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.