I was still in primary school when I first heard the phrase ‘test-tube baby.’ It was then being hailed as a medical breakthrough that was making its debut in Kenya by some international radio channel. In my naivety and ignorance, I took the positive reviews of the presenters and their interviewees for kosher, and for a long time held ‘test-tube babies’ as a blessing to women who found it hard to conceive naturally.
In the last month or so, ‘test-tube babies’ have been part of public discourse in Kenya again, this time by the proper name of In-vitro fertilisation. The matter has been introduced into the National Assembly and has seen heated debates, complete with emotional breakdowns from members of the fair sex, who see this as the final solution to all their reproductive and pre-parental woes.
Opposition, however, has not been scarce, and marvelous arguments, presented marvelously and otherwise, have been offered to counter the possible passing of the bill into law. These arguments have come from the legal, policy, cultural, economic and moral perspectives. It is from this last perspective that I will base my opinion, for long gone are the days when I listened to some radio presenter and took his word for moral truth.
In-vitro fertilisation involves the fusion of male and female gametes (science-speak for sperms and ova) in a laboratory, and the subsequent transfer of the resulting zygote (science-speak for the first physical form a human being takes) into the womb of a woman with the aim of making the woman pregnant. The laboratory bit is what gave rise to the phrase ‘test-tube babies.’
So far so good. A woman who has been unable to conceive now has a chance to get a child of her own and avoid all the emotional and familial consequences of childlessness, without resorting to the process of adoption. A family gets a chance to populate its nest and become complete. Surely, then, this is a good scientific breakthrough, if it can put smiles on faces and unify families. All we need to do now is regulate it.
Wrong. Pardon the digression and its sensitiveness, and read between the lines, but an aspiring jihadist would consider it a matter of highest honour to kill students in Garissa. Not doing so, or showing cowardice in the face of it, would be matter for stigma and revilement, and the jihadist would face negative consequences, same as, or worse, than the childless woman; personified in parliament by the emotional Hon Joyce Lay, Woman Representative for Taita Taveta County.
The arguments that justify the IVF technique tend to be highly consequential. If it makes me happy, it is good. It doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong, and you are a backward traditionalist if you are against it. The problem with this argument is that it is not rational, and is not founded on natural law. It is based on feelings, and the perceived rights of individuals.
A married woman has a right to have children. But she doesn’t have a right to children themselves. Children, instead of being the right of a family, are, in fact, a gift. The woman who has children of her own should count herself lucky to be so favoured. But that doesn’t in any way imply that the woman who doesn’t, out of no deliberate fault of her own, is inferior.
Therefore, the argument that appeals to the fear of stigma lacks legs to stand on. The other one, which invokes the quest for happiness, confuses fickle joy, which is what a test-tube baby will bring, with the transcendental virtue of happiness, which can be had even if a child is not granted to a couple. Happiness does not depend on whether one has kids or not.
Finally, the IVF process entails the creation, in each attempt, of more than one zygote. Multiple ova are fertilised to increase the chances a successful implantation and pregnancy. The consequences of this is that once a pregnancy is successfully instigated, the remaining zygotes have to be discarded. Now, these zygotes are human beings. Not fully developed anatomically, but human beings with souls. Throwing them away kills them. You might call this by any other name, but it remains murder.
It is a common mistake of our time, which we call modern, to view history through the lens of a righteous judge. In this way, we disparage the ideas of our predecessors, treating them as ‘conservative’ and ‘outdated’ and insisting that they have no place in our world. The conjugal act, which has been for millennia the only way to bring children into the world, is now just one of the ways. This challenges the very core of marriage, and no amount of regulation can stymie the pandora’s box of possibilities that are now open.
We have thrown out rock-solid common sense for a roller-coaster ride of unpredictable feelings. We have started to define morality by whether certain things give us joy or not. This method of argument lacks a rock-solid basis by which all acts can be judged, and has made morality a highly subjective notion, which it shouldn’t be.