welcome to controlled conception

By Diogenes (articles ) | Sep 05, 2005

Down the ever more slippery slope. A Stanford technocrat envisions a world of cheerfully sterile women, coupling on impulse and reproducing on schedule:

Carl Djerassi designed the first oral contraceptive 50 years ago, but now the "father of the pill" says conception -- not contraception -- is the trend.

The Stanford University emeritus professor envisions a sci-fi future that neatly separates sex from reproduction. It is a world in which women will have their eggs frozen and be sterilised, knowing they can have an egg thawed, fertilised and implanted when they want a child. And it's not far off.

"Once the technology is really developed -- and I believe it easily will be in the next 10 years -- women will be happy to do it," predicted Professor Djerassi. "Women should be entitled to chose between fertility and a profession. Men have never had to exercise the choice." However, he said, while the drift towards controlled conception is "inevitable", he was not pushing the change.

Sex and reproduction have long been separable, of course, and the latest in high-tech onanism proposed by Djerassi incrementally widens an already wide gap. The women's rights language with which he pimps the "inevitable" is sublimely fatuous and belies his claim that he's not a partisan in the revolution he helped make possible.

What I find quaint is the naiveté with which Djerassi assumes that the relation between technology and individual prerogative will always remain as it was in the 1950s when he began his scientific endeavors. He pictures a woman who will store her ova in the deep-freeze just as her grandmother put up apricot preserves, ready to be taken down from the shelf and put to use whenever the occasion seems right to her. But this is moonshine. Will ovum-extraction always require consent of the woman? Will gametes (male or female) always remain the "property" of the donors? There is no reason whatever to think so. Even today, there are many parties with an interest that gametes be collected and used in ways alien to mom-and-pop implantation, and we have no grounds to believe the executors of a "living Constitution" will accord special respect to the wishes of the onanist of origin.

As the family becomes more and more an anachronism under the law, the sunny sci-fi future painted by Djerassi fades out of recognition. Today, if you object to creating new humans in a petri dish in order to destroy them by harvesting valuable tissues, you are said to be sacrificing scientific progress to religious belief. What will count as obstructionism ten years from now?

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  • Posted by: - Sep. 06, 2005 10:18 PM ET USA

    If women can have eggs frozen, thawed and fertilized, it would be a nice idea (sinful in the eyes of the Church, but otherwise a good idea in my opinion) if artificial wombs were developed. Then no woman would ever go through pregnancy for children to be born, and every child who is conceived can be wanted, conveniently scheduled and as perfectly healthy as possible — thus, God willing, eliminating any perceived need for abortions. But Huxley already wrote about that in "Brave New World"....

  • Posted by: - Sep. 06, 2005 8:43 PM ET USA

    Scary. This is _directly_ out of Huxley's Brave New World. Only in that sci-fi dystopia, the government has control of the lab and takes care of all of society's reproductive needs. Uncle Di is right in wondering just who will have control of frozen gametes in our real life dystopia.

  • Posted by: Phil - Sep. 05, 2005 12:04 PM ET USA

    When Djerassi says that "women will be happy to do it," he echoes the battle-cry that men chanted all through the glory days of the Sexual Revolution. That women "do it" more readily seems clear. Are they happier?