Children: Gift of God, Human Right, or Lifestyle Choice?

The announcement that the Coalition Government looks set to back the introduction of a three-person IVF technique raises all kinds of ethical and, I imagine, legal issues. Most of us have neither the science nor the philosophical training to engage with the experts, despite the best efforts of some to explain what is involved and why it will create a storm (see, for example, the BBC’s offering here.) On the one hand there is the prospect of eliminating serious genetic disorders, on the other there is the prospect of altering the genetic make-up of future generations in ways that we can, as yet, not predict. While one’s heart goes out to those who have suffered the effects of mitochondrial diseases, one’s head says, ‘Wait. It isn’t just a case of eliminating disease. More is at stake here, and we need to think through the question very carefully.’

A recent comment from a reader helped me to understand why discussion of this matter is so difficult in a society which no longer has a common theological or moral ground. She said, in effect, that children are no longer seen as a gift from God but as a lifestyle choice: one has, or does not have children, according to personal decision. I think one could go further and say that some see having children as a human right. If one is infertile, or too old to conceive naturally, then science can come to one’s aid because one has a right to have children. The Catholic position is, of course, very clear. God is in charge, not us. Human rights are a much more complex area than many suppose. Medical research makes many things possible that our ancestors could only dream of, and no one is suggesting that combating disease or making life better for those whose minds or bodies have been injured is in any way is anything but a good thing. However, the fact that something is possible does not necessarily make it right. If we are to make wise decisions, we need to be clear in our thinking. Maybe this morning we could spend a little time thinking through our attitude to children. Gift of God, human right or lifestyle choice? The answer may be less straightforward than we’d like.


17 thoughts on “Children: Gift of God, Human Right, or Lifestyle Choice?”

  1. I’m another who has difficulty with understanding this issue. Because I’ve had children without difficulty, doesn’t mean that others are able to do the same.

    IVF and other new medical technical advances have made it possible for those unable to conceive naturally to have children and we should rejoice for them.

    But, the murky area of genetic engineering is something that I do have qualms about. We are told that without it, medical science is hamstrung and cannot advance, but I’m uncomfortable with the concept of engineering nature to such an extent that you move towards the possibility of ‘designer’ babies. Perhaps I need to read more as my discomfort is instinctive and comes from my Christian upbringing and how I view God’s creation. Do we have the authority to modify it to our will or should we leave it to God and nature to do naturally?

    I’m all for progress and developing new treatments for chronic illness and disease, but wonder where the line should be drawn? And my unease, tells me that for me, it’s in the science of genetic engineering.

  2. Science fiction alone shows how full of danger these developments are – whether you view the film ‘Gattaca’ or another, the test tube is shown to be the thin edge of the wedge once again.

  3. I am someone that has not had children naturally due to a medical condition. I am a mother by adoption – this was my vocation. For others it is not, and for them, to correct a disease state is surely an expression of ‘right’ that is fundamentally different to the ‘right’ of a woman beyond child bearing years to be medically assisted in pregnancy. I think we need to take care of placing these fundamentally different cases in the same category. (Here I’m not stating either is good or bad, but they are ethically only the same superficially)

    I also wonder at our tendency to wish to separate elements of life: Humans from the rest of the ‘natural world’, body from soul, reason from emotion, and in the case of biology, all biological matter from genetic material. All these things are sacred and all are intertwined with one another and all deserve equal care, respect and concern in how we manipulate / interact with them.

  4. God is indeed in charge.
    I am someone to whom He did not bestow this gift.
    Yes I tried some fertility treatment but only that which included my husband and was not totally invasive.

    I do not think we have a divine right or ‘human’ right to children. I have had to get through much emotional pain BUT have come through to the other side and am able to say to God I don’t understand but I trust YOU.
    (Btw, I don’t believe it was because He thought it was ‘better’ for me to be denied a child either!)

    PS: He has been giving me children in other ways, EG: the wonderful young 6th formers who help out in the surgery where I work and of whom I am very fond. πŸ™‚

  5. Aileen and Allie, thank you for what you have done in being there and being with those children. As someone who spent a considerable amount of time in other mother’s homes during my formative years, I can testify to the fact that those women grounded me and provided me with a lifelong point of reference.

    As to the BBC report, I note the scientists believe the resulting child will develop normally. But what if it doesn’t? How many test models of human beings do they plan on creating and sacrificing in the name of science (and process trademark)? The Church has come out with strong guidelines, well researched, and for good reason. Children truly are a gift from God regardless of what the secular world would have us believe.

  6. To me this seems very clear. No one has a right to have children because people are not commodities. Being lucky enough to have a child is a privilege. However this news does not surprise me as this country has very little regard for people under the age of 18 (our “equalities” legislation does not apply to children, for example). Therefore it will be perfectly logical to many that children can be created at will. Square watermelons anybody?

  7. I am a clergy woman. I have an intensely personal, intimate relationship with my Lord. Yet, I still do not have a clue what is in the heart of God.

    I conceived and bore two children rather easily, even as a mother of “advanced age.” However, my husband and I had already made the decision that should we experience difficulty, we would not go to any extraordinary lengths to become pregnant. We felt that if we were meant to be parents, then we would get pregnant the old fashioned way or not at all.

    There were plenty of ways for us to have children in our lives at the time without my giving birth to them. That said, however, we had also agreed that should we receive news that our unborn child had a life-threatening, unsustainable deformity we would be heartbroken but would definitely consider letting go and letting God determine the viability of the baby.

    I stress that these decisions were our decisions. Not the government’s. Not the church’s. Our decisions. Actually, primarily my decision since my body was the factory so to speak.

    I am angered by all of those out there who have NO interest in whether I have a child or not being the ones to make decisions about what I can and cannot do with my body.
    God gave us free will. God indwells in our hearts. We bear the Spirit of God within us. Why can’t we allow those things to guide our decisions?

    I have known many women who have decided to end a pregnancy. They have never gotten over it. I pray for their peace every day. Is that not punishment enough? Who are we or the men in the world to sit in judgment of such torturous decisions. None of the women I know ever made this decision lightly.

    I pray for peace to descend on this discussion in the World. That compassion and sympathy perhaps enlighten others to the difficulty involved in these decisions, and that everyone step back and take a breath and say a prayer.

  8. Thank you for your comments. As I said above, discussion of questions raised by developments in the bio-sciences is less straightforward than may appear at first sight. However, I must reaffirm the Church’s teaching that not all decisions are a matter for private judgement and that those of us who are Catholic must adhere to the teaching of the Church in these matters. However, merely saying ‘the Church says’ is no way to engage in dialogue with others! In suggesting some of the different attitudes to having children, I hope I may have suggested some possible avenues for further thought and, as always, further prayer.

  9. I still remember the birth of the first IVF child, Louise Brown and my parents’ dire comments that it was tampering with nature and” we had no knowing that she would grow up normal.” Yet IVF is now common and poses no known risk to the health of the child. I don’t think the label of “three parent babies” is any more accurate than it is to describe someone who has a donor organ in this way. There IS the issue of altered DNA being passed on to succeeding generations- it is difficult for me as a non scientist to comment on the dangers this may or may not pose.
    As to the idea of children as a gift from God or lifestyle choice/ right , I believe all parents have children for” lifestyle” reasons in that they believe and hope it will enhance their personal happiness. It could be argued that parents who have faced fertility problems and perhaps thought they might never be parents may perhaps be more likely to see children as a ” gift” than those who had them with ease? I can’t buy the idea that atheists somehow see their children as commodities and Christians don’t – it just doesn’t ring true to my personal experience.

    • Thank you, Sue. I can’t see that anyone has said that atheists view their children differently from Christians, nor does anything like it feature in my blog post. As to IVF, as I said in my general comment, the teaching of the Catholic Church on this and other issues isn’t negotiable for those of us who are Catholic.

  10. Not directly. However there is the opinion that:
    ” in a society which no longer has a common theological or moral ground… children are no longer seen as a gift from God but as a lifestyle choice.”
    I think that is a generalisation, and when we talk about attitudes to children, the danger is that we fall into the trap of generalising. So, a friend of mine who has a child by IVF is one of the best mothers I’ve met. She absolutely cherishes her daughter and certainly sees her as a gift- that’s one very loved and cherished child.
    I’ve met the occasional Christian parent by the way whose idea of their child as a “gift” strayed into the realm of a possession to be controlled. But it makes me cross when I read people like Richard Dawkins saying that Christians are abusive because they impose a faith on a child- it is a sweeping generalisation and only true of a few Christian parents.
    Issues like IVF, abortion and contraception may be non-negotiable for Catholics (although I have met Catholics who have used those methods to manage their families/ fertility) but that’s not true for atheists or, in some cases, for Christians of other denominations So I use contraception, for example, and believe that for me it is best to have children which were planned and actively wanted. Of course my children are a gift but they are also a lifestyle choice- just like everyone else’s children! No one has an automatic right to children- and social services will take them away if they deem someone unfit – but everyone has a “right” to take steps to have the children they want as a long as those steps are legal. So, “gift”, “lifestyle choice”, “human right”? Who knows! What matters is how children are treated once they are here, that they are loved and nurtured.

    • Sue, I do try to write fairly carefully. Syntatically, the remark you have quoted goes with the sentences preceding, starting with ‘A reader helped me to understand . . .’ That is rather different from my stating that, in my opinion, children are seen as a lifestyle choice! Secondly, what individual Catholics do or do not do is not what I was writing about when I referred to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Thirdly, I would have hoped that, if nothing else, my final sentence would have given you the point of my blog post but, as so often, I failed to make my point clearly enough. I do realise this is a very painful as well as sensitive subject and have no wish to add to the pain or misunderstanding that may be caused, but I must dissociate myself from the interpretation put upon what I have written.

      • That’s OK, it is a difficult subject to write about without saying things that may at least seem to be generalisations, and the queries/ points I wanted to raise were never about the ending of your blog post which I did always agree with.

  11. As someone who has a serious genetic disease and who had children before I knew I had it, these matters weigh heavily. When you are well and childbirth is not a problem this concept may seem a step too far but when you have the potential to create human beings who have serious defects it seems all too useful. The method of passing genes in a random fashion during sex does not work too well either. Will God not love these children as his own?

    There is no test that will determine if I have passed on my genetic defect to my children.

Comments are closed.