Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dear Conservatives: Beware of Arguments That Are Technology-Dependent

From the Guardian (by way of Fark) comes the news that scientists have managed to create sperm cells from the embryonic stem cells of mice, ultimately leading to live births. They’re still working out the kinks (the resulting offspring had various birth defects), but once the technique has been perfected, it holds the promise of new treatments for male infertility. In the future, stem cells could potentially be collected from infertile men to create viable sperm.

Even more interesting is the possibility that stem cells could be collected from women to create viable sperm – or from men to create viable eggs. And you know what that means:
If [Prof. Karim Nayernia] is successful, the work could give single men and women the possibility of providing both sperm and eggs for embryos – effectively allowing them to mate with themselves. Gay couples would be able to have children which are genetically their own.
So even if we accepted Maggie Gallagher’s (silly) argument that gay marriage is wrong because a gay couple can’t have biological children, that objection could dissolve in the presence of new reproductive technology.

I’m reminded of another conservative argument that is susceptible to technological dismantling. Anti-abortion folks will sometimes claim that life (that is, legally protectable human life) must begin at conception because at that point, there exists a cell with the full complement of 46 chromosomes with the potential to become a full-grown human being. But that potential is dependent for its realization on substantial care and feeding, which currently must be accomplished in the womb. Now, if cloning technology eventually advances to the point where any cell – say, one scraped from your palm – could be turned into another person, then the potentiality argument implies that all such cells will have protectable-life status. Yes, lots of attention will be required, but as noted above, the same is true of a zygote. Better be careful how you exfoliate. (Smarter anti-abortion advocates will, at this point, resort to some kind of potential-even-if-you-leave-it-alone claim. That position relies on the distinction between crimes of commission and crimes of omission, of course. I’ll punt on whether that distinction stands up.)

And now that I’ve gone and mentioned abortion, I suppose I should anticipate a full-blown abortion debate in the (lately sluggish) comments section.


Anonymous said...

"So even if we accepted Maggie Gallagher’s (silly) argument that gay marriage is wrong because a gay couple can’t have biological children, that objection could dissolve in the presence of new reproductive technology."

Maggie, who says that gays can't have biological children? My gay friend and his 10+ year lover decided to have kids of their own and they made use of advances in medical science. They hired a surrogate to carry the embryo(s) to term. They each donated sperm and they obtained the donor eggs from a paid donor. They even knew that the egg donor had high SAT scores! The surrogate mother ended up pregnant with twin girls. It turns out that each girl has a different genetic father. The dads were elated with their newborns. Tecnically the girls are half sisters, but I doubt they'll feel any less than real sisters.

My friend is financially successful, so the tremendous cost of doing all this didn't hold him back. Of course my friend could have done all this without a boyfriend. So the fact that he is gay, or in a relationship, is really irrelevant to his parenthood. I think the girls are lucky to have two loving parents who went to the trouble and expense to have them. It makes me think of that controversial children's book "Heather Has Two Daddies." It's true: Heather and her sister Haley do have two happy daddies.

See there, I didn't mention abortion once until now.

Glen Whitman said...

Anon -- yeah, that's another problem with Gallagher's argument. But for some reason, she seems to think it's important for children to be the biological offspring of both parents. And yes, that does mean disparaging adoption, single-parenting, and step-parenting to some extent.

Jody said...

Technology dependent arguments are only a problem if they're a cover. If they're sincere in their argument, then there's no need to be wary of them.

Anonymous said...

Both sides need to define "marriage". What does it mean not to allow two people to marry? Are they prevented from livig together? No. Are they prevented from acting domestic? No. Are the prevented from being faithful to one another? No. Are they prevented from referring to each other as "my spouse"? No. So then, what? If it's just the tax breaks and trivialities like that, then the fight is over something stupid.

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