Orange bowtie with white polka dotsBioethics.Me

The Right to Another Person

A child plays on a toy mat

Americans reject the notion that a person has a right to another person. This is most clearly illustrated in our morally correct judgement against slavery. Ironically, despite this rejection, there are many other areas of human activity that we accept as normal that rely exclusively on that right.

The breakdown occurs when we allow emotion to supplant logic. Particular scenarios tug at the heartstrings, and popular opinion suggests that we should make an exception, just this once. The problem with exceptions is that they naturally expand over time.

The best way to analyze any question is to peel away at the patina until you reach the core issue. Regardless of the empathy required in a medical setting, logic cannot be abandoned without dire consequences.

The conception and creation of new human life, outside of the natural order of male and female sexual relations, is commonly accepted. When couples are unable to procreate, despite intense desire, we all gather around them and tell them not to worry, that they can have a child through alternative methods such as surrogacy or in vitro fertilization.

But if no person has a right to another, how can we tell adults that they have a right to a child? I have three children, but I don’t own them. Alison and I bear the mantle of responsibility of agency over them until they reach the age of majority. Under penalty of law, we must care for them or the State has the right to abrogate our agency and take custody.

IVF, in particular, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not only is the success rate well south of 50%, the number of fertilized embryos, members of the species homo sapien, killed in the process is abhorrent. How many parents would consent to the death of dozens of their children in exchange for the hope of a single live birth? While many people do not see the disposal or destruction of those embryos as problematic, it is. Whether you recognize a fertilized egg, an embryo, as a person or not, there is no biological dispute that it is human. If we truly regard violence against humans as an innate evil, as we should, than that belief should inform our conclusions.

Some may object these conclusions as inconsiderate, off-base, out of mainstream, or even extreme. A personal affront is not a response to the bioethical concerns of IVF. Slavery is objectively wrong, even in the days when society accepted it writ large. One cannot argue too forcefully in advocating for the dignity of the human person, in particular the dignity of the weakest and most vulnerable. While it’s easy to agree that slavery is always morally wrong, logic demands that the same standard be applied equally, in every scenario, regardless of feelings of empathy. There can be no ownership of any person by another, period.