“Biotech Babies: How Far Should Christian Couples Go

in the Quest for a Child of Their Own?”

by Gilbert Meilaender

(Christianity Today, Dec. 7, 1998)

Gilbert Meilaender writes: “[T]he seemingly innocent desire to have ‘a child of one's own,’ combined with the high-tech possibilities of modern medicine and the ever-present pursuit of commercial gain, has fashioned a world in which we regularly create moral conundrums that are beyond our ability not only to solve but even to name.”

“[W]e may sometimes find it hard to remember or believe that the first ‘test-tube'baby was born only 20 years ago, in 1978. Two decades later we live in a world in which a woman can give birth to her own ‘grandchild,’ in which a child can have as many as five ‘parents’ (the donors of sperm and ovum, the surrogate who carries the child during pregnancy, and the two ‘rearing parents’); in which people can ‘have children’ posthumously. … What is so important about having a child? Why do people care so deeply?”

“Sometimes today, when we ask such questions, answers of the following sort come back: ‘I desire the experience of pregnancy and childbirth.’ ‘I want the experience of child rearing.’… But … [t]o think that way is already to think of children as products made to satisfy some of our desires. And of course, if and when the product turns out not really to satisfy us, we may be hard pressed to muster the kind of unconditional love children require if they are to flourish.”

“There are, though, deeper and better reasons for having children. We would make a little moral progress were we to say, ‘I want a child because I want a link to future generations.’… We get much closer to a satisfactory understanding if we think of a child of our own. … It is natural that [a married couple] should want a child, for that child would be the sign that the love by which they give themselves to each other is creative and fruitful. … In the passion of sexual love a man and woman step out of themselves, so to speak, and give themselves to each other. That is why we speak of sexual ecstasy — a word that means precisely standing outside oneself.”

“And the child, if a child is conceived, is not then the product of their willed creation. The child is a gift and a mystery, springing from their embrace — a blessing love gives into their arms. They could and should, if they think the matter through, quite rightly say that they had received this child as a gift of God, as the biblical writer says of Hannah: ‘The LORD remembered her.’… And what if the Lord does not ‘remember’ us as he remembered Hannah? That is reason for sadness, but it is not reason to take up the ‘project’ of making a child.”

“If this is how Christians understand the meaning of the presence of children, how shall we evaluate the vast array of new reproductive technologies …? The first thing to note is that many of the new technologies involve parties other than husband and wife in the reproducing process. … Moreover … if it is the couple's desire that is being treated, we need to remember that they may not simply desire a child. They probably also desire, for example, a healthy child. … The pressure to discard embryos who do not meet desired specifications — and to try again — may be almost impossible to resist.”

“In short, many of the new reproductive technologies will involve the use of third parties. In doing so, they break the connection between love-giving and life-giving in marriage. That is not just a minor nuance, for it is this connection that teaches us to think of the child as a gift, that keeps us from thinking of children as our project, as existing for the sake of satisfying our desires.”