by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
January 26, 2011 - The increasing technological sophistication of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) invariably creates a psychic tension that is not frequently noted. This oversight is surprising because the psychological conflict is fairly obvious.
On the one hand, couples who undergo IVF must view the blastocysts they produce as mere clumps of cells – devoid of any moral significance. Such an attitude is essential to the process in order to overcome the psychological guilt that might accompany the reality that the embryos not selected for implantation are ultimately destined for destruction. In short, if a parent knows, in advance, that she’s going to destroy the children she has created, it helps assuage the conscience to think of them as something less than the human beings that they are.
On the other hand, couples who undergo IVF must simultaneously view the blastocysts they produce as the persons that they will become in order for PGD to make sense. For part of what is being determined in the process of genetic screening is what sort of “quality of life” the present organism will enjoy in the future. If the blastocyst were merely a clump of cells and nothing else, why would we be worried at all about its future quality of life? It is only insofar as we view that clump of cells as the human being that it currently is that it makes sense to accept the results of PGD as bearing on his/her future flourishing.
In sum, couples who undergo IVF are being asked to treat some set of cells though they have absolutely no inherent meaning or significance whatsoever, while simultaneously being asked to treat the very same cells as though they are invested with all of the meaning and significance that every human life has.
That this psychic tension does not produce madness in those who undergo IVF is astonishing (though perhaps the long-term psychological effects have not been sufficiently studied). In any case, despite efforts of the fertility industry to assure its patrons that IVF+PGD = happiness, the unraveling of souls continues behind the aching smiles of “successful” parents.