Ellen Goodman’s 1980 IVF Predictions

December 7, 2006

The discussion about selecting embryos to have a disability reminded me of a column I have in my files written by the syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman in January 1980. It is a good reminder of how if we are willing to look, we can see the slippery slope literally slip-sliding away.

In “Making Babies,” which ran in the Austin American Statesman on 1/17/80 (no link available), Goodman urged that IVF be permitted to proceed unhindered.

To some, it is just a small medical step, another helping tool which we will soon accept the way we now accept the once-diabolical diaphragm. To others, it is a step down the long road to a Brave New World, in which Aldous Huxley foresaw a human hatchery and fertilizing center in the middle of London.

Both were right, in my view. And here is the slippery slope part:

A fear of many protesting the opening of this clinic is that doctors will fertilize myriad eggs and discard the ‘extras’ and the abnormal, as if they were no more meaningful than a dish of caviar. But this fear seems largely unwarranted.

Actually, as demonstrated in recent headlines, that is precisely what happened.

After some discussion, she concludes:

Now, we have to watch the development of this technology–willing to see it grow in the right direction, and ready to say no.

Except we never say no, at least not no to something that can be done in the moment. Instead, our public intellectuals argue that if it is okay to perform IVF, why isn’t it also okay to select embryos? And if we can select embryos, why not design progeny? And if we can use IVF, why not reproductive cloning once it is safe?

After I ran across this column, Goodman wrote a column in favor of ESCR. I e-mailed her pointing out that she was supporting a policy that treats embryos as if they were no more meaningful than a dish of caviar, and asked her when she would finally say no.

She wrote back,

My lines have changed.

Indeed. And thus the blithe assurances that we will know where and when to stop are just platitudes. The Establishment has no intention of ever, finally saying no.

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