'The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy'

A very disturbing article from the upcoming issue of the New York Times magazine:

As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.

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“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

For all its successes, reproductive medicine has produced a paradox: in creating life where none seemed possible, doctors often generate more fetuses than they intend. In the mid-1980s, they devised an escape hatch to deal with these megapregnancies, terminating all but two or three fetuses to lower the risks to women and the babies they took home. But what began as an intervention for extreme medical circumstances has quietly become an option for women carrying twins. With that, pregnancy reduction shifted from a medical decision to an ethical dilemma. As science allows us to intervene more than ever at the beginning and the end of life, it outruns our ability to reach a new moral equilibrium. We still have to work out just how far we’re willing to go to construct the lives we want.

Some quick thoughts: this trend confirms some of the church's prescient fears regarding reproductive medicine. It's disappointing, however, that the church really does not have any kind of influence on this debate, at least in this country. (Unlike the question of, say, end-of-life care, where its moral voice is strong.) Since church teaching prohibits any kind of intervention in the reproductive process, it cannot offer any moral guidance on how to regulate that process. The new book Unnatural, which was recently reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, takes up this question. The author, Philip Ball, argues that by labeling IVF and other such procedures unnatural, or by heeding what Leon Kass calls "the wisdom of repugnance," there is very little space to offer an ethical critique:

Ball’s point here is that such language and mythic invocations foreclose grown-up discussion and actual scrutiny of the technologies at hand; in short, they end up accounting for the laissez-faire attitude to regulating assisted conception in the United States. 

Tim Reidy

 

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6 years 4 months ago
This NYT article could be a primer for why the Catholic Church has wisdom on reproductive technology and the sanctity of life.  Every. single. line: consumerism, playing God, the devaluation of human life to the fickleness of one (or two) person's "want".

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has been pregnant in the USA in the past twenty years has been presented an ethical quagmire with every OB appointment.  It is so very easy to choose the wrong thing in a time of life replendent with uncertainty and emotion, and our current culture pushes to do the "pragmatic" thing.

I would love to see the Church hierarchy give a full-throated (and pastorally senestive) endorsement of Humanae Vitae.  I teach at a Catholic College, not a particularly conservative one, and we read it in my Moral Theology class.  Students sort of think they know what it says (and generally dislike it) until we read it.  They may still dislike the conclusion, but they find it impossible to refute.  It makes them think.  As this article should make all of us think....
Crystal Watson
6 years 4 months ago
I don't know enough about IVF - are multiple embryos always implanted and do they all always survive?  The example in the article is of a woman  who chooses between two fetuses.  Would the church still be against IVF if only one fetus was created?  I think so.  The church is agsint assisted pregnancy but IVF looks so bad because examples given are always of some fetuses being killed - the church vs abortion.   Could the church sucessfully defend not allowing  people help with getting  pregnant if no fetuses were lost?  That seems like it would be a more honest challenge to the teaching of HV.
Brendan McGrath
6 years 4 months ago
I'm finding myself jumping back and forth to different "sides" of the discussion here...

Maria - You wrote, "The greatest damage done by Bishops in the last forty years, relative to the subject at hand, has been the dissent of nearly fifty-per cent of all Bishop against Humane Vitae at the time of its issuance. I can scarely ponder what has been more detrimental to to human life, the Catholic Chuch, and our culture."  - What about the covering up of clerical sex abuse?

Crystal Watson
6 years 4 months ago
I saw a post somewhere else about this article today.  It mentioned that even people who are pro-choice would find this objectionable, maybe because the parents go into it planning the babaies, and then do away with one of them, as opposed to deciding to terminate an unplanned  pregnancy.  Speaking for myself, if I wanted children and couldn't do that naturally, I think I'd choose adoption rather than IVF. 
Bill Collier
6 years 4 months ago
What does the mother tell the surviving child when he/she grows up (if she says anything at all): "By chance, the obstetrician's lethal weapon struck your brother/sister first"? It really is a Brave New World.
Thomas Piatak
6 years 4 months ago
Several years ago, an acquaintance of my Mother was pregnant with triplets.  The doctor cheerfully offered, without any prompting, that he could do a "selective reduction."  Fortunately, my Mother's acquaintance told the doctor exactly what she thought of "selective reductions" and went to another physician.  Sadly, many others choose to accept such barbaric offers.
Helen Smith
6 years 4 months ago
Same type of story: 

''When One is Enough'' - New York Times Magazine, July 18,2004
a true story about a woman pregnant with triplets, one single and twins, who decided three were too much and had selective reduction of the twins.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/18/magazine/18LIVES.html
Bill Mazzella
6 years 4 months ago
Here we go again. We should be humble enough that on this issue there is no infallible pronouncement by the church. Secondly, the church has been wrong on other issues and can be wrong on this one. Most of us know the church is wrong on birth control. As is being pointed out Rome has not really filed anything earth shattering on this issue. Most of all the bishops have made this a political issue in this country while they have sided with Republicans on practically evertything. Thanks to John Paul II the bishops did differ with the Republicans on the Iraq war. But ever so lukewarmly. While they lamely protest the five million children who do not reach the age of five every year because lack of basic medicine and food. The lacuna is enormous. 

There is no evidence which shows a human being exists at fertilization. Zero. While we must always have the utmost regard for life in any area, we should get off this one issue mat and address the issue of the poor and downtrodden who are living.

I have written before that abortion is the number one fraud issue. Perhaps the worst fraud is the bishops has gotten most of us obsessed with it.  
6 years 4 months ago
Disturbing article, as you said, Tim.  I think that regardless of how well the church's teaching on sexual ethics is respected or not, that it is possible that the assisted reproductive industry may destroy itself by its own evil, illegal acts.  The San Diego Union-Tribune in today's edition reports on a baby-selling scheme that should have great negative consequences on the industry.  A highly noted attorney, Theresa Erickson and two other women have been charged in federal court with conspiracy in a "baby selling" case.  Ms. Erickson is a star in the industry who specializes in reproductive law and has promoted herself on tv., radio, online and in newspaper and magazine articles.  Her colleagues were shocked.

On Tuesday, Ms. Erickson pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge.  Prosecutors described the crime as follows.  She and others sold a dozen unborn babies to prospective parents for $1,000 each.    They solicited women to travel to Ukraine (where medical costs are much lower) to be implanted with embryos on the promise that they'd be paid $38,000 to $45,000 for each full term pregnancy.  If the women reached the 2nd trimester, the babies were offered to prospective parents who were led to believe that the original "intended parents" had backed out.

In CA, a surrogate agreement is legal only if a woman who plans to carry a baby for someone else enters into the arrangement BEFORE she becomes pregnant.  Prosecutors said that Erickson submitted documents in SD Superior Court falsely reprensenting that the babies resulted from legitimate surrogate agreements, so that the new parents could be listed on the birth certificate.

The charge on Erickson carries a potential sentence of up to 5 yrs in federal prison.  She is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 28th.

I agree with Brett's analysis of our society.  Comments in the article such as :  "the lives we want", "this is not what I want for my life", "the story of limitles choices",are examples of utilitarian, consumerist, individualistic  thinking.  Add to that the sense of entitlement and narcisism, and we have the results reported on in the NYT and SD U-T.

On the other side are the legitimate longing and aching for a child that are experienced by women who are unable to become pregnant.  I worked a number of yrs in adoptions and am well -acquainted with that kind of pain.  Desperate people sometimes do desperate things and there are unethical people ready to take advantage of them.  What does this mean to us as the People of God?  At the least to offer loving support, compassionate understanding to those unable to biologically have children and to support legitimate adoption agencies.  We often mouth the truth that there are no guarantees in life but do we believe that in our actions?  For some it seems that to have a child (and that child must certainly not have any disabilities) is a right in pursuit of MY happiness.  To counter that thinking, Christians as part of a community called church must embrace all those who are disabled  (do not measure up to society's standards) with love and with concrete help whenever and wherever needed.  Through its people is the way that the church will be effective in combating the evils in society.
Bill Collier
6 years 4 months ago
Bill M.-

Paragraph 12 of Dignitas Personae makes clear that techniques of artificial fertilization "which substitute for the conjugal act" are to be excluded from acceptable techniques for the treatment of infertility. You say there is no "infallible" pronouncement, and I'll grant you that, but DP is crystal clear, and I think correctly so (even as the pro-life Democrat I am :)), that anything that commodifies human beings is morally wrong. I think Janice J. nicely lays out the competing interests, and I, too,  sympathize with parents longing but unable to have a baby by natural means, but the artificial creation of humans is to me an overarching wrong. And as I have before (in another forum), I again completely but respectfully disagree with your contention that "[t]here is no evidence which shows a human being exists at fertilization. Zero." I'd say there is incontrovertible evidence that a human being exists at fertilization. There then exists a "being" (meaning nothing more than it is alive and occupying three-dimensional space) that is biologically "human" (meaning that it contains the genetic blueprint and potential for eventually developing into a fully-grown member of the human race). The disagreement is really over the legal term "person," and as we all know, the definitions of legal terms can ebb and flow with the vagaries of public policy and sentiment. For example, it was not until  decades ago that corporations were recognized as "persons" under the law. It's nothing but hubris for the law to recognize such business entities as persons, but not to recognize the personhood of developing human beings in utero. It's also hubris for all of us who discuss this issue on blogs and among ourselves to deny legal protection to human beings in a nascent form of development, a nascent form that each and every one of us passed through. Is it necessary for such nascent forms to run a biological gauntlet and make it safely to the other side (i.e., birth)before we provide them with the legal protection that each of us demands for ourselves?   
Brendan McGrath
6 years 4 months ago
Bill - You wrote, "most of us know the church is wrong on birth control."  We do?  Personally, among the issues on which I have either disagreements or hesitations or problems with Church teaching (all on non-infallible matters, at least as far as I can see, and there are only about five things - naturally I'm distinguishing from dislike of policies/discipline), the only one where I would feel comfortable saying I "know" the Church is wrong is on women's ordination.  But even then I think I'd shrink from saying I "know" rather than I "believe."  There are things I "know" the Church is right on - but to "know" that a Church doctrine is wrong?  (For whatever it might be worth, what would Rahner say to that?)

Brendan McGrath
6 years 4 months ago
Maria - After reading an article like this, I'd argue that even if one disagrees in one way or another with Paul VI (and Humanae Vitae, the Church in general, etc.), it really is hard to deny that he certainly is at the very least being vindicated on a number of points.  I mean, consider this quote:


“If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”


I mean, when I first read this, I partially expected that the article would go on to talk about how this woman had ultimately converted to Catholicism or begun to agree with the Church's teaching.  That quote sounds like a line you'd write for an EWTN "propaganda" drama - but then you realize she actually said it, like, for real.
Bill Mazzella
6 years 4 months ago
" Is it necessary for such nascent forms to run a biological gauntlet and make it safely to the other side (i.e., birth)before we provide them with the legal protection that each of us demands for ourselves?"

Do the mothers and children in Somalia and other third world countries have legal protection and are the bishops militating to get them legal protection. I rest my case that it is a fraud issue. Brett are you saying that to clamor that starving children be fed is not a social justice issue?

Rome has been wrong in no salvation outside the church, on auricular confession, on birth control, on forcing people to become Catholics, on the Crusades, on the end of marriage which for twenty centuries never included mutual love as a primary end.

Time to work our consciences which we shall be judged on. Not by following errant clerics. 
Bill Mazzella
6 years 4 months ago
Mother Theresa is not infallible as the pope is not. We should certainly be solicitous in reverencing life of all including the unborn. But to presume that abortion is killing or killing of a person has no basis in reality. Yet your backers show more vigor in that doubt than with the concrete persons who are dying daily while comfortable Catholics and bishops laud themselves in supreme comfort appeasing their consciences.
ed gleason
6 years 4 months ago
Compare the  pending Somalia death toll of 300,000 children vs this stupid medical technology
"an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me"
How detached from reality have we become! 
Brendan McGrath
6 years 4 months ago
Bill - I know the Pope has been calling for people to help those in Somalia; I imagine the bishops are too (and if they aren't, they should be).  My guess would be that a lot of their words on these subjects don't get widely reported in secular media since it's not controversial.  I gave to Catholic Relief Services; I mean, the Church does an enormous amount of charity and social justice work. 

Certainly the Church can and always should do more.  I wonder though if perhaps you're right in pushing for a bit more than the usual "more" - pain and suffering is constant in the world, and as a Church we constantly have efforts at charity and social justice, but do we need to make an effort in less usual ways?  E.g., should there be more exhortation in homilies for people to give money and time to support SPECIFIC causes, in addition to the exhortations  in the general intercessions (e.g., "For those suffering in Somalia, that we as a Church may..." etc.)?  Should homilies have more of a tough tone, like St. John Chrysostom?  (Was it Chrysostom or someone else who said that the extra pair of shoes we have belongs not to us, but to the poor?)
Thomas Piatak
6 years 4 months ago
Mr. Mazzella's argument is illogical.  There is no contradiction between the Church's working against famine and the Church's working against abortion.  Indeed, She works against both.  Nor does posting an article dealing with abortion prevent ''In All Things'' from posting an article urging donations to Catholic Relief Services for relief in Africa.  Indeed, ''In All Things'' has done both.  The Church's opposition to abortion only becomes problematic if one believes that support for leftist politicians, who favor abortion, is some sort of moral imperative. 

The Church's opposition to abortion is rooted both in biological reality-human life does begin at conception-and Her history.  Indeed, abortion is explicitly condemned in the Didache, written in the first century.
6 years 4 months ago
"It's disappointing, however, that the church really does not have any kind of influence on this debate, at least in this country." 


Tim,

You, the Jesuits and America Magazine ARE the Church.  Please lead on this issue!
Tom Maher
6 years 4 months ago
Maria Byrd (# 14)

You observation about Pope Paul VI is profound.  Humanae Vitae (1968) was never popular and likely will never be popular.  But unexpectely its warnings of harmful affects from "reporductive choices"  by individuals and governments are being realized more and more as time goes by. 

No other institution on earth would take such a non-utilitarian stand as contained in Humanae Vitae  It is profitless in terms of public relations and mass appeal.  But this document contains unexpected wisdom and insight into the harms of manipulating basic human reproduction.  What other institution would speak out on this subject so clearly counter to mass appeal and then much later be shown to be right over and over again? 

The church uniquely and to its credit does speak out even if its moral messages are wildly unpopular, not understood and not accepted.  Time will show the validly of its moral message or not.  The moral messages in Humanae Vitae are being validated. 
Bill Mazzella
6 years 4 months ago
Brett. 

I am Catholic. To others here I should distinguish between the people and the hierarchy. The hierarchy has quelched liberation theology while the clergy in South America and everywhere have their food and medical needs in adequate supply. Catholic Relief Services is good and I contribute. But let's not confuse it with the hierarchy. The point is the hierarchy is a lousy example of following Jesus and all that it says must be measured against its living in great comfort, its lavish real estate and its exorbitant spending. As far as teaching is concerned it is more political than scriptural.

Yes science has shown that the life at conception has human traits. In no way does that prove that there is a person there. Further, the bishops and Catholics in this hysteric will get credibility when it starts to preserve all the miscarriages and embryos that do not come to term without being aborted.

To reiterate, the hierarchy has not reformed itself despite its words in 2002. Rome and the bishops still remains an empire church with papal legates and property all over the world. Jesus was poor but Rome and the bishops assert that they need the trappings to support their office. It remains a scandal to the church and the world.  I remain Catholic and do not abnegate my conscience.
Bill Mazzella
6 years 4 months ago
Maria, 

You and five other people believe that Humanae Vitae is correct. Chaput is living
in the fourth century. If Humanae Vitae is correct why are not more people defending it? I get it. Palaces are correct while Catholic women have to slave to support children Rome says they must have.  What we need are more papal legates (Roman Army term) and more interdicts and condemnations while the popes sign concordats with the Hitlers of this world.

Archbishop Romer, arguably the most important martyr of our times is ignored by Rome while a massive mausaleum is prepared for the moneyed Maciel until the evidence got too great to ignore. All those who condemned Vatican II were caught in the cover-up or supporting war to build a Christian empire.

Humanae Vitae was a disaster when written. Still a disaster. Is five percent support among Catholics enough to declare it true. Childbearing opinions please. 
Bill Mazzella
6 years 4 months ago
Maria,

Your post is full of non-sequitors and falsehoods which makes it difficult to have a discussion on this. Did I ever say I was for infanticide which many still practice. And just not the Romans. A woman was condemned for adultery. Not the man. To place contraception on the same plane as infanticide is absurd. 
 
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
This is about the saddest article I've read.

My husband and I spent many years trying to get pregnant.  Certain "artificial" means were offered to us, which we started and then backed out of because we somehow knew that this was not the way to go.  We ended up adopting a child who has been a great joy to us.

My neice recently delivered twins conceived via IVF.  They are beautiful.

I realize that I don't know the answer to this question.  Whatever it is, though, I know that it must be grounded in a belief in the sacredness of life and not a "law".
Tom Maher
6 years 4 months ago
The selective abortion of  fetuses in a womb is another manifestation of the institution of abortion as a  new way to grow, spread, strenghten and prepetuate itself.  This is not a temporatry fade of few individuals that can be labelled consumerism.  Instituitons such as abortion like slavery exists and are free on their own to grow and spread because  they have been given legal status by society to do so. 

So it is no surprise that abortion as a legal institution has spread and will continue to spread and strengthen itself the way the instution of slavery did while it was legal. 

So the call for abortion on demand or abortion becoming a another health care right mandated by the federal government or federal funding of abortion service providers clinics ishould be fully expected.  (One of the oddities of the nuns' support of the 2010 health care law without the law explicily forbidding the use of federal funds for abortion is the well known fact in the health care field is that abortion on demand is actively sort by vast multitudes of politically powerful groups.)  And like slavery, abortion will seek to create new laws for it to expand and also limit the opposition to abortion.  For example medical certification will require that all students know how to perform abortion procedures. If allowed in time all medical personnel will be required to perform abortion procedures with no exception to conscience.

Individual conscience will not prevent the continued existance and spread of the institution of abortion whic over time will become ever more widespread, abusive and well established paart of our society.   Abortion as an institution like slavery has its own independent power to grow and spread.
Crystal Watson
6 years 4 months ago
Yes, I don't like the idea of abortion as a primary means of birth control either - that's why I support the use of contraceptives.

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