The first fertility fair will be held in Berlin this weekend. In addition to the criticism from politics and the medical profession, Bishop Gebhard Furst also warns against this type of "consumer fair" in an interview.
CBA: Bishop Furst, what bothers you about the first "childbearing days"??
Bishop Gebhard Furst (Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and Chairman of the Sub-Commission on Bioethics of the German Bishops' Conference): I have nothing against it if couples who want to have children can inform themselves about possibilities of support and advice. But a commercial format like the "Kinderwunsch-Tage" is not the appropriate serious framework. This is also indicated by the fact that the Federal Association of Reproductive Medicine Centers and the Professional Association of Gynecologists do not take part in it. A large number of foreign providers present themselves here, advertising reproductive medicine techniques that are ethically unacceptable and prohibited in Germany. They obviously want to earn from anonymous sperm donation, egg donation or surrogacy.
So it seems that the focus is not on responsible counseling of couples who want to have children, but on the commercialization and industrialization of life and their own interest in doing business. This is a caesura, a change of epoch, which minimizes the emergence of life to a technical process.
CBA: In your view, what is ethically questionable or objectionable – for example, about egg donation, about "whole chromosome screening" or about "individual preimplantation genetic diagnosis"?
Furst: Egg donation involves massive interference with the donor's physical integrity. We know from countries where this technique is allowed that there is a threat of exploitation of women in precarious circumstances. For the clinics, egg donation or embryo adoption opens up a lucrative business. It cannot be ruled out that even embryos with certain selected characteristics are produced for adoption and offered at the corresponding prices.
CBA: What is your concern?
Prince: We must not lose the fundamental awareness that the origin of human life has its authentic place in the conjugal couple relationship. The transmission of life is the consequence of the love and sexuality of these people who are closely connected to each other. Therefore, according to our conviction, procreation cannot be made possible by an egg or sperm donation from a third person. We must not lose sight of the best interests of the child.
CBA: And the other methods?
Furst: Full chromosome screening includes tests that detect chromosomal abnormalities of all kinds and even sex chromosomes. These partially illegal tests and also pre-implantation diagnostics generally serve to weed out and destroy human life that does not conform to a certain norm at an early stage. This kind of selection is ethically reprehensible and should be rejected. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities speaks a clear language here. It is precisely the question of how we deal with illness and disability that determines the humanity of our society. Every frail and disabled life is worth living and needs our special protection.
CBA: Homosexual couples also see opportunities to have their own children via surrogacy and the like. What do you say?
Furst: We show people with homosexual orientation the same respect as all other people and wish them a happy life. But the procreation and upbringing of children has its place in marriage as a lifelong union of man and woman. We are convinced that a child needs a father and a mother. It is a separate human individual who has rights of his own – but to whom no one has a right. For parents, it always remains a gift: unavailable, entrusted to them.
Surrogacy is – regardless of who makes use of it – an ethically completely unacceptable means of fulfilling a wish for a child. It is an attack on the human dignity of all who are involved in this event.
CBA: To what extent?
Prince: It instrumentalizes women, who often feel prered to make their bodies available because of economic constraints. It treats children like objects over which contracts are made. The mother-child bond, which is so important for healthy development and begins in the womb, is disturbed at its core. Exposing children to all this is not compatible with responsible parenthood.
CBA: Many couples now seek treatment abroad. Wouldn't it then be better to offer the whole thing here as well, in order not to give control completely out of hand and to guarantee the high German standards, as one often hears as an argument from supporters??
Prince: No. The high ethical standards of our legal system consist precisely in the rejection of certain ethically questionable practices. In our view, the ethical objections to these practices, which arise from the protection of human dignity or the high good of the child's well-being, cannot be eliminated by a supposedly well-ordered German administrative procedure. They are of a principled nature. We therefore strongly advocate maintaining the life-protection level of our law.
CBA: What do you personally say to a couple who suffers from not being able to have children and who then clings to such and similar straws in order to be able to fulfill their most ardent wish??
Prince: That it is a natural and understandable desire to have children. Being a parent is a fulfilling life task.
But we must also recognize that human life has limits and that its creation is unavailable. It is also the case in other areas of life that we often cannot realize plans, expectations and wishes. Dealing with such disappointed expectations and unfulfilled wishes is a painful process, but it is part of being human. As a church, we want to support, listen to and accompany those who are suffering, in order to show them perspectives for a meaningful life. I believe and experience time and time again that there are such bodies and that they can even turn initial suffering into confidence.
CBA: Should the fair be banned? Or closely observed? Or what would be the appropriate reaction?
Furst: Whether such a fair, in the context of which practices illicit in Germany are presented on a large scale, should be banned, is not for me to judge. This is what government agencies are called upon to do. I would, however, like to see a social debate on how to deal with new reproductive medicine and prenatal diagnostic possibilities. In my opinion, there has been too little talk about this so far.
CBA: With what effect?
Prince: So the impression is created that we humans have to submit to technological progress in reproduction.
Especially women who are left alone with difficult questions feel the prere to implement everything that is feasible. This is especially true for prenatal diagnostics. We should reflect together on which of these possibilities do justice to the inviolable dignity of the human being and which do not. Only in this way can we ensure that medical progress really serves the human being.
The interview was conducted by Gottfried Bohl.