I am skeptical amount government regulation of reproductive technology. Science and medicine have allowed many people to become parents who otherwise couldn’t. For those who want to have children but cannot, the anguish of childlessness can be gut-wrenching. I get that. I do.
But if one could disentangle consideration of reproductive technology from personal experiences or desires, it is worth assessing whether reproductive technology is good for women in a big-picture sense. I take seriously the possibility that easy access to reproductive technology prevents women (and men) from thinking beyond traditional (or even hipster/liberal I-know-a-gay-couple-who-had-a-baby) understandings of families:
The practice of surrogacy must be understood as facilitating parenthood and thus the expectations that motherhood is the default vocation for women and that children are the default status for families. Surrogacy both creates new possibilities for gay men, for example, to become biological parents, but it also shores up traditional gender roles and expectations. It is a medical way of easing the real pain that childless women (and some men) feel. It makes more difficult the radical reconsideration of the possibilities for human fulfillment. In this sense, surrogacy operates as a kind of cultural propanolol. Scientists believe that this drug, typically used to treat hypertension, can recondition certain memory pathways in the brain so that posttraumatic stress disorder victims and survivors of sexual trauma will not suffer from flashbacks. The use of propanolol has tremendous appeal; it can alleviate the suffering of many people. Opponents condemn propanolol on the grounds that it deprives the individual of the moral and ethical enrichment that comes from human suffering. But the law should not give cognizance to the notion that there is inherent virtue in suffering traumatic memories or in childlessness, for that matter. Ultimately each person must decide for himself or herself how much pain to tolerate. If surrogacy eases that pain, then it is justified. The government may properly tax the activity but it cannot prohibit it.
Citations omitted; full article available here. My comments are about surrogacy in particular, but could extend to other practices as well. Ultimately, I want reproductive choices to be made by individual women (and men) with the advisors of their choice, not the government. Still, I can’t help wondering whether motherhood stop being the default status for women, if there were no reproductive technology.