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Ethicist says ‘twiblings’ infertility treatment reflects ‘consumerist culture’

WASHINGTON (BP)–A newly published account of the creation of two siblings born five days apart by means of sperm and egg donation, plus separate surrogate mothers, is proof of unfettered consumerism in human reproduction, a Southern Baptist bioethicist said.

The cover story of the Jan. 2 issue of The New York Times Magazine is Melanie Thernstrom’s chronicle of how her husband, Michael, and she became parents to Kieran and Violet — “twiblings,” as she describes them, since they are not twins but were born almost at the same time.

In the account titled “Meet the Twiblings,” Melanie, who married in her early 40s, writes in a deeply personal way of her infertility and the six rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that failed. Based on the desire for their children to be “same-age companions,” Michael suggested they find two women to carry their implanted embryos at the same time.

Embryos created by sperm from Michael and eggs donated by a young California woman they interviewed were transferred to Melissa, then 30, and Fie, then 34, at the same time. The “gestational carriers,” as Melanie called them, lived in Oregon, as did Melanie and Michael.

“We were careful to refer to the fetuses as the ‘drafts’ rather than our chosen names to remind ourselves that they were notes toward the children we wanted, but if they died, they were just beginnings like all the embryos had been, and we would start again,” Melanie wrote.

Melissa gave birth to a boy, Kieran, and Fie to Violet five days apart.

While Melanie acknowledged she “can count the ways Plan B is a less-desirable way to have children,” it “became the best plan, because Plan B created the children that we have and are convinced we had to have.”

Bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said the account points to a wider cultural problem.

“This kind of boutique baby making is incontestable evidence of a consumerist culture run amok. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better, I’m afraid,” said Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a consultant to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“The desire to have children is good. But even good desires can become disordered, and disordered desires can become pathological,” he said in a statement to Baptist Press. “Ms. Thernstrom would not be denied her desire no matter what the cost. By her own admission, she spent a small fortune, rejected every ethical caution and was complicit in the death of dozens of human embryos through failed IVF procedures — all in her quest to make her own dream come true. The narcissism in her essay is simply breathtaking.”

In a Jan. 3 blog post, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said the article illustrates the revolution that has taken place because of reproductive technologies.

“It is as if we are now living on a new planet — one in which all the natural boundaries of sex and reproduction have been left behind,” wrote the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “The technologies of reproduction are redefining sex, marriage, relationships, family, and the human story. Humanity is rushing headlong into a world in which the answer to the question, ‘Where did I come from?,’ can be endlessly complicated. We have no adequate categories for explaining the relationship of little Kieran and Violet and all those who ‘conspired’ to bring them to be. …

“The theological and moral implications of all this are endless and urgent, but the technologies rush ahead. For Christians, the most urgent issue is the total separation of natural marriage from the process of human reproduction that is made possible by these technologies. The moral complexities surrounding Kieran and Violet Thernstrom and their ‘extended family’ are vexing.”

Mohler added, “An entire industry now operates with a global reach, offering these reproductive technologies to virtually anyone with the cash to pay. You can count on reproductive technologies expanding as a growth industry.”

The New York Times Magazine article may be accessed online at http://nyti.ms/gdpCVl.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.