Two cheers, at least, for utilitarianism


We tend to give utilitarianism a hard time in “Pointed Remarks”. But sometimes we could do with a bit more utilitarianism. It might keep the media – and many doctors, too – from being so dewy-eyed about apparent successes. Take IVF, which celebrated, so to speak, its 40th anniversary this week, with the birthday of Louise Brown.

In some respects, IVF has been quite a success. An estimated 8 million IVF children have been born since then. A thriving industry has grown up, worth some US$15 billion, making lots of doctors, scientists, technicians and administrators very wealthy. That is the happiness side of the ledger.

But how about the women who endured cycle after cycle of IVF without conceiving? Their lives have been filled with suffering as a result. And there are far more of them than women who eventually conceived. How about the destruction of millions upon millions of human embryos? And how about the disturbing future of IVF – designer babies and genetically-engineered children? That is the pain side of the ledger. It hasn’t been quantified, of course, but it must be acknowledged. I would venture to say that the balance is negative.

Whether I’m right or wrong about that, I do think that we need a clearer vision of the negative side of assisted reproductive technology.




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