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Caroline Farrow: Dead women are likely to produce unhappy children

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Call me a bluff old traditionalist, but surely I can’t be alone in thinking that dead people ought not to be allowed to reproduce? The idea is unnatural in every sense of the word, the sort of thing that one could expect to find in a Victorian gothic horror novel. Attempting to engineer the offspring of a deceased loved one in a laboratory is the kind of grief-deranged lunacy and obsession typical of a Dr Frankenstein. This is the kind of stuff which would have had Victorian readers gripped with horror, and yet, in 2016, it is set to become a reality.

It would appear that the Court of Appeal has finally given permission, after a protracted battle, for a 60 year old to fly over to the US, where she can receive IVF treatment in an attempt to conceive her dead daughter’s child.

While my heart goes out to this woman who lost her daughter at the tragically young age of 28, compassion should not blind us as to the wrong-headedness of this decision.

There are several issues at stake here, the least of which is the age of the woman. By the time women get to 60, they must accept their baby-making days are behind them, such are the decrees of Mother Nature. If this unnatural intervention is to be successful (one should not forget the number of embryos which will be created and then destroyed in this process) then by the time the child is 18, his or her mother (and grandmother) will be knocking 80. Good health cannot be guaranteed, and that is without the extra subjections her body will have been put through to conceive and then give birth at the age of 60. There is a serious difference between being a sprightly sexagenarian or septuagenarian looking after a toddler grandchild from time to time and the relentless exhausting demands of caring for a newborn baby.

How fair is it on any child to have their childhood blighted by concerns about their mother’s/grandmother’s health and mortality, while knowing that their ‘real’ mother died before they were born and that that they were conceived to fulfill the desires of a dying woman and her grieving mother? It is hardly the most spiritually or emotionally healthy environment, and just to add extra pressure, the child will also know that their father is most likely a random stranger, who will not even know that of their existence.

It is an established fact that human beings have an innate need to establish their identity which almost always includes the desire to know about one’s biological parentage.

At the annual conference for the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology in July, new research was presented stating that over a third of children conceived without a father via IVF, experience negative feelings about not having a father. These numbers are growing. The number of women choosing to have IVF using donor sperm has risen by 226 per cent since 2006.

Should this child be born, then they will face the issues adoptees do – in terms of never getting the opportunity to meet their birth parents, of being deprived of a paternal family who would ordinarily offer an extra layer of comfort and support. Most young people should not have to be worrying about being left without a family, should their elderly carer die.

Above all, how on earth is a child supposed to get their head around the fact that their mother is also their grandmother? To deliberately inflict this upon a child surely is tantamount to willful emotional neglect.

For sooner or later he or she will come to know their role was to assuage the grief of a third-party – a way of keeping the dead alive, as a consolation prize.

It is concerning that the Appeal Court and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have sidestepped these deeper issues, and restricted their focus to whether or not the deceased gave their consent, which, to some extent, is irrelevant. It seems that such is the de-sensitising effect that reproductive technology has had on us that the general consensus of this official regulatory body is that there is, other than consent, no other moral or ethical problem with the deceased being able to reproduce (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) so long as they agreed beforehand.

So a new precedent is set. Women well past normal reproductive years can now give birth to children of dead people, potentially inflicting enormous and lifelong psychological and emotional damage upon them, so long as advanced consent is given and their stories sufficiently tragic.

Should we allow such an indulgent sentimentality to dictate important ethics in the field of reproductive healthcare? Isn’t the time for the HFEA to have a serious overhaul well overdue?

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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