Mary Harrington’s schematic natural human bioplan for continuing the species leaves out essential components: the instinctive drive for a man and a women to mate brings the gametes together; the small gamete is made and delivered by men; the woman nourishes the newborn with her breastmilk; the new human is genetically and phenotypically kin to the parents; the man and women typically raise the newborn to become a functioning adult that is then instinctually driven to mate with the opposite sex.
Adding these components, we straight away we see that the bioplan is psycho-social as a well as physiological; that heterosexuality is fundamental to human existence; and that homosexuality is an emergent secondary phenomenon. So, the conservatives were (inadvertently) correct that marriage (as mating institution) between a man and a woman is not equivalent to the marriage between two women or two men.
The negative consequences of surrogacy, donor conceptions absent mothers, absent fathers are becoming known particularly from the children. On the horizon are artificial wombs, artificial embryos, and human cloning.
Before we abandon the natural human reproductive bioplan we need a deeper understanding of its psycho-social and physiological virtues so we can properly weigh up propositions like that put by the two men from New York to decide whether they will lead us to a better or a worse new world.
Because of surrogacy, women can now father children. One woman can literally give birth to another woman’s child.The woman who gives birth is the mother, regardless of whether or not she is genetically related to the human being she creates in her body.
But these women are not being called mothers, they are being called “surrogates”.
That, to me, is the most horrific aspect of surrogacy.
In the case of surrogacy, there are always three parents: two “fathers” and one mother.
That the parent who takes merged gametes and creates a human being from them within her own body, then gives birth to that human being, is being treated like an appliance to be rented out makes me sick to my stomach.
Surrogacy not only creates a child, it creates THREE parents, not two.
This needs to be acknowledged and honored.
Not sure why you are being downvoted. I completely agree with you. I’ve never understood wasting resources on surrogacy when there are thousands of children that need adopting.
Absolutely, and it doesn’t involve coercing anyone into any agreement. I’m mostly stunned that children are seen as a prize, a commodity, a thing to boast about. When did a child stop being seen as a precious gift to be loved and protected and guided into their own adulthood? What a sick world we have created.
Agreed. And it will only get much sicker as time goes on. A “neovagina” made out of fish skin! Really?
What you say about the “bioplan” is surely correct and worth stating boldly in this age that trivializes nature. It’s both physiological, as you say, and psycho-social.
But why do you assume that conservatives are “(inadvertently) correct” in opposing gay marriage? That sounds very cynical. After all, opposing gay marriage makes sense to me on rational grounds, and I’m gay. I have no problem with gay relationships and gay civil unions, and I’m hardly alone in that respect among both conservative and gay people, but marriage did not originate to satisfy the psychological needs of adults either gay or straight. Although marriage has several functions, its primary function is to satisfy the physical, psychological, material and other needs of children (and therefore of society as a whole). More specifically, marriage is about providing children with both mothers and fathers–whose functions are by no means identical– whenever possible. Homosexuality really is less important than heterosexuality to society as a whole (which doesn’t entail hostility toward the former). You don’t have to hate or persecute gay people to understand that.
I’ve seen people say things like the comment you mention a few times, assuming for example that traditional views from Christian or just older societies stumbled by luck upon the same conclusion they themselves have from a modern secular, often conservative perspective. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the older viewpoint might have very much the same reasoning they do. I think partly people get confused about this because the language is used differently, but it’s also because there is a tendency to assume that people in the past simply believed certain things on wholly dogmatic, almost arbitrary grounds.
What you say makes absolute sense. And you get the upticks. I bet if you hadn’t stated you were gay you’d get the red marks.
Oh, I get them instead.
We’re already far down that road psychologically, socially, morally, ethically, legally, philosophically and commercially when it comes to natural immunity.
Children are purely a commodity now. Everyone and anyone wants a right to own one or several and to shape those lives into decent, law abiding, unquestioning slaves to the entire globo-corporate apparatus.
Agreed: “having” children is the least challenging part of the process – raising them to be inquisitive, brave, resilient, independent, caring, polite (essentially, not whiney a**h**es) – now that’s the bit which requires grit, determination and some self-sacrifice too.
Or indeed, to shape them to some other paradigm.
One wonders what the offspring of non-natural surrogacy will make of it, when they reach the teenage-rebellion phase which enables humans to develop into independent adults (independent of parental control, that is).
The desire to have offspring may have nasty shocks in store from ‘ungrateful’ teenagers, especially those with additional potential to question their identity.
I think this is a problem for all of society, too many forget that having children is a privilege, not a right!
Perhaps it’s neither. It’s a duty.
Privilege, right, duty. Each one falls short of the mark.
Everyone wants to shape their child into an unquestioning slave? You must live in a very weird community if that’s your experience.
Surrogacy is the farming of poor women by rich people, usually men. Whether they are gay couples or sugar daddies who don’t want their trophy wives’ bodies to be sullied by pregnancy is irrelevant. The motive is the same; farming women and buying children.
For decades unmarried women were forced to give up their babies for adoption by ‘respectable’ middle class couples. Even when the child was loved and cared for, they knew that they didn’t belong and the many television programmes about searching for lost families show the very tip of that huge iceberg. In many cases, children were abused or brought up by religious nutters and the grief of the mothers, decades later, is still clearly very raw.
Unless it is impossible, because of death, imprisonment, addiction or other serious impediments, children should be brought up by their biological parents, even if they are no longer together. If that is impossible, they should be allowed to know who they are and have contact with other members of their birth family. It is a fundamental human need to understand who you are and where you come from. The rights of the actual or potential children must supersede those of adults every time.
“Surrogacy is the farming of poor women by rich people, usually men.”
I’d be interested to see the evidence for this statement.
In this study from 2019 (in the US) https://pubmed.ncbi.nih.gov/31512272/ involving 131 births involving 90 surrogates, 37.4% were for same-sex male couples and single men.
62% were for heterosexual couples and single women.
Continued contact with the birth mother was reported in 93% of cases.
Interestingly surrogates were significantly more likely to have post-birth contact with the same-sex male couples and single fathers compared to the heterosexual partners and single mothers – 76% v’s 34%.
“Surrogacy is the farming of poor women by rich people, usually men.”
Nonsense. It’s the powerful desire of a woman to have a child.
Let’s be clear, the idea that nature and biology used in argument is “bigotry” is very like Critical Race Theory saying that ‘common sense’ is racist and oppressive. These are mad ideas but that is “the moral consensus” we are living with.
Sexism and racism are Marxist constructions, they divide humanity up ruthlessly into Them and Us, one group to suffer, the other group to oppress. It is tragic how successful it has been, even the Church of England has succumbed to it, not all of them I hope.
In Law, instead of approaching human problems and disagreements on a case by case basis – how English Common Law developed and spread around the world because it worked so well – the West is now trying to enforce a moral code, which it has no business so to do.
Nevertheless I think the law is one answer, it’ll be win some lose some, but the balance will be in favour of common sense, because that’s what makes us flourish as a species.
I agree with you, but what constitutes common sense when everything is relative, including truth? We seem to be moving into an era where hardly anyone shares a common understanding of anything.
I’m strongly averse to moral relativism but I know what you mean.
That’s the problem with philosophy I think, it can tie people up in knots. The only thing to do imo is to break things down as simply as I can.
For example, the problem with surrogacy, as a business transaction, is that it exemplifies aetheistic modern liberalism’s quest to enable people to be whatever they want to be, and to acquire whatever product they desire and can afford to pay for. In this case, a baby.
Whereas if we emphasise “what is natural” as much as possible (within reason), that assumes a divine intelligence is at work in creation of the natural world, and wants us to flourish within it, as part of it. And so we co-operate.
Perhaps we are at a parting of the ways. Some will choose a more natural way of life and continue to use their common sense; others will choose a more artificial, experimental, urban, existence.
Both have downsides but I know where I’m happiest.
That’s how it seems to me anyway.
“the problem with surrogacy, as a business transaction, is that it exemplifies aetheistic modern liberalism’s quest to enable people to be whatever they want”
It’s not necessarily a business transaction. Is that what you think pregnancy is to those who fall pregnant naturally, just an effort to be whatever they want?
“Whereas if we emphasise “what is natural” as much as possible (within reason), that assumes a divine intelligence is at work “
I don’t assume “natural” assumes a divine intelligence. Nor do many others. You’re suggesting that common sense is the work of God.
Some surrogacy is a private arrangement between individuals where no money is involved, I know of two cases: one where a woman carried her sister’s child for her and another between friends. In my comment I wanted to make clear that I was talking about the more worrying kind, where money is exchanged, that the article is talking about and we are commenting on here, ie, surrogacy as a “business transaction”.
Fair enough on your point that you and others don’t assume a divine intelligence is at work on Nature. I should have put “perhaps” in there somewhere.
I am suggesting human beings, as part of nature, are the work of God, yes, and part of being human is our capacity for, or lack of, common sense. I accept that others may be atheists and therefore you can take it or leave it, as you wish.
Morals are a mystery but they appear to be universal and there is evidence of them stretching back in time and across cultures, https://ox.ac.uk/news/2019-02-11-seven-moral-rules-found-all-around-world . Therefore I conclude (again you can take it or leave it) that God has given us the capacity to be moral.
Actually, I’m not disputing your comment on divine intelligence and nature. I think I was trying to make the point, maybe clumsily, that common sense, or reason, can also be applied without necessarily relying on divine intelligence. But you, no doubt, will see the two as one and the same. I think I was trying to suggest that our common sense is a common experience and good enough to act on and make decisions that the left insist we cannot do because it is all relative. I don’t believe common sense is relative.
“the West is now trying to enforce a moral code, which it has no business so to do.”
What do you mean by this? What moral code are you talking about?
I am talking about the Hate Crime laws, Equality Act 2010, and the Special Obligations legislation which followed it, here in the UK specifically. I am also referring to the European Court of Human Rights.
Okay, I understand your position there and also agree with you.
Good article. Their self-indulgent class action complaint should be thrown out as a vexatious waste of commission time, and a punitive costs order made against those 2 navel-gazing idiots.
I think it was Chesterton who wrote that “when people cease to believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything”. If ethics is not rooted in something immutable (such as the character of an unchanging deity) then it is necessarily open to challenge and to the grand “sez who”. Put another way, ethics only makes sense if there is a telos to human flourishing. Appeals to “what is natural” assume that telos. How can one argue as to the right way to live for something that is the accidental by-product of random physical events?
Exactly! (When in doubt about moral issue, ask “What would Aristotle say?”:). The fancy word “Bioplan” is nothing but Telos – as you say, the Telos of humans Humans is to flourish as Humans (eudaimonia), NOT functioning as receptacles of raw materials or spare parts. This implied all over Mary’s (another, excellent) article:
“What concerns me is how the wider field of medical science changes, when you reframe the bioplan itself as a medical problem. In effect, you’re turning medical science inside out, so the human “normal” is no longer a guide to the desired end-state of medicine. Rather, it’s an obstacle to the limitless outworking of human desire.“
Desired end-state is Telos, and the Telos of Medicine is “normal” health as is consistent with Human Beings flourishing as Human Beings ie, as individuals within Households with a Polis.
Indeed! No truer words have ever been uttered. When anything is allowed to go, then anything, and I mean anything will go.
Excellent essay. What is natural? Does human behavior have a natural form and if so, what is that form? Such questions are deep and go back to the historical roots of modern humans; these questions arose once humans first felt separate from nature and have been with us ever since.
The Postmodern Turn attempted to reverse the tables, questioning whether any human behavior has natural roots. The attempt was to place the onus of the argument onto Nature. But Nature, Sphinx-like, declines to reply. Or it replies in its own language, which most humans find inscrutable. The Postmoderns declare victory by the appearance of default. And the Postmodern view now dominates western intellectual discussion.
Meanwhile the material domination by humans over the planet has increased exponentially through the ages, from fire to weapons (for hunting or for war), to metallurgy, steam, electricity, and electronics, and on to computers and artificial intelligence. And, of course, from herbal remedies to modern high-tech medicine. The human body is on the verge of conquest by scientific technology. In the name of better health, of course.
What is natural? Nature and the natural, real as they are, are stubbornly immaterial and intangible. Like love, spirit, joy, grief, hope, or sorrow. Whereas matter, heat, sound, light, taste, scent, and touch are all measureable and material; they are all tangible.
In our age of Materialism, we suffer the Tyranny of the Tangible. And when materialism is wedded to market valuation (not to mention capitalism), then everything tangible is subject to commodification. While everything intangible is, by inference, without value.
And, in the absence of any overarching natural perspective (or human nature), it must also be the fate of humans to become another commodity. To be molded and traded, bought and sold.
But I still believe it is the Little Prince who was correct: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
What is natural?
Looks like much confusion stems from two distinct meanings of the word ‘natural’: occurring in nature vs in alignment with the natural order of things aka bioplan in Mary’s telling. Words are tricky, and some are more conducive to being weaponised than others.
we suffer the Tyranny of the Tangible
It’s called an illegible margin, the gap between what can be measured and what matters. What we can count doesn’t count 😉
“Meanwhile the work of gestation, along with its non-trivial risk of invasive surgery, lifelong subsequent complications, or even death, gets outsourced — usually to poorer women”
Extending the argument in this article further (and I expect sci-fi has probably covered this), at some point gestation will be accommodated in some artificial organic box – “buy two for the price of one and you get twins!”
It’ll certainly change the abortion debate with regard to women claiming “my body, my rights”.
I think John Cleese nailed this in “The Life of Brian” – “Where’s the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?”
43 years on and we’re almost considering the idea.
I always think of ghola tanks. So not so very artificial, perhaps.
We can’t be trusted with our own brilliance. It’s never been anything but predation of bottom feeders by top feeders with just enough kindness for adaptive success, but for a moment there, we thought we could be good for its own sake. I’ll hold onto my optimism on principle, but God help us.
The quick slide into dystopia is credible enough. Corporatised breeding is coming, and it’s not going to be pretty. Robust limits on the aims of medical intervention in general, as Mary Harrington so clearly shows, are clearly in the interest of a humane society.
As a medic by training however, I’m not sure that the concept of “normality” gives a weighty enough anchor here. Looked at close up, it’s hard to draw a boundary around what a “normal” body should be. Not many people have perfectly regular teeth without orthodontics, but the practice is widespread and pretty harmless. Conversely: it is normal, in some ethnic groups, to carry a payload of genetic disease – in fact, in the case of sickle cell disease, the disease grants a certain amount of protection against malaria. Should we forbid intervention to prevent it?
And if we allow medical tech to fix life-destroying genetic conditions, how about fixing other ones, such as polycystic ovary disease? It’s unlikely (directly) to kill a woman, but plenty of sufferers would attest to the misery that it causes, even though it is widespread enough, especially in its milder forms, to count as “normal”.
Even by this logic of course, the couple in the news are making a flawed claim. Unless they are actually infertile, they could easily father children by sperm donation. If they were straight, they would not be candidates for surrogacy – thus, there is no discrimination.
Where to draw the line however in cases where medical intervention could relieve suffering, subjectively defined, is far from clear. Religious safeguards are long gone; in their place, scant consensus remains. That booming sound is the noise that Big Tech makes as it marches forward, over hollowed-out ethics. Mind how you go.
Interesting larger points but I am confused by Harrington’s position on consent and power dynamics…
I would have thought she was in the camp of adults having agency and being responsible for their own choices ??? Perhaps I missed something…
I think Mary’s position in pretty much everything she writes is modern humans act as if they have agency over and can dictate terms to material reality and the natural world via their choices. But what we can see all around us (if we choose to look) are the unintended, often grotesque, consequences of people acting in accordance with such an outlook. In short, limits exist! And it’s saner to act as if they do.
A good place to start is to think about why we don’t allow certain things, even by consent. Selling organs, selling yourself into slavery, allowing someone to kill you for money, are examples.
One reason is that we see these things as fundamentally opposed to human dignity, but the other is that we recognize that the conditions for really free consent are not always present, and some situations involve people whose ability to consent is very impaired (they are starving, say, or addicted,) and the consequences of the act are so significant that it isn’t good enough to have that kind of impaired consent.
In the case of surrogacy you typically have people without much power, and who are poor, being offererd very large amounts of money to do something that is psychologically and physically very dangerous.
In a world completely without boundaries, those things might become common transactions some day. God help us.
where vast disparities in wealth and power exist, “consent” is often a rogues’ charter even outside commercial transactions.
Re power : Yes. Re wealth : totalitarian tripe.
The only injustice in matters such as men being made able to gestate, is if the costs are shifted to others (via socialised medicine).
So the only problem is economics?