John A. Robertson
If two homosexual men want to use in vitro fertilization to conceive a baby and then use genetics technology to ensure the baby is also “gay,” while disposing of any “straight” embryos, would the law have any ethical problems with that?
America’s leading ethicist in the field of human reproduction has written a paper that argues future homosexual couples should have “the right” to do exactly that.
John A. Robertson of the University of Texas Law School is the chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and an advocate of what his book “Children of Choice” calls “procreative liberty.”
In a paper for the Washington, D.C., think tank Brookings Institution, Robertson presents a futuristic scenario where advancing science and society’s evolving morality could create a once only dreamed-of ethical dilemma:
“Larry, a pediatrician, and David, a wills lawyer, meet in their late 20s, fall in love, and marry on June 15, 2025, in Indianapolis,” Robertson writes. “By 2030, they are well-enough established in their careers to think about having their own child. Larry’s 24-year-old sister Marge has agreed to donate her eggs, and David will provide the sperm, so that each partner will have a genetic connection with the child. … In the process, Larry and David come to realize that they would prefer to have a male child that shares their sexual orientation.”
He continues, “The clinic doctors are experts in embryo screening and alteration, but cannot guarantee that the resulting embryos will in fact turn out to be homosexual. To increase the certainty, they will insert additional ‘gay gene’ sequences in the embryos.”
While Robertson admits no such “gay gene” has yet been identified, he argues that genomic knowledge is “mushrooming.”
The paper, titled “Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Technology in 2030,” is actually the seventh in a Brookings series on the future of the U.S. Constitution, which asks a dozen scholars “of diverse political and jurisprudential worldviews” to imagine technological developments that will “stress” current constitutional law.
In his paper, Robertson argues that the Supreme Court may not want to consider the ethical implications of his theoretical scenario, or if it does, may step gingerly to avoid recognizing the full implications of what he calls the “constitutional doctrine of procreative liberty.”
And if that doctrine is extended to assisted reproductive technology, Robertson says, it could result in “the surprising conclusion that what Larry and David propose may by 2030 fit within the mainstream of reproductive choice.”
Robertson writes that technology will push our value system and our laws to include many things now considered “outré,” but then asks, “Will this be bad?”
It depends, he answers.
“Two decades may also be too brief a time for social and cultural norms about parental choice to change and develop in the direction described here,” he admits. “But … as technical developments occur, technology will exert hydraulic pressure on procreative practices and the legal rights that protect them. As conceptions of family and parental choice change, courts and legislatures will respond accordingly.”
He concludes, “By 2030 the logic of procreative freedom should recognize the right of Larry and David to use the technologies available to have the family they choose.”