Thursday, June 5, 2014

A difference between coital and non-coital reproduction

Non-coital reproduction (at least if it is to satisfy standard medical ethics rules) such as in-vitro fertilization requires the couple's consent, but does not require any specifically reproductive activity by the couple other than the giving of consent. Coital reproduction, on the other hand, requires the couple's consent, and more: it requires that the couple engage in coitus.

This may seem mistaken: After all, doesn't non-coital reproduction require the couple to provide gametes? Indeed, non-coital reproduction requires the couple's gametes. But the provision of the gametes does not require any reproductive action on the part of the couple besides the provision of consent. First, the gametes might be surgically extracted and that requires no activity on the part of the couple beside consent. Second, the gametes might be available to medical professionals due to earlier non-reproductive interventons, say because a cancerous ovary was removed.

And what about pregnancy? Isn't that an activity, even if not per se voluntary? Yes, it is an activity, but it is one that occurs after reproduction has already occurred. Once the gametes have fused into a new organism, reproduction has taken place.

Thus in non-coital reproduction, any reproductive activity by the couple besides the mere provision of consent is inessential. Thus, non-coital reproduction can be entirely outsourced: the couple need only be the source of gametes (some will say even this is not necessary, but I deny that the couple would be reproducing if their gametes are not used), but do not need to do anything to provide them.

This is a difference. Is it a morally significant difference? I think so, but I can't quite put my finger on it right now. A permissible form of reproduction just doesn't seem to me to be the sort of thing that could be outsourced without changing its essential nature.


Gorod said...

Interesting post. It made me have an idea (probably not original) that I'd like to leave here as a suggestion for a future (related) post: what happens to the arguments against IVF if we use a case where the two married spouses are technically able to perform IVF themselves?

So, they collect their own gametes and do their own lab work and implantation to get their pregnancy, would this be morally ok?

My intuition says no; but I can't justify it, can you?

It seems like a tough case, but for this very reason, it could be a case that, when solved, leaves us closer to the essential moral distinctions needed for all other cases.


Alexander R Pruss said...

Agreed, but the extra activity by the couple isn't *essential* to the kind of activity the couple is engaged in--it could just as easily be outsourced.

Gorod said...

Ok, so how would we justify that this essential distinction has moral consequences?

Is it somehow wrong to include non-essential elements in reproductive activity?

(all this talk reminds me of Liturgy, where you are supposed to be true to the form because you don't "own" the mystery, you should serve it, receive it, not produce it...)

Alexander R Pruss said...

The intuition is that reproduction should be the sort of thing that is essentially the activity of the couple.

Maybe something about the connection to marriage is relevant here? See today's post.

I don't have much more than that to go on right now in this direction.