Déjà vu all over again

December 21, 2022 • Posted in Blog

By D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director

“Children Made to Order”

The past couple of weeks have reminded me of the quote attributed to Yogi Berra, “It’s Deja Vu All Over Again.”

Twenty-five years ago, the film, Gattaca, was released. One of the fake ads for the movie is pictured here. Thousands of people responded to the advertisements for the film, thinking it was the real deal.

In the past two weeks, multiple people have sent me the link to a new video, EctoLife: Concept Unveiled for the World’s First Artificial Womb Facility. Some are concerned that this is happening now; comments found online show a significant amount of interest in investing in or personally benefiting from this. Rachel Moss, writing in the Huffington Post has reported on this video, the interest in it, and some of the considerations this for-now fictional enterprise brings to the fore.

To her credit, Moss mentions ethical considerations, but her interviewee, Professor of Obstetrics Andrew Shennan (King’s College London), does not think the ethics are “challenging.” Given the wide acceptance of IVF and the “common phenomenon” of surrogacy, he anticipates that legislation will be needed. But he concludes, “In a way, you’re just asking the machine to be the surrogate, instead of another woman.”

Even if Shennan is correct about acceptance of such technological reproduction, that doesn’t mean that the ethics have been properly considered. Myriad considerations are wanting here.
1. Are succeeding generations of human beings rightfully viewed as objects of our machinations?
2. Who rightly gives permission for human experimentation on our children?
3. Manufacturing children through technology and procreating are not the same thing.
Manufacturing always includes inter alia quality control and disposal of mistakes.
4. Gestating is more than incubating – in physical terms, at a molecular level, in
psychological and social terms, and in many other, perhaps unknown, ways.

Mere legislation will not and cannot address all of these.

Since Gattaca debuted 25 years ago, much of the genetic determinism displayed in that film has come to pass. We need to do more that hope that this EctoLife short does not become “Déjà vu all over again.”

I appreciate the interest expressed by those who sent me the EctoLife video link in the first place. Due diligence requires that we verify claims made. Is this true? If it is true, to what degree is it true? How should we think about this? What should we do about this?

The irony of this story at this time of the year is remarkable. C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., wrote in an email, “Much of the media – and many readers/viewers – are willing to run with the faux-spectacular, yet so many miss the truly phenomenal: in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000+
years ago . . .”