Recently a N.Y. Times Magazine cover story described a pregnant woman’s decision to select, i.e. destroy by fatal injection , one of the fetal twins she was carrying. Her doctor approved her choice since with her other children and her age she did not want to care for more than one child. Ironically, her pregnancy was a high tech intentional procedure using a donated egg. This case highlights the culture’s pressing ethical question: why and how should humans reproduce?
In the midst of wrestling with these reflections, the church celebration of the Marian Feast of the Assumption came round. This time the gospel narrative of Mary took on a new relevance and sparked thoughts on the ethics of reproduction.
I’ve always been impressed with the revolutionary freedom of Mary’s assent to pregnancy. Unlike women before her, Mary consciously consents to her pregnancy not in order to please a husband, or her parents, or to prove her fertile prowess and gain maternal pleasures, power and suport for old age. The motive of Mary’s intentional planned pregnancy is cooperation with God’s creative new work of love and mercy.
Granted, that in giving birth Mary will also receive intense happiness and joy in bringing God's good word-- but not without the potential costs of love. This commitment to giving rather than getting is the foundation for a morally worthy ethic of human reproduction. Those in need are put first and protected. No abortions, no lethal selections and no infanticides should be countenanced.
Yet when Mary asks “How can this be?” she recognizes that an unprecedented new events can be accepted for human beings. No other species can consciously know, plan or assent to their reproduction, much less intervene to further fertility, pregnancy or childbirth. Human consciousness, awareness, rational planning, intention and new inventive methods for aiding reproducing are being validated as good news.
But humans in their freedom can abuse new scientific knowledge and technology when destructive technical procedures can be employed. While selecting or killing a fetal twin in the womb is as lethal as elective abortion, it seems more clearly wrong--especially when the pregnancy has been technologically produced. Perhaps this case can serve as a wake up call for the culture. Which new reproductive procedures are to be welcomed as human blessings and which should be prohibited? And why?