The Great Big Lie About Personhood Legislation (Updated)

Just when you thought personhood legislation had quietly limped away in 2012, it’s come back with a vengeance in 2013.

Embryos Are Not People

There are two important legislative stories that have emerged over the course of today that I need to get you up to speed on… and then I need to talk about just why they are so tremendously fucked up.

North Dakota Senate Passes Personhood Legislation

Yup. You read that right. At 1pm today, the North Dakota Senate passed SB 2303. This bill is an attempt to clarify some IVF regulations mentioned in SB 2302 and those regulations – which have now passed in the Senate and move on to the House – have disastrous implications for the infertility community of North Dakota, both for patients and practitioners.

Firstly, its sister bill, SB 2302, made headlines by attempting to regulate the maximum number of embryos that could be transferred at once. While the ASRM already has embryo transfer guidelines in place, the North Dakotan legislature took it upon themselves to further regulate those guidelines with absolutely zero medical basis. Oh, and trying to regulate that no embryos can be frozen, effectively wiping out any North Dakotan cancer patient’s chance at fertility preservation. Thankfully, SB 2302 failed two weeks ago.

Enter: SB 2303. As of 1pm today, the North Dakota Senate just voted this into existence:

“Human being” means an individual member of the species homo sapiens at every stage of development.

So… legal rights have just been granted to 8-cell blastocysts. Which would effectively make it impossible to practice IVF in the state of North Dakota. It’s not yet law; it still has to go through the House and then get signed by the Governor. That said, knocking down 1 target in a line of only 3 steps to law (well, 3.5 if you count vetos) is too close for comfort.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any more fucked up, I read this little gem.

Arizona Wants to Track Every Human Embryo… and Make it Public Knowledge

I really can’t explain that any more simply. Arizona’s SB 1376 – drafted by a lobbying group adamantly opposed to any and all assisted reproductive technologies – would require all fertility clinics in the state to track, collect and report data on every single human embryo created and then publish that information publicly.

RH Reality Check sums it up thusly (emphasis mine):

“…this newer bill seeks to capture and make publicly available information on the disposition of every embryo created in the process of in-vitro fertilization, and the results of every treatment involving ART. The information required is largely redundant to the statistics and information submitted to the CDC, most of which is publicly available.”

This is bad news for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s requiring clinics to collect the same information twice and submit it to both state and federal regulatory bodies – and much of this is also submitted to SART, the professional arm of the ASRM. (Smaller government says what?) Except that it also starts to dig way deeper into patient privacy by seeking the collection of information, including:

  • the number of embryos deemed not viable for transfer or preservation and used for training
  • the number of embryos donated to another individual for transfer
  • the number of selective reductions performed, broken down by number of embryos transferred before the reduction
  • the percentage of selective reductions resulting in miscarriage

RH Reality Check has the full proposed absurd list of data collection points here.

And now, I need to get something off my chest. Again. For the umpteenth time.

I hope that somehow, someway this time sticks in the minds of those who seek to demonize infertility patients and the treatments to which we have a fundamental right.

The “Pro-Life, Pro-Family” Agenda of Personhood Legislation is a Lie.

Despite what they’d have you believe, personhood legislation is anything BUT pro-life or pro-family.

Personhood legislation isn’t about G-d or miracles or precious little babies waiting to be born. Personhood legislation is about a deeply conservative anti-family, anti-choice agenda that seeks to undermine and overturn women’s legally granted rights to govern their own reproductive health. I can’t put it any more plainly.

I am continually baffled by women who not only support this kind of legislation but actually propose it because it impacts them, their daughters, their sisters and every other woman they know.

But here’s what really gets my knickers in a knot.

Personhood legislation doesn’t promote family values, it prevents families. It prevents people like me, people like you who read and comment on this blog, and the 7.3 million other people in this country whose reproductive organs biologically reject the heteronormative missionary-style perfectly-timed-intercourse coupling of how babies “should” be made – from being able to have families of our own on our terms.

Personhood legislation doesn’t save all the unborn children, it prevents them from ever being conceived in the first place. Personhood legislation seeks to punish us for biological realities for which we have no control.

I find it infuriating that groups like Personhood USA push a “pro-life, pro-family agenda” when they’re really trying to evangelize a single religious view – theirs – of “G-d given rights” for every American… despite every American’s Constitutional right to religious diversity and plurality. By trying to grant personhood status to embryos and even eggs, personhood advocates dehumanize infertility patients and practitioners in the process.

That makes about as much sense as the murderers who think they’re justified in killing doctors who perform abortions – in the name of life.

I’m calling out the personhood movement on their great big lie. Personhood advocates seek to champion “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all “pre-born” Americans. Guess what? That’s a lie.

What they’re really trying to peddle is the notion that all peoples’ rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are equal but some peoples’ rights to those same values are more equal than others.

Namely, the rights of “pre-born” Americans over the rights of 7.3 million very real, breathing, walking, talking Americans living right now with infertility.

To support personhood is to support a baffling contradiction of beliefs and actions.

To support personhood is to deny me and you and 7.3 million other Americans living with infertility – people living with a disease – our right to build our families with medical treatment to which we are entitled.

Personhood USA is committed to “protecting every child by love and by law.”

Except the children that infertility patients so desperately want to have.

Except the children who are created in perhaps some of the most medically miraculous ways, ways that bridge science and G-d.

Except the children like my son, whose kicks and somersaults in my womb remind me every second just how hard-won he is, just how loved and wanted he is.

Because if the personhood movement had their way, my son would have never been created in the first place.

And if you think you’ve seen me fight for this community, just try and stand in between me and my child and watch what happens.

#   #   #

Angry?

Good. You should be.

Now go do something about it.

Live in North Dakota or Arizona? Contact your State Senators and Representatives.

Pissed off about groups like Personhood USA? Send your dollars to RESOLVE’s Center for Infertility Justice instead.

Need to vent your rage? Share this post on Facebook and Twitter. Blog about this. Post about this on Facebook and Twitter and get others fired up with you.

Don’t just sit here and be horrified. Do something.

Fight like the family you so desperately want and are entitled to have depends on it.

[Edited to add: Some folks have expressed concern that I'm passing judgment on people who are pro-life or conservative. Let me clarify: I'm not. I'm merely stating the known fact that personhood legislation is largely being orchestrated by a very vocal, very well-funded arm of the pro-life conservative movement. This is not a judgment, but a statement of fact.]

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Comments

  1. says

    Wow… You can be pro-life and think this is the dumbest thing ever. For me, until an embryo has implanted you can’t call it human because it’s not viable just sitting there in a petri dish or frozen. Once it’s implanted and growing, that’s when I’m all pro-life about things. But beforehand? You can’t control which embryos are going to live and which aren’t. It’s biology for goodness sake! And it’s no one’s business but the parent’s on what to do with those embryos before they’re transferred. *sigh*

    • says

      Spot on Elana. When you start assigning clusters of cells and tissue human rights, you start to get into some pretty scary territory about what that means for prospective parents who are going through infertility.

    • says

      Thank you Justine and thanks for sharing. I’m hoping this inspires other people in this community to maybe wake up a little and start paying more attention to legislation that could set precedents for their access to family building.

      Now seems like a good plug for RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day on Wed, May 8th in Washington, DC. All the details and registration info are here: http://www.resolve.org/advocacyday

    • says

      Thanks Whitney, and thanks for sharing at your Facebook community. The increasing fervor of this movement is beyond concerning, especially on the heels of last year’s election and Americans’ categorical rejection of legislators who try to legislate women’s rights to their own bodies. It’s the deceptive manner in which they try to package the same bundle of ideas that really, REALLY pisses me off.

  2. says

    Fertility patients already have to deal with great invasions of their privacy in the treatment process. (Just imagine masturbating in a cup and then handing that cup to a stranger!) This kind of data collection just adds insult to the existing injury. Thank you Keiko for being so vocal about the problems with this type of legislation.

    • says

      Catherine – such an excellent point about the ways in which we must already combat invasions of privacy just by living with infertility in the first place. While I assume that data collection could not be tied to individual patient profiles (since that would be in direct violation of HIPAA once that data was publicly released), the implications of who sees that data, how it’s stored and who gets access to it that’s more concerning from a privacy standpoint. Oy.

  3. Jenni says

    I check in on your blog now and then and had to comment today. I just turned in a paper for my grad school class, Women, Ethics, and Leadership on Personhood legislation. I was specifically concerned with what it meant for IVF patients. You articulated the issue very well, thank you so much for standing up. It is good to know that I am not the only one emotionally charged about this issue.
    My son is here with the help of reproductive medicine. It angers me that someone would try to restrict others’ abilities to have biological children. I believe that the protection of human life is important but to grant rights to an embryo can have devastating effects on those outside of the petri-dish or womb.

  4. Jaime says

    “Except the children like my son, whose kicks and somersaults in my womb remind me every second just how hard-won he is, just how loved and wanted he is.”
    THIS. I am 20 weeks with my son via IVF & I’m so with you!
    Thank you for fighting the fight & getting this info out there in such a real way!!

  5. says

    Such a blatant violation of HIPAA! Why not publish something every time I get my period since whatever possible embryo that may have been created was destroyed?

  6. Quinn says

    I sympathize with the frustrations and disappointments of infertility, but I cannot fully empathize in all honesty. If my partner and I had been unable to conceive our own child naturally, we would have immediately chosen to adopt a child – because there are thousands and thousands of children out there that need families. As frustrating and disappointing as infertility may be, and I’m not downplaying those struggles, we do not allot all means to infertile parents to get children. We do not say, “Sure, go ahead and kidnap a child if you’re infertile!” We also do not say, “Purchase a child on the black market!” Morality isn’t thrown into the wind when combating infertility. By that same token, the personhood of unborn children should not be sacrificed on this altar of medical treatment. Having biological children is important, for some more than others, but it isn’t the most important thing and it doesn’t justify killing unborn children (or creating unborn children and freezing them in stasis so they can await destruction or experimentation).

    “So… legal rights have just been granted to 8-cell blastocysts. Which would effectively make it impossible to practice IVF in the state of North Dakota.”

    First, one needs to recognize that while some rights are granted by the state (e.g., voting rights) others are merely recognized by the state (e.g., right to life). A person from Russia cannot visit the United States during our election season and demand the “right” to vote. He needs to be a citizen first; this is a right that is granted to people under certain circumstances, namely circumstances of citizenship. However, if that Russian person visits the United States and has threats made on their life, the authorities have an obligation to investigate the threats and protect the life of the Russian person, because the United States recognizes this person’s right to life, regardless of citizenship.

    By that same token, “personhood legislation” seeks to recognize the personhood of the unborn child, not grant personhood to the child – which governments do not have the power to grant or take away. This legislation also doesn’t seek to grant any rights to the fetus, like voting rights, but only seeks to protect rights that are naturally present. If we deny that such natural rights exist, then in the words of Hadley Arkes in Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, “…we would convert all rights into rights of ‘positive law.’ With that subtle shift, we would have removed, in effect, the very logic and substance of rights. For what we call ‘rights’ then are simply the things declared to be right by the opinion that is dominant in any place. In that event, the ‘rights’ enacted into law are merely the rights that a majority is willing to confer. But what the majority may confer, the majority may also remove when it no longer strikes the majority right or convenient.”

    Furthermore, what Keiko is implying in writing this article is, “We want IVF. The personhood of the fetus stands in the way of IVF. Therefore, fetuses must not (or do not) have personhood.” That is fallacious reasoning, through and through. Infertility sucks, but infertility does not justify the denial of personhood if personhood naturally exists in this being. The personhood of a being does not stand or fall on something like the utility of IVF. If that were the case, then the personhood of certain ethnicities would stand or fall on whether we would desire to use them as slaves. First we establish, without an emotional appeal to utility, whether the fetus is a person, then we deal with the ramifications of that decision.

    “I hope that somehow, someway this time sticks in the minds of those who seek to demonize infertility patients and the treatments to which we have a fundamental right. Personhood legislation isn’t about G-d or miracles or precious little babies waiting to be born. Personhood legislation is about a deeply conservative anti-family, anti-choice agenda that seeks to undermine and overturn women’s legally granted rights to govern their own reproductive health. I can’t put it any more plainly.”

    It’s a tragedy if people, particularly Christians, “demonize infertility patients,” although to be honest I haven’t encountered such demonization. In the case of the Christian, we spoil the grace of Christ shown by God in our own lives if we turn and give spite to others instead. However, Keiko leaves undefended her claim that women struggling with infertility have a “fundamental right” to infertility treatment – presumably any infertility treatment (i.e., the IVF in question). Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. Scientific development provides us with no orientation to a moral framework in which we can determine whether we should use the tools that development grants to us.

    The primary intention of “personhood legislation” is to recognize people as people, no matter where they might exist in the developmental spectrum. A secondary effect of this is that the natural rights of the unborn child will come into conflict with the preferences (and some state-granted rights) of mothers and mothers-to-be. What we should be concerned with is whether we’re killing something that is actually a person we’ve failed to recognize. It would be like demolishing buildings that might have had persons in them and coming to find out that – oops – those buildings were actually full of people. How grossly irresponsible and careless of those demolition crews. They should have taken more care to determine whether the buildings contained people, even if it served everyone quite well to have those buildings torn down. The utility of having the buildings demolished does not trump the right to life of any persons who may be in the buildings. By that same token, the unborn child’s natural right to life trumps any other concerns the mother may have.

    “Personhood legislation doesn’t promote family values, it prevents families. It prevents people like me, people like you who read and comment on this blog, and the 7.3 million other people in this country whose reproductive organs biologically reject the heteronormative missionary-style perfectly-timed-intercourse coupling of how babies “should” be made – from being able to have families of our own on our terms.”

    The effect of the unborn child’s personhood on families or how they’re made is irrelevant to whether or not, in actuality, the unborn child is a person. If it is, then we should recognize that and then deal with the ramifications of its personhood – which means it has natural rights, like a natural right to life.

    “Personhood legislation doesn’t save all the unborn children, it prevents them from ever being conceived in the first place. Personhood legislation seeks to punish us for biological realities for which we have no control.”

    There are things we can do that we should not do. Most of us have within our power to kill another person when we’re angry, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should. We also have within our power to abort an unborn child, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should. And if we have an infertility treatment that, while providing a viable pregnancy to an otherwise infertile person, produces many fertilized embryos that have natural rights to life and thus would be wrong to freeze, destroy or experiment upon, the mere existence of this infertility treatment doesn’t mean we should use it. We need to weigh the benefits (e.g., pregnancy in an otherwise biologically untenable situation) against the adverse effects (e.g., the death of unborn people).

    “Personhood legislation” does not seek to punish those that are infertile. Why would it? What agenda is Keiko speaking to? A government-wide conspiracy to suppress the demographic of people who are infertile? Why? This is an emotional appeal with no substance. I see that it’s a very emotional topic, but if these embryos, fetuses, blastocysts, etc. are actual people, we need to recognize that knowing that ending the life of these creatures is wrong. “Personhood legislation” therefore seeks to rightfully recognize the personhood of those who have it, so that their natural rights can be respected.

    “I find it infuriating that groups like Personhood USA push a “pro-life, pro-family agenda” when they’re really trying to evangelize a single religious view – theirs – of “G-d given rights” for every American… despite every American’s Constitutional right to religious diversity and plurality. By trying to grant personhood status to embryos and even eggs, personhood advocates dehumanize infertility patients and practitioners in the process.”

    Ironically, this is exactly what Keiko is doing: evangelizing her particular worldview. There are religious arguments against abortion and the medical treatments associated with the destruction of unborn persons, but there are also secular arguments, some of which I’ve touched on throughout this commentary.

    Furthermore, no one is trying to grant personhood to eggs. And while I recognize that those who struggle with infertility are vulnerable and distraught, the fact that they are in such a position does not give them a ticket to abuse life. Some things (e.g., kidnapping, black market) are off limits; life-destroying medical treatments should be off limits as well.

    “Namely, the rights of “pre-born” Americans over the rights of 7.3 million very real, breathing, walking, talking Americans living right now with infertility.”

    I would say any person’s natural right trumps any one’s state-granted right. My right to life trumps someone else’s right to vote; if the government has to choose one or the other, I would hope it would choose to protect the more fundamental: the right to life. Furthermore, the “right” to infertility treatment falls under the right to healthcare, which is governed by bodies of ethics that the author doesn’t engage in this article. We do have rights to healthcare, but we do not have rights to all healthcare at all times. I don’t have the right to physician-assisted suicide; I don’t have the right to command my children to euthanize me when I become old and feeble; I don’t have the right to treatments my physician doesn’t believe will be beneficial. Therefore, our right to healthcare is heavily qualified. I don’t disagree that those who struggle with infertility have a right to be treated, but they do not have that right exclusive to the rights of unborn children to life.

    I hope you seek to engage the other side thoughtfully, gracefully and with the intent to understand where they’re coming from, perhaps with some measure of humility in recognition of the fact that we could be dealing with the lives of people. At least in this article, you have not established why the unborn are not people.

    • arbrefleur says

      I am 100% certain that Keiko will provide a well-informed, well-thought out and kind response to this a**hole, but I don’t have the stomach to be diplomatic and kind right now ever when I know I should. I am shaking with rage.

      Dear Quinn, you would change your tune (I can guarantee it) if you had ever actually experienced infertility. But I wouldn’t wish that on my worst even (i.e. even you).

      • Quinn says

        Whether any of us have experienced infertility or not doesn’t change the personhood status of the embryo. I qualified my comments with a statement of sympathy for those who struggle with infertility. I don’t know how I could have made myself less antagonistic while at the same time voicing what I believed to be true.

  7. says

    Quinn–you use a loose definition of “people’. I am assuming you understand that a free floating embryo does not even have the chance to become a “person” until it is transferred into woman’s uterus. At that point, it has potential, but unless it actually burrows into the uterus, forms the tentacles needed to feed and then grow, it has not actually become part of the “people’ you refer to so generically. Perhaps you need to educate yourself about reproductive endocrinology before you make statements about things you obviously know nothing about..

    • Quinn says

      Denny,

      Personhood doesn’t hinge on where you are at any given moment. It hinges on WHO you are. Location is an arbitrary and irrelevant criterion for personhood. Why should implantation in the uterus be the marker of personhood? I agree, though, that implantation is a fair marker of viability, but these are two different things.

      Furthermore, I didn’t define personhood in my comment; I simply stated that personhood is a quality that is recognized, not granted, and thus is naturally present, not given by the government, and that Keiko hadn’t established why embryos are not people.

        • Quinn says

          That’s not how the burden of this endeavor works. There are four possibilities (outlined by Peter Kreeft):

          1. The unborn are persons and we know it – all these activities are then wrong and we’re knowingly harming persons. When you egregiously harm someone you know is a person, that’s wrong.

          2. The unborn are persons and we don’t know it – to go ahead with medical treatments like IVF and abortion wouldn’t be as wrong in this scenario as in #1, but it would be careless and irresponsible. It reveals an apathy toward the identity of the unborn: “Who cares if they’re persons?”

          3. The unborn are not persons and we don’t know it – the same depth of carelessness as #2, except we lucked out and they don’t happen to be persons

          4. The unborn are not persons and we know it – This is the only situation in which it would be okay to do with the unborn what we will, as if they were just another part of their mother or just another collection of cells that lack personhood. Yet this hasn’t been established.

          I hope you see that in order for medical treatments that harm the unborn (no matter their stage of development), it is only morally permissible under #4 – and the burden of establishing that is on those who claim the unborn are not persons.

          Furthermore, if the unborn aren’t persons, then you’ll have people arguing that newborn children aren’t persons either and thus infanticide is morally permissible – this has been argued in the British Journal of Medical Ethics. When societies grant personhood arbitrarily, instead of recognizing it where it naturally begins (i.e., at conception), then it sets dangerous precedents for how we treat small children, as well as the sick and “less than human” later in life. These arguments are being made regularly in peer-reviewed literature like the Journal of Medical Ethics.

          These disastrous consequences follow because we’re doing something that is unnatural – namely, granting personhood at a time other than when it is naturally present. It’s radically arbitrary to say that personhood begins at any other point in life.

          • says

            Embryos and morulas are not persons and we know it. They have none of the anatomical structures that are characteristic of (and indeed, definitional of) persons. They do contain human DNA, but so does any glob of human cells sloughed off of a body. Their DNA is 99% identical to chimpanzee DNA, and about 50% identical to banana DNA. Many (in fact, MOST) do not have the potential to develop into actual persons due to major or minor chromosomal abnormalities. They are not persons and we know it.

  8. says

    Quinn,
    What defines a person is an interesting and extremely ephemeral debate. No matter what criteria I establish, you could determine a counter-argument and vice versa.
    So here is my perspective, for your deconstruction: In a way, creating a child is the inverse of creating a statue. With a statue you start with a large block of something that you carve down into something smaller until it assumes form, at which point it stops being a block stone (or clay or ice or your preferred medium) and becomes a statue. Conversely, a baby begins at the smallest of small levels and expands into it’s form and becomes a person. You would never look at a block of marble and think instinctively, Aha! That’s a statue of David. Now, for among the many counter-arguments you could make, I will pick this one. If you were Michaelangelo, you would look at that statue and think, “Aha! That’s a statue of David.” Then you would, quite literally, remake the block of marble into David. This is the same reaction I think most parents have when they see ultrasounds or slides of the cells that have the potential to grow into their child. But because you can see the potential in the marble; that does not make the marble a statue. Not yet. That potential must be realized through time, and possibly effort.
    Your claim that Keiko is breaking an ethical barrier because her desire for life trumps the moral and ethical questions about creating that life stems from your core set of beliefs. I believe that my core set of beliefs are different than yours. My understanding of “Go forth and multiply” includes even the idea of doing things that are ethically questionable according to some people. In my Bible, there’s a chapter about a woman, Tamar, who was denied by her father-in-law her basic right to procreate. In a move that can only be called controversial, she, seduced her father-in-law to get the biological child she felt she was owed. (Genesis Chapter 38.) Far from being cast out of the community, from her descendants come the leaders of the people, including Jesus, who can trace a direct lineage back to Tamar through his father (with a lower case f). The moral lesson? A woman has a right and an obligation to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, even at the risk of public censure.
    So I disagree with your contention that Keiko is casting away inconvenient morality in favor of advancing her personal goals. I think her morality is defined with a different understanding of what morality is.. I don’t want to speak for her, so let me be clear that I’m espousing my own feelings here. The pursuit of life in the present is greater than the presumptive risk of non-life in the future.
    One more example from the Bible and using an associated commentary. Pharaoh decreed that the male children of the Hebrews be killed. And there is an associated legend that says that the men separated from their wives and refused to live with them in order to avoid getting them pregnant so they should lose their children. And the wives rebuked the husbands saying that what you do is worse than what Pharaoh is doing. He is only killing the male children. You are killing the females as well.. And the men returned to their wives. Even facing the idea that half the children, and these are actually children, not just potential children, might die, the moral decision must be to continue, to attempt to have the children and save all that may be saved.
    I have other objections to the personhood movement, but they are out of scope for this conversation.

    • Quinn says

      Marci,

      I appreciate your patience and grace in approaching this emotionally charged issue.

      “This is the same reaction I think most parents have when they see ultrasounds or slides of the cells that have the potential to grow into their child. But because you can see the potential in the marble; that does not make the marble a statue. Not yet. That potential must be realized through time, and possibly effort.”

      Many people have made the argument that embryos (and fetuses, etc) are “potential persons.” I’m not making that argument; I’m saying from the moment of conception, insofar as personhood is objective at all, these are human persons.

      “Your claim that Keiko is breaking an ethical barrier because her desire for life trumps the moral and ethical questions about creating that life stems from your core set of beliefs.”

      This isn’t what one person or another “believes.” This is about what is and is not. Is murder actually wrong, or do we just believe it’s wrong? This ultimately boils down to whether or not you believe in moral relativism or not. If morality is relative, then it really does come down to my beliefs vs. your beliefs. But if things like personhood are real things outside of our conception of them, then it doesn’t matter what we believe about personhood. What matters is what personhood actually is, and for us to recognize that.

      “In a move that can only be called controversial, she, seduced her father-in-law to get the biological child she felt she was owed. (Genesis Chapter 38.) Far from being cast out of the community, from her descendants come the leaders of the people, including Jesus, who can trace a direct lineage back to Tamar through his father (with a lower case f). The moral lesson? A woman has a right and an obligation to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, even at the risk of public censure.”

      As I mentioned in my original comment, we do not throw morality into the wind to overcome infertility and, in this way, fulfill that command. We do not kidnap children. We do not buy them off the black market. If there were a way to become pregnant at the expense of one living person today (a hypothetical scenario), it would be wrong to do that as well. There are limits.

      Furthermore, although it’s off-topic, Genesis 38 does not pronounce judgment on Tamar’s actions. Judah declares her “more righteous” than him, but that counts for little, since Judah had been very unrighteous (v. 26). The narrator doesn’t comment at this point. She deceived Judah and had sex outside of marriage with her father-in-law, all sinful things. I do greatly appreciate that Tamar stands in the lineage of Jesus, though. It’s a beautiful example of how sinful people were used to build up to the sinless Messiah.

      “So I disagree with your contention that Keiko is casting away inconvenient morality in favor of advancing her personal goals. I think her morality is defined with a different understanding of what morality is.. I don’t want to speak for her, so let me be clear that I’m espousing my own feelings here. The pursuit of life in the present is greater than the presumptive risk of non-life in the future.”

      This isn’t the “presumptive risk of non-life,” though. IVF, depending on the specific type of procedure performed, has the potential to create embryos that aren’t ultimately implanted. These “extras” are destroyed or frozen, awaiting destruction or experimentation. My analogy to demolishing buildings that might have people in them is very appropriate. We should take greater care. I’m not against assisted reproductive technology in general, and I’m not against procedures like intracytoplasmic sperm injection. I am against those procedures that yield embryos that aren’t desired or used immediately to produce pregnancy.

      Why? Because from the moment of conception, these creatures are human persons. It’s arbitrary to define personhood at any other time during development. If you’re going to say that these creatures are persons and that they are somehow worth less than the mother’s desire for a pregnancy, or the mother’s “right to her own body” (which doesn’t make sense in this context, since we’re dealing with 2 individuals), then you’re essentially saying that we, as a culture or a government, can define who is a person and who isn’t, instead of recognizing its natural existence. In so doing, this sets a precedent for such concepts as “after-birth abortion” or infanticide, because people play fast and loose with defining what a person is or what we’re willing to protect in vulnerable populations (link to Journal of Medical Ethics article here: http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/03/01/medethics-2011-100411.short )

      “Even facing the idea that half the children, and these are actually children, not just potential children, might die, the moral decision must be to continue, to attempt to have the children and save all that may be saved.”

      I’m not sure how the legend relates to the point you’re trying to make, so I may have misunderstood it. I don’t think we can get to what’s right by doing what’s wrong. There are other ways to get pregnant apart from the methods that produce embryos that are at risk of being discarded or experimented upon, and there is also adoption.

  9. Amy Durham says

    Quinn-Your first statement “If my partner and I had been unable to conceive our own child naturally” says it all. If being the key word……

    I believe you should take your argument/discussion to your own blog or another site and hash it out there.

    • Noelle says

      I completely agree. You are not a part of the infertility community. And you can NEVER say what you would do if you could not conceive naturally, this is not your reality, how dare you claim to know what you would do.

      • Quinn says

        So those who do not belong to a particular community cannot comment on the morality of that given community? Because none of us are gang members (I presume), we cannot legislate morality outlawing murder in gang wars?

        Just because I do not belong to the infertility community doesn’t mean I cannot identify that embryos are persons and they deserve to have their natural rights recognized in all circumstances, including those that involve assisted reproductive technology.

        • Courtney says

          You can’t legislate this because it’s based on religion, and religion has no place in our REPUBLIC. YOUR religious beliefs do not dictate the beliefs of others. Separation of church and state says you can’t legislate this – not “gang members” in the IF community.

          • Quinn says

            I haven’t once cited my religion as a reason for why I want to recognize embryos as persons; in fact, throughout these discussions, I’ve put forward several secular arguments for the personhood of embryos (e.g., to arbitrarily define personhood at any other stage of development has disastrous consequences for infants and other vulnerable populations; we do not know that fetuses are not persons and this hasn’t been established; to claim that all rights are state-granted rights is to do away with natural rights and thus create a “might makes right” phenomenon).

            Insofar as government dictates any morality at all (and it does – murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, tax evasion is wrong, etc etc), it also has a vested interest in recognizing when personhood begins because it needs to delineate when it should start recognizing a creature’s natural rights.

      • says

        I’ve heard this argument many times with respect to different things;
        Like, “You wouldn’t be against the death penalty for drunk driving if a drunk driver killed your [insert family member here]”
        “If you were a parent, you would understand…”
        and it’s never a good argument. It’s always dismissive. While you’re never absolutely sure you won’t, to use a previous Quinn example, kidnap a baby, if you were diagnosed as infertile, you pretty much know going into it what you will and won’t do. I know a few Catholics who do not believe in ART and would not consider it. For them ,it didn’t mean an end to their quest for children, it just meant that their feet walked a different path towards parenthood.
        We don’t know, and possibly Quinn doesn’t either, what path his or her feet would have taken, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that it would not be a path that involved IVF. Not all people faced with the same choices make the same decisions. Quinn’s ability to have an opinion doesn’t offend me. Those opinions becoming law, that might.

        • Quinn says

          “Quinn’s ability to have an opinion doesn’t offend me. Those opinions becoming law, that might.”

          And how do we decide which “opinions” are made law and which remain just opinions? When do we say murder is wrong? Should we say murder is wrong? Should we say tax evasion is? Or is morality totally relative?

          • says

            As I’ve said, you’re building on a different foundation than I am. I believe that the moral responsibility towards life begins with the birth, the actual, physical birth, of that life. Prior to birth a child is not a child. I am consistent in this belief. I do not, for example, believe that if a pregnant woman is in an accident resulting in miscarriage, the person who caused the accident should be charged with murder.. I feel like both your opinion (thought you don’t think it is one) and mine are valid opinions based on available evidence. However I feel that because both are valid opinions, the law should err on the side of minimalist intervention, which does not prevent you from acting in accordance with your beliefs nor does it prevent me from acting in accordance with mine. It does mean that I am free to act in a way that isn’t consistent with your beliefs, but that’s probably true of many things I do.

    • Courtney says

      I could not agree more with this. IF IF IF. Well, Quinn wasn’t there, Quinn doesn’t know. I was one of those wonderful, open-hearted people who said, “IF we have trouble getting pregnant, we’ll adopt.” THEN – we had trouble getting pregnant, and I felt it was my duty to try to conceive with the help of ART because jumping to adoption, in MY opinion, would be not trying everything to keep those adoptable children available to families who HAD already tried everything. Adoption, in MY opinion, is for people who have tried what they can to have babies and still can’t. Being told, “you can’t have babies without scientific help,” is not a ticket, for ME, to jump to adoption.

      Nice try Quinn, but you lost me at “IF.”

      • Quinn says

        Our personal situations have no bearing on whether an embryo is a person and deserves to have recognition of its natural rights.

  10. says

    Quinn,
    To clarify the point of bringing up the Pharaoh/Jewish men legend; it’s this. If we assume infertility is like Pharaoh, an obstacle to fulfilling G-d’s plan for us, then we have the obligation, like Tamar, to overcome that obstacle by any means necessary. IVF is a solution that allows us to save some, but not necessarily all, of the children. Denying IVF is a solution that denies life to all of those potential children.

    I know that there is a belief that IVF and other ART (assisted reproductive technologies) deny G-d His rightful place in the marriage, but my belief is that ART is a gift from a merciful G-d who is seeking to right the wrong of infertility. Just as medication and medical treatment are gifts from G-d to combat illness.

    One last point I wanted to address, quoting you quoting me:
    This isn’t the “presumptive risk of non-life,” though. IVF, depending on the specific type of procedure performed, has the potential to create embryos that aren’t ultimately implanted. These “extras” are destroyed or frozen, awaiting destruction or experimentation.

    Two things:
    First, and this is a key to understanding each other. Our foundational understanding of what an embryo is different. You build on the foundation that this is already life and therefore should be afforded the basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I build on the foundation that this is potential life and does not have an inherent right to life at this point. In my sculpture analogy, the marble has been purchased and the sculptor has seen the potential, but it’s still a block of marble, not a statue. I know that because we’re standing on entirely foundations at this point, we cannot achieve common ground. on this issue. I restate your point and mine merely to say that I understand your point and your perspective, but I don’t agree with it. I also understand that you may take issue with my saying it’s your perspective, because you feel it’s a restatement of divinely inspired universal law, not subject to interpretation from man.
    Second, a moral objection to the fate of embryos can, instead of denying IVF, be turned to a charitable action of arranging to save those potential babies and deliver them to the loving arms of other parents. I believe there are charities that do this already and it’s a more worthwhile and life affirming position than to deny IVF entirely.

    • Quinn says

      “IVF is a solution that allows us to save some, but not necessarily all, of the children. Denying IVF is a solution that denies life to all of those potential children.”

      Potential children is a concept; real embryos are real persons. A real person has real rights; a potential person only has potential rights, because it doesn’t yet exist.

      “I know that there is a belief that IVF and other ART (assisted reproductive technologies) deny G-d His rightful place in the marriage, but my belief is that ART is a gift from a merciful G-d who is seeking to right the wrong of infertility. Just as medication and medical treatment are gifts from G-d to combat illness.”

      That’s not my contention. I think we’ve done a great many things with modern medicine to help those struggling with infertility. My contention is that we must respect the natural rights of unborn persons because they have rights that deserve to be respected.

      “You build on the foundation that this is already life and therefore should be afforded the basic rights of life,”

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that the embryo is not alive. That’s not where the debate stands, because the embryo is alive just like skin cells or bacteria are alive. The debate centers on whether the embryo is a person and if so, what rights are afforded it because it is a person and how those rights to come into play with the embryo’s mother.

      “I build on the foundation that this is potential life …”

      Assuming by life you mean personhood, what are the qualities that grant a creature personhood and natural rights (e.g., to life).

      “I also understand that you may take issue with my saying it’s your perspective, because you feel it’s a restatement of divinely inspired universal law, not subject to interpretation from man.”

      It’s not just divine law; insofar as we can say, “This is wrong,” (e.g., murder of an adult), we can say many other things, like killing an embryo are wrong, or else all morality is merely arbitrary and might makes right.

      “Second, a moral objection to the fate of embryos can, instead of denying IVF, be turned to a charitable action of arranging to save those potential babies and deliver them to the loving arms of other parents. ”

      Excellent idea, if it could be ensured that the extra embryos are always adopted.

      • says

        I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this concept of “natural rights” as your interest is only to apply these rights to human beings and not all living creatures. The idea of trying to define “personhood” is nothing more than man made construct.

        Plants cast off thousands of seeds containing all the DNA needed for them to grow. Yet they can’t become plants until they find fertile soil, water and sunlight to start growing into a plant. Male genders of all species throw an army of sperm into the world hoping 1 will find an egg and fertilize it. Fish have thousands of babies with the hope a few will make it to adulthood. Nature has found a way around the difficulties of creating the next generation of a species and it knows there are no “rights”, only hope and luck.

        The very argument that this definition is important so lawmakers can legislate shows it to be a man made construct. Let North Dakota define personhood starting at conception so we can charge anyone having an abortion with murder. There is nothing stopping another state from changing the definition of murder to only the set of individuals who’ve been born.

        The kicker is who have no idea what dealing with infertility is like. No couple deciding on IVF nonchalantly goes through the process not caring about the future lives of all of their embryos. We root for everyone of those little guys hoping they can be implanted and grow into a healthy baby. The majority of the embryos simply don’t survive, they aren’t killed.. If you’re one of the lucky couples, you will have enough to freeze in the hopes for a second attempt if the first attempt doesn’t work. Or when the first one does work, they are saved to try for another child a year or two later. Rarely are there any embryos left over when a couple decides their family is large enough.

        If legislatures want to restrict clinics from discarding viable embryos and allowing any experimentation on these embryos and they must all be available for adoption, then I’m all for that. But you don’t need a definition of personhood in order to accomplish this task. The definition of personhood is no different then the definition of a planet…it can be changed and is in no way a universal truth.

        Be careful of your universal quantifiers. To say we should ensure the extra embryos are always adopted is as unrealistic as wanting all unadopted kids to be adopted.. We can however draft legislation to make sure all the extra embryos are available for adoption, and I would view that as a worthy goal.

        • Quinn says

          “I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this concept of “natural rights” as your interest is only to apply these rights to human beings and not all living creatures. The idea of trying to define “personhood” is nothing more than man made construct.”

          Actually, natural rights apply to animals, too. Thus “animal rights.” It’s just that humans possess different natural rights than animals. For example, it’s legal and morally permissible to eat chicken; it is not legal and it is morally impermissible to eat humans. But there are laws against causing undue suffering to animals, because animals are naturally imbued with certain rights just by nature of their being sentient.

          If personhood is a man-made construct, then I suppose you’ll have to argue that it is. And deal with the fact that, if it is, then men can change the definition however they see fit, such that certain ethnicities and vulnerable populations may be edged out of the definition (e.g., black people are no longer considered people; the mentally handicapped are no longer considered people, etc).

          “The very argument that this definition is important so lawmakers can legislate shows it to be a man made construct. Let North Dakota define personhood starting at conception so we can charge anyone having an abortion with murder. There is nothing stopping another state from changing the definition of murder to only the set of individuals who’ve been born.”

          Why do you believe natural rights do not exist?

          “No couple deciding on IVF nonchalantly goes through the process not caring about the future lives of all of their embryos. ”

          I don’t believe they do, and I don’t think I gave that impression in any of my comments.

          “Rarely are there any embryos left over when a couple decides their family is large enough.”

          Please reference my comment below. There were, as of the early 2000s, hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in existence.

          “But you don’t need a definition of personhood in order to accomplish this task.”

          Are you saying “persons” do not exist? That humans don’t actually have rights that should be respected across cultures? Morality is relative? If morality is relative, then you yourself cannot say we “should” do this or we “shouldn’t” do that. It’s all relative!

          • Annie says

            Actually, a lot of people do think it is not morally permissible to eat chicken. I don’t agree with them.

            Similarly, all of this comes down to a difference of opinion. You think/feel/believe that embryos are “persons,” and that therefore discarding them is “murder.” I don’t think/feel/believe that they are for a variety of reasons expressed in comments above. It’s really the end of discussion.

            I will say, however, that beginning your comments by referencing the limitations of your empathy for women experiencing infertility was a poor tactic and undermined everything that came after it. First, it was insensitive in a blog for women undergoing the painful journey that is infertility. Many other bloggers have already addressed what is wrong with the “just adopt” approach. Second, by your logic, it is completely irrelevant as your opposition to IVF hinges on whether embryos are persons and not on how difficult infertility is.

  11. Emily says

    I think there is a big misconception here. The vast majority of IVFs do not result in frozen embryos. It’s a sad fact. I was also one of those people who said I would never do IVF, not due to moral implications but, because I hoped I/we would be able to walk away before going through something that is so emotionally and physically taxing. Here I sit, several years later, 28 weeks pregnant with our 1st miracle as a result of IVF. Actually to be completely honest my pregnancy is the result of a, gasp, frozen embryo transfer (FET). We were truly lucky to have frozen embryos but that is certainly not the norm.