Reproduction and Responsibility

Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2004.


New biotechnologies are providing new capacities for altering human reproduction, especially with life initiated outside the body. The intersection of assisted reproduction with techniques of genetic screening and sex selection confronts patients with a daunting array of new opportunities and dilemmas, while possible changes in human reproduction may have great significance for society as a whole. Concerned people wonder whether we can govern the uses of these biotechnologies, enabling them to serve worthy ends without compromising human freedom and dignity.

Doing so will be difficult. Our ethical reflections and regulatory institutions have lagged behind our rapid technological advance. Moreover, issues surrounding human reproduction, touching deep questions of sex and family, freedom and responsibility, arouse deep public disagreement–witness abortion, embryo research and human cloning. People on different sides of the issues have opposed governmental regulation, either because they want to protect biomedical research and medical progress or because they do not wish to sanction the activity being regulated.