Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Because We Can, Should We? A Religious Viewpoint on ARTs

Yesterday, under the leadership of our Associate Director, Dr. Kate Ott, the Religious Institute held a one day colloquium with religious leaders and activists on Assisted Reproductive Technologies or ART. If that term isn't familiar to you, it means everything from artificial insemination to IVF (invitro fertilization) to surrogacy to some even newer ways for people to have genetically-related children outside of the old fashioned way of penile-vaginal sexual intercourse.

The discussion was intense, invigorating, and mind expanding. I admit to not knowing a great deal about the subject matter: did you know for example that ARTs are successful in producing a child less than half of the time? Did you know that as many as 6 different people can now be involved in producing a new baby? (so much for answering children's "where did I come from" with "when a mommy and daddy love each other"...) Did you know that some wealthy families in the US are now engaging in "reproductive tourism" where they ask women in poor countries to act as surrogates for them? Did you know that there are over 400,000 frozen embryos in the US? Or that in some states, it is illegal for single women or gay and lesbian people to obtain ART's?

The issues are complex, and don't fit neatly into a conservative/progressive framework. We'll be wrestling with them in the coming months, and in the fall will publish a guidebook for clergy on these issues and a new "Open Letter to Religious Leaders." What's clear to me is that the available technology and its commercialization has out paced thoughtful reflection and deliberations on these issues. In the words of one of our participants, Miriam Yeung, "just because we can, should we?" I'd welcome hearing your thoughts and experiences.

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