Friday, June 6, 2014

In-vitro fertilization and marriage

Traditional sexual norms say that non-marital sex is impermissible. Those who think in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is permissible but who want to hold on to this norms now need to decide:

  • Is (voluntary[note 1]) reproduction outside of marriage permissible?
It would be odd, I think, to say that premarital sex is impermissible but premarital reproduction is permissible. First, the main natural law reasons for thinking premarital sex is impermissible involve the reproductive potential of sex. Second, it seems that children bind a couple together much in the way that sex does.

Suppose, then, that the rule that sex needs to be within marriage extends to reproduction. This leads to interesting questions at the beginning and end of a marriage.

End: Suppose one member of a married couple is about to die. Can that spouse give consent to IVF if the IVF would have to occur after death?

It would be in principle permissible (though often prudentially inadvisable) for a married couple to have sexual relations even if they somehow foresee that (a) fertilization will likely occur in a few days but (b) the man will die before fertilization occurs. By the same token, if IVF is permissible, it might be permissible for the couple to give consent to IVF during the marriage, even though the actual reproduction occurs after death (and hence after the end of the marriage).

Beginning: Suppose the couple's gametes are already available to medical professionals prior to their marriage (say, due to some kind of surgery). Is it permissible for an unmarried couple to give their authorization for the union of the gametes on the understanding that the medical professionals will only unite the gametes after the couple is married?

If this happens, the child will not be in any way a fruit of the marriage, since no marital action—not even the giving of consent—is involved in the reproduction. The connection between the child and the marriage would be merely temporal. This would not do justice to the connection between reproduction and marriage. (One can also come up with an argument for this conclusion by combining the Beginning and End scenarios.)

If this is right, then the crucial thing for the extension of the traditional sexual norm to IVF would be the provision of consent: it is this that must occur during marriage in order that the child be the fruit of the marriage.

But this in turn emphasizes once again the way that in non-coital reproduction the essential involvement by the couple is simply the provision of consent. And that troubles me, even if I do not yet have a fully worked out argument against IVF on this basis (though I do have other arguments against IVF here).

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