being. At what point does a being, who has been conceived, gestated, and born according to someone's specifications, become herself or himself? And if a child comes into the world primarily to fulfill parental need, are there limits to what a parent may do to ensure that the child will continue to meet the specified expectations?

With others, I share the fear that this understanding of procreative liberty incorporates a notion of children as products, on the assumption that individuals have a right to a particular kind of child and ought to be free, insofar as it is possible without causing grave physical harm, to manipulate the reproductive process so as to acquire the desired offspring. Currently, collaborative reproduction is a lengthy, arduous, and quite costly experience. How might parents look upon offspring when they enter the process with the belief that a certain kind of child is owed to them, and after they have paid a high price for that child? Certainly well-meaning people can bring children into the world through artificial reproduction and value them highly because of what they have gone through to have them. But this view of reproduction carries nonetheless the sense of "ordering" or "purchasing" children in accordance with specific parental desires, which in the end objectively devalues the child.

Not unlike, and just as dangerous as the thinking that makes women the property of their husbands, is the underlying view that children are not first and principally autonomous persons who also function as members of families and societies but rather the proper object of a parental right. We place our children at serious risk when we fail to see them first as existing for their own sakes and when we allow ourselves to think of them as malleable goods.

There are, in addition, serious problems in accepting as the standard for deciding how technology will be used to intervene in the reproductive process the adult initiator's definition of "procreative excellence." Since we are talking about a potentially autonomous human being, questions about the manipulation of genetic features, etc., ought to be asked first from the point of view of the offspring's best interests, not the prospective parent's desires. The decision then would be whether a certain genetic characteristic ought to be altered to facilitate that child's flourishing rather than whether a feature ought to be manipulated to make that offspring more acceptable to the parent.

A position of unlimited procreative liberty rooted in individual desire risks harming as well the quality of our lives together in community. Since reproduction in this view is tied so closely to one's private conception of a meaningful life, we are never talking about offspring per se, but a very specific type of offspring-a child with those genetic and gender characteristics that allow it to be incorporated into and contribute to the initiator's overall life project.

In a world where mixed-race and handicapped children are not now being adopted because they are "undesirable" we need to ask who determines, and should be permitted to so determine, what human characteristics are "desirable." My claim is not that parents are wrong to want a healthy, and genetically similar, child nor that persons may not have any good grounds for intervening in a pregnancy, for example one in which it is obvious that given certain characteristics the child will place great burdens on the parent or the family. My criticism is directed at an implied yardstick of acceptability, and the determination of reproductive standards based on personal whim. Such a model stands at odds with a feminist vision of community where all are welcome and persons are challenged to deal creatively with differences.

In addition, we need to weigh the consequences of using a model of reproductive desirability which includes choices about the preferred sex of one's offspring, for efforts to promote equality between persons in society. This is not to suggest that such a practice, if widespread, would result in more boys being chosen than girls. We have no way to know that nor reason necessarily to assume iL What is dangerous, in light of the reality of sexism in our society, is the perpetuation of the belief that an offspring's gender should be a determinative factor in her or his value to parents, or to anyone else. The primary question is whether the project to provide the subjectively desirable child is where social energies and resources in reproductive medicine ought to be directed.

The underlying ideal of perfection shaping this perspective and the belief that all so-called imperfection, even in so complex a process as reproduction, can or should be eliminated, needs thus to be questioned seriously. Reproduction and nurture are processes that are never totally within our control, no matter how sophisticated our technology. The formation of a child's character and personality, the development of his or her talents, have to do with a great deal more (such as education, historical events, significant role models) than genetic blueprint. A genetically normal, or "genetically perfect" offspring in this model can for a variety of reasons turn out to be the sort of person his or her parents would not have objectively speaking "been willing to bring into the world." Thus the claim that a parental right to a satisfying reproductive experience justifies the manipulation of genetic material is flawed, for the sort of guarantee sought cannot be provided by control of conception.

The attempt to exert this level of control over the creation of offspring is not only an illusory project but a mistaken one. I do not want to advocate a total passivity toward nature or to suggest that the use of technology in altering the conditions of conception and gestation is always inappropriate. But the feminist value of cooperation with and humility toward nature suggests a middle road between technical domination of the natural reproductive process and passivity. This middle road entails, at least, some attention to the essential elements of particular personhood, and thus a weighing of which features of our offspring we ought to attempt to determine in advance and which we should accept as characteristics of that unique being.

It is not only the sense of "reproducing for excellence" that is troubling about the case for unlimited procreative liberty but the presupposition that since children are property, all relationships between offspring and interested adults can be wholly a matter of contract. This way of thinking about the family is in some ways reflective of an old and familiar pattern, one about which feminists ought to be very cautious.

The Contractual Model of Family

Robertson admits that when we begin to have multiple participants in reproduction "it becomes unclear which participants hold parental rights and duties and will function socially and psychologically as members of the child's family."(9) Such confusion can be alleviated, however, by a presumption that the contract between the parties will determine obligations and entitlements toward the child, rather than the commonly held definitions of paternity and maternity. Whether collaborative arrangements can or will result in family disruption and identity confusion for the offspring or in productive and satisfying "alternative" family experiences will depend in part on the clarity and quality of these contracts. Experience with donor sperm, Robertson argues, suggests that the contract between parties will play the decisive role in determining rearing rights and duties to the offspring. Generally speaking, the presumption of rightful parentage ought to go to the initiating couple according to the agreements made prior to conception.

If these practices become institutionalized, there is no doubt that well-constructed contracts will be enormously helpful for clarifying parental rights and duties and that all the parties, including potential offspring, would benefit from legal protection. There are serious problems, however, with accepting a simple contract solution to the confusion of collaborative reproduction; it is both inadequate and perpetuates an ideologically dangerous model of the family. For example, claiming that the preconception contract can be sufficiently clear as to determine parental relationships in advance denies the complexity of reproduction as an affective and social experience as well as a biological one. Accounts of surrogate mothering, for example, suggest it can be quite difficult to decide the shape of one's reproductive role beforehand when we are engaged in a project about which we can come to have very deep feelings. In addition, the nature of what reproductive initiators are contracting about is qualitatively different than the object of ordinary contracts. We do not have at this time, and may never have, a good way to determine the value of specific reproductive contributions or to weigh conflicts between contributors (for example, what is the market value of gestation versus gamete donation?) At the very least, to use sperm donation as a paradigm for workable contracts reflects inattention to the vast differences, emotional as well as physical, in the nature of various collaborative roles. Moreover, it masks inequalities between parties with respect to risk and benefit. A contract that may well be sufficient to determine rearing dudes and rights with respect to a sperm donor may not address at all the complex physical and affective situation of the surrogate mother.

Our understanding of the experience can perhaps be reinterpreted as Robertson suggests, so that what comes to count as reproduction is the donation of genetic material for one person, or the experience of gestation for another. Yet while there are very good reasons for preserving the freedom of individuals to choose their level of participation in procreation, to say that the meaning of reproduction can be reduced to one of these partial roles is to perpetuate an impoverished notion of what it means to be a parent. Assigning various rights and obligations to abstract roles may facilitate the execution of collaborative contracts, but risks treating the various components of reproduction as though they fit into neat compartments, and as though the conception-gestation-rearing relationship is entirely negotiable. Feminists do not want affirm a view of reproduction that makes the moral connections between conception, gestation, and rearing such that conception generates an absolute duty to rear; at the same time, however, concerns for embodiment and thus for reproduction as a whole process mitigate against treating parental obligations and entitlements in isolation from the experiences of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

There is, of course, a kind of tacit agreement, at least in our society, involved in every gestation and birth with respect to the resultant off-spring's nurture (and in a sense, also with respect to parental entitlements). Whatever model has been used thus far to understand the relationship, however, has not taken the form of an entirely free contract. Prior to the development of technology, we identified the mother as the woman giving birth to the child and the father as the man whose sperm initially fertilized the egg-those persons with biological and experiential connection, rather than those who have contracted for parental rights and duties. Even when we describe situations where another individual has taken over rearing responsibilities for a child not his or her issue, we continue to refer to that person as an "adoptive" or "foster" parent. We do this not to say anything about the quality of rearing, but to preserve a truer sense of identity and biological continuity for the child, acknowledging that no matter what function the rearing adult serves, he or she cannot ever become the child's father or mother in the traditional sense. I do not want to hold that there could be no legitimate reasons for separating genetic, gestational, and rearing components of reproduction, or that persons who conceive a child will always be the best rearers of that child and that they must therefore be the rearers in all cases. Experience shows that children can be raised well in situations other than the traditional biologically related family. However, the genetic-gestation-realing connection in procreation ought not be disregarded a priori in the way suggested by the contract model, both for the sake of protecting the offspring's sense of identity as a value and for preserving an awareness of the importance of the task involved when human life is being created.

While "rights" and "entitlements" in childbearing do have much to do with an agreement to accept responsibility, the biological parent-child relationship is still deeply significant, particularly if we are speaking of the intimate mother-child bond in a normal gestation experience. It may be acceptable to say that a woman who has conceived, carried, and birthed a child may legitimately choose to transfer rearing obligations to another, but it does not seem correct to say then that this experience of procreation places no claim on her as a mother unless she chooses to assume one under the terms of a contract, or that her claim to this child is identical to the claims of all other contracting parties prior to the contract. Both the experience of having conceived and carried a child and the implicit agreement to nurture grounds parental entitlements; these two dimensions must be seen as elements of the same experience even where a decision is made to separate them. Given the significant burdens and challenges of childbearing and the length of time the commitment ordinarily encompasses, this interconnection is important to protect when possible. Implicit in my critique is the great irony of collaborative reproduction: it is precisely the value of this biological connection, which must be open for renunciation on the pan of the donor or gestator, that drives the search for new methods and justifies the infertile party's fight to assistance.

The Involuntary Nature of Kinship

The authority of the collaborative contract, coupled with a property view of children, generates a troubling picture of the parent-child bond. One of the false notions perpetuated in such a model of parental entitlement is that we are free to choose all obligations, and able to formulate all the conditions of our lives to meet our expectations. While most contracts and commitments are based on things such as shared purpose, equal benefit, common attraction, etc., and are entered into and terminated voluntarily, until recently, the agreement to conceive, gestate, and rear a child has been of a different nature. While in the best of circumstances we make a choice to parent, and a series of choices about how children will be raised and the shape our family life will take, a great deal of the experience of reproduction is not in our control. The common expression "This child has a face only a mother could love" speaks, of course, to the fact that a parent's bond to her child transcends all cultural standards of beauty, etc., but also alludes to a deeply entrenched understanding of the "givenness" and duration of parental responsibilities. These have included acceptance of a relatively unknown outcome, of inequalities in benefits and burdens, and also of a certain irrevocability. "A face only a mother could love" says something as well about acceptance and fidelity to children, even to those whose looks or gender or genetic characteristics are not what the parent would have desired or what meets society's standards. We have accepted the fact that, unlike a product in the market, children cannot be returned or exchanged if found to be other than what was expected.

The commitment a parent undertakes is not dependent on that child's behavior or the return of like affection or the fulfillment of expectations in life, although those factors can certainly influence a parent's subjective experience and may at times modify obligations. A child does not enter into a committed relationship with his or her parents in the same way that a parent, by virtue of the decision to bear offspring, does with the child; still, there is some measure of givenness in the child-parent relationship as well. We are free throughout life to choose friends, a mate, employers, etc. but not our family of origin. One of the things that family life can teach us is that we are born into some obligations, and some are born to us, and life includes the acceptance of those kinds of indissoluble and predefined obligations as well as the ones we freely incur. The involuntary quality of kinship can also teach us how to accept others as intimately connected to us, even when they fail to live up to our standards or when they do not possess the physical or personal qualities most attractive to us. To image reproduction as primarily a contractual process, where all the elements are open for negotiation, threatens to lose sight of this sense of transcendent commitment.

From the perspective of feminist ethics, the contractual view of procreative liberty assumes and perpetuates a traditional patriarchal model of the family (centered around rights and ownership), a model that has proven oppressive and sometimes dangerous for persons, especially women. A contract approach is initially attractive as it appears to bring about greater flexibility in the definition of family and the protection of procreative liberty (among the values feminists want to promote). But when persons are treated primarily as the object of another's right, and significant relationships are defined wholly according to legal arrangements rather than the experiences of nurture, the symbolic framework is that of the patriarchal family. Janet Farrell Smith has argued that this property model of parenting, having at its center a notion of rights, is inherently gender-biased and is protective of dangerous authority patterns. It is problematic in her view both because its structure of relationship is "male" in form and because males have traditionally been the exclusive holders of familial rights.(10)

What makes such a model destructively gender-biased, according to Smith, is its rootedness in an extractive view of power rather than a developmental one and its relation to the authority patterns of the traditional patriarchal family. The major elements of such a property model of human relations, namely ownership and proprietary control, have had more to do with fathering than with mothering. The realities of motherhood, on the other hand, have had more to do with care, nurturance and day-to-day responsibility. These represent a very different set of moral and political ideals.(11)

The concepts of right and entitlement used in the contractual model correspond to the values preserved in traditional notions of patriarchal fathering (control and ownership) rather than to those of care and responsibility associated with mothering. While many feminists would not want to posit "distinctively female" values or ideals, most would reject familiar structures that treat persons as property and would call instead for a style of parenting that is respectful of a child's autonomy and encourages individual flourishing. They would, as well, reject models of the family that attach authority to rigidly defined roles in favor of models based on equality between partners and cooperation in the performance of family tasks.

As Smith argues, promoting a property (or "rights-centered") model, whether through vigorous protection of familial autonomy or by the rhetoric of right to procreate can only reinforce an ideal of the family that not only does not encourage more respectful and cooperative parenting styles but may further facilitate the abuse of parental power. In the context of Robertson's argument, familial autonomy means a protection of parental control as rightful parent (owner) over minor children (a control that in the past has extended to wives). But this sort of familial autonomy underlying arguments for clarity of contract serves largely to protect proprietary interests rather than to facilitate intimacy or the development of creative, more humane forms of parenting for women and men.(12) Since the problem is not only that males have been the exclusive holders of rights to property (including their wives and children) but that this way of imaging the family denies the reality of women and children as fully human, it may not be enough simply for feminists to argue for equality between women and men in the holding of these rights. Rather, the very language of rights, implying as it does some exclusive access to property, must be seen as inappropriate when describing the structure of the family.

Reproductive Ends and Means

One of the weaknesses of the argument for unlimited procreative liberty is a tendency to split ends from means, to overemphasize goals while giving little moral consideration to the methods employed to achieve them or to the price paid. Robertson's concern to promote the procreative initiator's interests is not adequately balanced, for example, by a concern for the persons who will participate as the means to the stated reproductive goals. Except where he discusses contract stipulations requirements for informed consent, freedom from coercion, screening procedures, etc.) Robertson does not speak of donors and gestators as though they really have interests to be weighed; he argues, in fact, that unless grave harm is being done, their interests cannot override individual procreative liberty. As we saw earlier, the offspring as a particular child is treated not as an end in himself or herself, but as the means to a goal (a fulfilling parenting experience). The question of how such treatment may affect that child's quality of life, sense of identity, or development is hardly raised.

The problem is not that the holding of a reproductive end is wrong in itself, but that it may be mistaken to assume that an end-state can be clearly demarcated from the processes that lead up to it. (13) The primary assumption that reproduction is highly valued by individuals and therefore that freedom of access should be promoted treats reproductive freedom for the most pall as a value that could be pursued in isolation of other claims (except the minimal obligation not to do grave harm to an offspring). Feminists reject such thinking as inadequately attentive to the reality of events as processes and to the fact that the means we use to bring about any end are part of the total reality of the event in question. Thus it is not enough to assert that providing genetically related children to infertile individuals is a good to be promoted; questions must be raised about the nature of the arrangement by which that might occur, the impact of that project on the individuals involved and on the larger human community, and the claims other goods are simultaneously exerting.

It is wrong to suppose that an individual procreative right can be posited and its unlimited exercise upheld without careful consideration of the moral nature of the means necessary to attain its end. Interest in a genetically related child cannot be seen as an independent end, the value of which automatically discounts concerns for the present and future state of the offspring, for the physical and emotional safety of the collaborators, or for the place of the experience of reproduction in our collective value system. In addition, the particular techniques used in collaborative reproduction need separate evaluation. We might accept the use of artificial insemination by a donor, for example, on particular grounds (as that the risks to donor are small and the benefit great), but have serious reservations about the practice of surrogacy. An adequate argument for procreative liberty as a good would have to include a fair description of the necessary means since they cannot be separated from the end-state.

Because reproduction has a social dimension, and reproductive practices have profound real and symbolic impacts on the community, the promotion of individual procreative liberty can never be an abstract end. The value of collaborative reproduction for individuals needs to be weighed against the costs these practices may exact, not only in the lives of those individuals directly involved, but also with respect to the promotion of full human community. An assessment of procreative liberty that takes seriously the contextual nature of our choices asks, in addition to whether the "new reproduction" is good for individuals, how it relates to social concerns (to efforts to secure an adequate standard of living for all persons, to progress in the quality of class, gender, and race relations, etc.).

A commitment to the creation of a just society requires that an individual desire for a genetically related child cannot be held up as an end commanding significant public resources and energy if as a "good" it encourages the exploitation of vulnerable persons or fosters negative attitudes toward persons or groups of persons. At a minimum, questions need to be raised about the influence of institutionalizing these practices on our views toward women: will opportunities to serve as egg donors or gestators facilitate progress toward equality with men for women, or does this type of service further identify women in an oppressive way with their reproductive capabilities? If individuals have a right to a genetically related child, do others have an obligation to donate genetic material, and how will the extent of the obligation be determined? What are the potential consequences of medicalizing reproduction in terms of women's right to control over their own bodies? And who will the women be who serve as donors?will the poor, who have always been exploited by the rich, be used to perform even this form of domestic service?

To take account of the context in which individual procreative liberty is pursued, we also need to weigh the expense and energy channelled in the direction of these reproductive services against the realities of poverty and overpopulation. We need to ask whether we should support the right of individuals to go to any length to acquire the type of child they want when there are so many children already living who are not being taken care of. And, recognizing that collaborative reproduction ordinarily has as its object a white child, we need as well to examine the kind of racial attitudes being perpetuated. We cannot treat the pursuit of a genetically related child, or the protection of individual procreative liberty, as though they are abstract goods that are never in conflict with other relevant goods, nor can we consider procreative liberty from the point of view of its end alone. Given the nature of the procreative task, how we reproduce is as significant as whether we do.

Promoting Full Humanity

The promotion of women's right to self-determination, especially in matters of reproduction, has indeed been a critical item on the feminist political agenda. But for most feminists, protection of individual autonomy is never treated as the single value to be considered in the analysis of a situation. A commitment to viewing persons as embodied and relational, as well as autonomous, mitigates against an abstract notion of freedom that does not take seriously enough the way in which personal choices alter the shape of the world in which they occur. Questions of personal liberty, including how far our right to procreate extends, can only properly be asked from the point of view of our reality as relational beings whose power for reproduction is a capacity with profound personal and social implications. It is never even theoretically unlimited.

The objectification of children, impoverishment of meaning in the experience of reproduction, damage to notions of kinship, the perpetuation of degrading views of women--all these concerns may be deemed "symbolic harms" that are not compelling enough to override personal liberty. But attention to women's experience has taught feminists that there are no "merely symbolic" harms; we interpret and shape experience through our symbols and therefore how we think about persons, events, and biological processes has a great deal to do with how we behave toward them. We need, then, to pay careful attention to what is being said of personhood, of parent-child relationships, of reproductive capacities, and so on in arguments for unlimited procreative liberty. If we hope to use reproductive technology in a way that promotes the full humanity of all persons, in a manner that is truly creative rather than destructive, then we must be attentive to the potential for harm on all levels. We have an ever-expanding power to reshape the experience of reproduction; whether we mill prove in the future to have done so in the service of human life or not will have more than a little to do with how we came to think about it and what we allowed to be of value today.


The author would like to thank Professors Margaret Farley and Richard L. Fern for helpful comments on earlier drafts.
 (1) While a few feminists have heralded
 developments in technology as the ground
 of possibility for women's true liberation,
 most have remained more cautious, foreseeing
 potential for further oppression as
 clearly as hope of equality. See Shulamith
 Firestone, The Dialetic of Sex: The Case for
 Feminist Revolution (New York: Bantam
 Books, 1971), 238; Christine Overall, Ethics
 and Human Reproduction: A Feminist Analysis
 (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987).
 (2) John Robertson, "Procreative Liberty and
 the Control of Conception, Pregnancy and
 Childbirth," Virginia Law Review 69 (April
 1983), 405-462; "Embryos, Families and
 Procreative liberty: The Legal Structures of
 the New Reproduction," Southern California
 Law Review 59 (1986), 942-1041.
 (3) Robertson, "Embryos, Families, and Procreative
 Liberty," 961.
 (4) Robertson, "Procreative Liberty," 450.
 (5) Robertson, "Procreative Liberty," 432.
 (6) See Overall, Ethics and Human Reproduction,
 chapter 8; also Richard L. Fern, "The
 Fundamental Right to Marry and Raise a
 Family," unpublished manuscript (1987).
 (7) The parallel would be marriage, that is, there
 is a recognized right to noninterference in
 the decision to many but no obligation on
 society's part to provide a mate. See William
 J. Daniel, "Sexual Ethics in Relation to IVF
 and ET. The Fitting Use of Human Reproductive
 Power," in Test-Tube Babies, William
 Walters and Peter Singer, eds. (Melbourne:
 Oxford University Press, 1982), 73.
 (8) Robertson, "Procreative Liberty," 430.
 (9) Robertson, "Procreative Liberty," 424.
 (10) Janet Farrell Smith, "Parenting and Prop
- erty," in Mothering: Essays in Feminist Theory,
 Joyce Treblicott, ed. (Totowa, NJ; Rowman
 and Allanheld 1983), 199-210.
 (11) Smith, "Parenting," 208.
 (12) Smith, "Parenting," 206.
 (13) For a discussion of a feminist critique of
 dualistic means-ends reasoning, see Jean
 Grimshaw, Philosophy and Feminist Thinking
 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
 Press, 1986),187-226.
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Author:Ryan, Maura A.
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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