Reproductive Technologies: Does Choice Mean Freedom? Essay, Research Paper
Reproductive Technologies: Does Choice Mean Freedom?
By David Kinlough
“One does not, it might be said, increase a person’s freedom simply by
increasing the sheer quantity of possibilities which he or she can choose from.”
n Richard Norman
The issue of reproductive technologies in our society today raises an
interesting question. Do they increase a women’s freedom of choice or do they
expand the power of men and science over women. Is freedom to choose what they
can do with their bodies truly freedom. Freedom, as a core, is the absence of
external impediment. In this sort of area can women truly be free of external
impediment, also is this truly freedom of choice? “The range of physical
possibilities from which a person can choose at a given moment has no direct
relevance to freedom?Whether a person is free or not does not depend on the
range of choice.” (Haylek 1960, p.12f). This subject is so socially charged
that a women could not possibly have true freedom of choice but a choice which
is basically decided for her, whether it be by the limited choices made
available to her by medical science or by the men which are directly involved
with them in the decision.
In order to truly understand this issue we must look at it’s core,
reproductive technology. This is a vast area to discuss because it ranges from
artificial insemination to abortion to contraception to genetic engineering with
many area in between.
Artificial insemination is the introduction of sperm to an ovum
artificially either inside or outside the female genital tract. Abortion is the
“extermination of pregnancy before the fetus is capable of independent life.”
Birth control is a huge area of reproductive or contraceptive technology, in
effect though all sub areas of this main area deal with the prevention of
fertilization of the ovum or egg, also in some cases such as the condom it can
stop the spread of disease. Genetic engineering is a new and extremely scary
technology which hopes to enable the precise engineering of an unborn child.
The previous examples are just some of the areas of reproductive
technologies but they are sufficient to cover the basic scope of the issue.
What is freedom. In the Webster’s dictionary the definition is “The
state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical
restraint”. This is the core of freedom but to truly understand freedom one
must define it with much more detail. two people who have concentrated their
efforts on the subject of freedom are Norman and Haylek. Norman feels that
freedom is equated to the absence of social pressure yet the possession of
social and political power and wealth. Haylek’s version is much simpler, he
believes that freedom is “The absence of external impediment” (Haylek 1960, p17).
Unfortunately Haylek is to general in his claims for this subject so Norman’s
definition will be our focus.
Is it truly freedom of choice when a the decision is morally effected.
No it is not, as Norman said, freedom is the absence of social pressure. One
can read a newspaper everyday and see an article discussing a mob of pro-life
activists barricading an abortion clinic or reading an editorial surrounding the
moral dilemma of genetic engineering, in fact this subject is one of the most
socially charged. With so many groups hammering their ideals at you, a truly
“free” choice cannot be made.
Almost the only area of reproductive technologies which could be seen as
a freedom to women is the area of artificial insemination. In this choice there
is no real moral issue, it is the creation of life therefore society condones it,
and her decision will not be influenced by social pressure. In fact this area
can help a women give birth to a child who previously could not, and out of all
the decisions in the area of reproductive technologies it is the one least
influenced by men. A man can wish his “wife” would have a child but if she is
unable to naturally conceive, it is her decision to be impregnated using this
technology. In other words this area of reproductive technologies is the most
socially neutral, the influence of a man in her life (if any) can be a strong
one and therefore can effect the freedom the women can exercise in this choice.
Abortion is not a freedom to women when applying Norman’s version of
freedom. It is the most socially fueled area of this technology and it is the
most shunned. If a women becomes pregnant and wishes to have it aborted, it
usually means that the pregnancy was not planned, and society usually blames the
women because in the mind of most people it is her responsibility alone. This is
the most ignorant of social beliefs but unfortunately it is one of the most
prevalent ones, thankfully this is changing but unfortunately the process is a
slow one. (A case where the pregnancy must be aborted due to medical reasons is
not truly a decision, more of a necessity and therefore does not apply in this
context.) It could have been the result of many things such as the improper use
of contraception, or as a worst case, due to rape. In this case the decision
does not fall on the female alone, she is bombarded with opinions from many
different sources, the most influential in most cases is the male involved.
There have been so many cases where a woman has had an abortion because of
constant coercion being applied by the man whose child it is, or she has been
pressured by an external source, and in no definition freedom does this apply.
The decision, if it can be called that, is also politically influenced because
should she decide to have the child she might not be able to support it
financially and therefore might have to ask for government assistance and in the
minds of some politicians she would either become a burden or a “poster child”
which they can use to attain more social and political power. The decision to
go through with this form of reproductive technology or termination is the
hardest on a women and quite often her freedom of choice is taken away by others.
Contraception is in some ways a means for men to control women. The
decision to use contraception is not one which is made by the women alone. “The
pill” for example is used by some women to regulate their menstrual cycle and in
this case it is often a necessity and not a choice, but quite often a women uses
this drug because of pressure from males who do not wish to use other forms a
birth control which might inhibit them in some way. Contraception is also used
because more often than not sex is not used for procreation and most men would
not live up to their responsibility should the women get pregnant in an
unplanned situation and then the option of abortion would become an issue and as
discussed, it is an altogether unpleasant one. Also the area of science would
now have power over the women because it first of all offers these options and
continually finds new ones. Through social and political means they make money
off of women. Contraception is not a true freedom for women because it’s use is
influenced by so many different sources that a truly “free” decision to use it
cannot be made.
Genetic engineering is a broad term, in this case we are looking at the
area involving human reproduction. It is the newest of all reproductive
technologies and one which has stirred a plentiful amount of controversy. It’s
basic goal is to enable the “building” of a human to exact specifications. If
and when this technology becomes readily available it will cause extreme moral
dilemmas. To use this, on one hand, would enable the elimination of birth
defects and certain diseases, but on the other it would eliminate nature from
the process of evolution. The choice to use this will also not be a free one
for women. After all is a choice a free one when all of society is
participating in the technology you are deciding to use? No it is not. Would a
mother have any choice not to use this technology? No, if she chose not to when
the majority of people were chose to, she could quite possibly give her child a
disadvantage in life. This decision could also have political influence because
a government could very easily push people towards the use of certain types of
genetic engineering by launching a campaign to prove it would be the best for
everyone should people use this.
Although the previous choice a women might have to make regarding
reproductive technology, at this point in time, has it’s basis in theory more
than fact it should not be dismissed. In fact if one reads almost any
literature on this topic we see the same theories and fears emerge. Also this
could very possibly be a technology reserved for the rich, and those who cannot
afford this would be at a major disadvantage.
The examples of reproductive technologies in this essay were sighted as
a tool to display the power which men and science have over women when in the
area of reproductive technologies. In the definition of freedom used in this
paper we see that a person is only truly free when they are free from social
pressure yet have political and social power and wealth. All of the above
“choices” have a heavy influence from society and involve politics and money.
Also stated was the fact that limited amounts of choice can also hinder one’s
freedom and the scientific community has offered only a few choices.
Reproductive technologies as a core science could possibly expand women’s
freedom of choice but under today’s conditions it does not. These technologies
are still relatively dangerous and allow for the manipulation of women by others
such as men and the scientific community.
Hayek, F. “Planning & Democracy”
Funk & Wagnalls. “Artificial Insemination, Birth Control, Genetic Engineering,
Abortion.” Microsoft Encarta Ed. Microsoft Corporation. 1997 ed.
Norman, Richard. “Does Equality Destroy Liberty?”