Should I be surprised that in this ultra-consumer culture a person can now actually buy a baby? That’s right, a baby.
There’s a clinic in San Antonio, Texas, called the Abraham Center of Life, which has started the first human embryo bank. Reportedly for $10,000, infertile couples can purchase a pair of donor-created embryos. They are shipped to the couple’s primary medical clinic for implantation. Both are implanted with the idea that only one will ultimately survive. The center boasts a success rate of about 70 percent.
The center screens donors, both men and women; it claims to accept only people with “clean medical backgrounds.” The center requires male donors to be college educated. The center apparently even grades the embryos according to some measure it has created for “quality.”
Should I be surprised that in this culture, one can purchase an embryo in pretty much the same fashion that one would purchase an automobile? Cohabitation long ago turned marriage into a consumer experience. We’ve all heard the argument: “You’d test drive a car before buying it, why wouldn’t you test out a spouse before getting married?” So I guess it should not come as a surprise that the natural fruits of marriage –- children -– should be reduced to little more than a commodity as well.
Infertility is an emotional roller coaster; my wife and I have struggled with it for years. The culture advocates a medical resolution; we can, after all, create life in a Petri dish. During the last several years, the approach typically has been to use sperm and ova from the couple. Initiate conception in the laboratory and then implant for the gestation of pregnancy. If one of those initial components is inadequate, a donor can be tapped. The Abraham Center is the first clinic in the United States that I know of to use donor sources for both components of the conception.
These medical approaches do produce children, but I really think they represent dabbling in places where man does not belong. The question about creating life in the laboratory has never really been can we do it? but should we do it? I am so grateful to the Catholic Church for its clear direction on this question. The Church teaches that a marital relationship brings husband and wife together -– physically -– for the equal purposes of loving one another and for having children. Official Church documents use the terms “procreative” and “unitive.”
When we were first considering our options for addressing our infertility, we listened to doctors explain the medical options. Most of those options violated the unitive component of marriage. In other words, they offered procreation without the actually physical union of the husband and wife. Although we wanted the experience of conceiving a child, we didn’t want to be our own church. We did not want to make up our own theology. We wanted to live the faith, given to us by Jesus Christ, through His worldwide Church. So we got off the medical path fairly early in our marital journey.
And it was the best thing we ever did. We didn’t know anything about adoption at the time, but we studied and learned. Ultimately, over a period of seven years, we adopted four children. We have beautiful children and we thank God for the vocation of parenthood that He has given us. Sometimes I have referred to adoption as our “plan B,” but of course it isn’t my plans that matter. Maybe for us, this was God’s “plan A.”
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Today, November 18, is National Adoption Day. Tomorrow, November 19, will be the fourth anniversary of the date our youngest child was presented to us in an orphanage in South America. Adoption has been a magnificent blessing to our family. I pray for couples who are struggling with infertility. I hope more will consider adoption; the need is great. The rewards are even greater.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
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