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 Title

Restricting Reproductive Freedom Is the Real Indignity

 Synopsis

The government proposes to ban certain practices in the field of human reproduction (such as surrogate mothering and sperm sales), alleging that the commercial aspects violate human dignity. Contrary to popular myth, money is not the root of all evil, but rather one of mankind’s greatest inventions. The real indignity is for the state to treat its citizens like irresponsible children.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the October, 1996 issue of Canadian Lawyer.

 Author

Karen Selick

 Author Notes

Libertarian (NOT conservative) lawyer practising in Belleville, Ontario and a columnist for Canadian Lawyer magazine.

Ms. Selick maintains her own web site at which others of her writings can be found.

 Essay - 10/1/1996

I’m looking at Bill C-47, the proposed Human Reproductive and Genetic Technologies Act. Why is the government bothering with this, I wonder? I don’t recall seeing surrogacy contracts or sperm sales among the pressing issues that Canadian voters mention when polled about their concerns.

The bill says it has three goals: to protect the health and safety of Canadians, to ensure the "appropriate treatment" of human reproductive materials outside the body, and to protect the dignity of all persons, especially women and children. Then there’s a list of about a dozen prohibited activities.

What’s missing, in both the bill and Health Canada’s explanatory press release, and in all the material I’ve seen from the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, is any rational explanation of how the declared goals tie in to the prohibited practices. It’s as though the practices absorb their wickedness by osmosis, simply by being mentioned in the same document as the accusations against them. The government has announced that they’re bad, therefore they’re bad. QED.

For example, how does the sale of sperm - as opposed to unpaid sperm donations - jeopardize anyone’s health or safety, or lead to inappropriate treatment of tissue, or violate anyone’s dignity? Liability-conscious labs will still want to screen semen for disease. They’ll still store it the same way. And I understand that ejaculating into a test tube while the lab technician waits outside the door is found by most sperm donors to be a tad undignified, pay or no pay.

The only serious violation of dignity would arise from passing the bill - from telling adult citizens they cannot engage in freely negotiated, voluntary contracts. The state is saying that both buyers and sellers of sperm are like infants, like mental incompetents - incapable of determining what’s in their own best interest. Big Brother knows best. Now there’s a genuine indignity for you.

There are other non-sequiturs in this legislation; for example, the ban on "medical procedures" aimed at sex selection of children. There are already books on the market - not to mention several Internet sites--telling couples about do-it-yourself techniques they can try in order to alter their chances of conceiving boys or girls. Presumably, these techniques will remain legal. Even this Liberal government, interventionist as it is, doesn’t have the stomach to hire Sex Police to ensure that couples make love equally before and after ovulation, or that women don’t douche with baking soda or vinegar. But in that case, why ban the medical procedures? Both sets of techniques are unreliable.

Leftist feminists allege sex selection will lead in some unspecified way to the "devaluation" of women. Too bad they don’t understand basic economics. They’ve got it exactly backwards. Even if they’re correct in their silly hypothesis that Canadian couples will disproportionately choose to produce boys (an assumption that the Royal Commission admits is unsupported by the evidence), they’re wrong about the effect it would have on women’s social status. Plentiful resources generally command low values; scarce resources, high.

Besides, if the next generation of Canadians is disproportionately male, women will have the upper hand in selecting a mate. By choosing judiciously, women might well help breed out or train out such undesirable behaviours as violence or alcoholism. Shouldn’t that make feminists happy?

The most disturbing rhetoric from Health Canada is its vilification of all things commercial. We can’t "commercialize reproduction," the press release says. It would be "contrary to the principles of human dignity, respect for life and protection of the vulnerable."

The notion that money taints every human activity with depravity dates all the way back to antiquity. It’s balderdash. Money is one of mankind’s greatest inventions - as necessary and beneficial to civilized life as the wheel.

Even those who subscribe to the Marxist ideal, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," find money to be a useful tool. It can be broken down into tiny units, so that when a cattle rancher and a baker each want to give according to their abilities and take according to their needs, the rancher doesn’t end up giving a whole cow for a loaf of bread.

Money also serves as a means of storing value, permitting people to schedule their transactions more conveniently. The rancher can sell his cattle weeks before his shopping spree in town. He doesn’t have to drive the herd along with him to barter as he goes from store to store.

And money solves the problem of having to find someone whose abilities and needs coincide inversely with yours. The rancher can still get bread from the baker even if the baker is a vegetarian.

So what’s the problem if a woman wants to rent out her uterus for 9 months? Why is that less dignified than babysitting someone’s child after it has been born? She’s simply trading her time and discomfort for other things she wants more - perhaps something for her own children. Money is merely an intermediate device that lets her fulfill her other goals.

There was a time when acting on stage and wearing dresses above the ankle were considered grossly undignified. That nonsense passed, and these restrictions on reproductive freedom will, too. Meanwhile, Canadians who want to exercise their reproductive rights will have to do it in California.


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