IVF: An Elton John study in conformism that goes against human nature
How does an orthodoxy take hold? When designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana shared their views on love, sex, romance, gay marriage, children, IVF babies and children of same-sex couples the media and celebrity voices united in condeming them, siding with Elton John, who expressed his displeasure with a shrill call to boycott the brand.
The Daily Mirror has carried this news on its front page:
“Elton – I will never wear Dolce & Gabbana again after they dared call my kids synthetic”
Elton, who with his husband David Furnish is father to IVF-conceived sons Elijah and Zach, appeared over two more pages. It was “Elton’s fury” at an “astonishing attack”.
Elton said: “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as synthetic?”
But they were synthesized? This is how the BBC explains IVF to GCSE students:
If a couple are having difficulty conceiving a child because the quantity or quality of the man’s sperm is poor then IVF can be used. This is where the egg is fertilised outside the woman’s body and then implanted back into her uterus. As FSH can also be used to encourage the production of several mature eggs at once, it is used as part of IVF to increase the number of eggs available for fertilisation.
Some people worry about the ethical implications of IVF. They are concerned that couples may want ‘designer babies’ with ‘desirable’ qualities, so may only want certain fertilised eggs. For example, they may want a girl if they have lots of boys in the family, or they may wish to avoid producing a baby with an inherited defect.
Elton goes on:
And shame on you for wagging your judgemental fingers at IVF… a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people both stright and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce & Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.
At which point anyone not laughing or thinking Chris Morris was writing the news should dash out and buy armfuls of D&G schmutters. Do they do a kids’ range? If they do, buy that, too. Elton John wants people who are judgemental banned. And – irony of irony – many voices on Twitter, that paragon of intolerance and incoherence, agree.
It’s a good time now to see what Dolce and Gabbana actually said. They were talking with Italian magazine Panorama. Via Google translate the conversation’s choice cuts are these:
What is family for Dolce & Gabbana?
Gabbana: … the family is not a fad. It is a sense of the supernatural… you are born and you have a father and a mother. Or at least it should be so, why do not convince me what I call the children of chemistry, synthetic children. Wombs for rent, seeds selected from a catalog. And then go on to explain to these children who the mother is. But she would agree to be the daughter of chemistry? Procreate must be an act of love, now even psychiatrists are prepared to deal with the effects of these experiments.
You wanted to be fathers?
G . Yes, I am a son I would do it. D . I’m gay, I cannot have a child. I believe that we can not have everything in life… It is also good to deprive yourself of something. Life has its natural course, there are things that must not be changed. And one of these is the family.
You have many women who work for you and say that you are among the few in the environment to support them between children and career.
G . If I could, I would build a kindergarten in the company. We always joyfully accepted the pregnancies of our collaborators and noticed how some had so much love for their work to return even after a week. But this is a country doomed to fail if they do not change certain laws: women on the one hand complain about a disparity, but the other may be absent from the office for up to three years for a maternity leave and then come back and expect the same assignment before. In Hong Kong, a woman has to take his place 15 days after birth. Perhaps it is too little, but three years is madness.
You would have married if possible?
G . No, never. How can I swear to love and be faithful to one person forever? I never believed in marriage heterosexual or homosexual. It’s a promise you can not keep.
As you imagine, in thirty years?
…“You are born to a mother and a father—or at least that’s how it should be,” Dolce added… “I call children of chemistry synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”
Archaic. Weird? Out of step with the times?
Are we living in the age of intolerance, where debate is shut down by louder, trendier voices and the consensus throttles free speech? If we are, then be afraid. Any orthodoxy scared of challenge – a dogma lacking the confidence to defend itself in reasoned argument – has serious problems. Beware the censors.
Again we’ll turn to the BBC, the State broadcaster is as close as any media to being the voice of the nation. In an online story entitled “I wish IVF had never been invented”, the BBC looked at the words of Lisa Jardine, then chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
She talked of how the birth of the first “test tube baby”, Louise Brown, in Oldham in 1978, did not end ethical, legal and moral issues around IVF. She considered how the procedure came to be so regulated. She said of the The Warnock Report written by Mary Warnock – now Baroness Warnock:
The task of the committee had been “to examine the social, ethical and legal implications of recent, and potential developments in the field of human assisted reproduction”.
The report highlighted the “special status” of the human embryo, and proposed the establishment of a regulator. The legislation derived from the report continues to govern In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in the UK 30 years later under that regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, or HFEA.
Warnock’s report is one of most sensible and sensitive articles of legislation on the books. The Forward is a masterpiece:
1. Our Inquiry was set up to examine, among other things, the ethical implications of new developments in the field. In common usage, the word “ethical” is not absolutely unambiguous. It is often used in the context, for example, of medical or legal ethics, to refer to professionally acceptable practice.
We were obliged to interpret the concept of ethics in a less restricted way. We had to direct our attention not only to future practice and possible legislation, but to the principles on which such practices and such legislation would rest.
2. Members of the Inquiry were reluctant to appear to dictate on matters of morals to the public at large. They were also keenly aware that no expression of their own feelings would be a credible basis for recommendations, even if they all felt exactly alike. As our reading of the evidence showed us, feelings among the public at large run very high in these matters; feelings are also very diverse; and moral indignation, or acute uneasiness, may often take the place of argument. But that moral conclusions cannot be separated from moral feelings does not entail that there is no such thing as moral reasoning. Reason and sentiment are not opposed to each other in this field. If, as we believe, it was our task to attempt to discover the public good, in the widest sense, and to make recommendations in the light of that, then we had, in the words of one philosopher, to adopt “a steady and general point of view”. So, to this end, we have attempted in what follows to argue in favour of those positions which we have adopted, and to give due weight to counter-arguments, where they exist.
3. Our emphasis on the arguments may make it appear that there was a uniformity of approach and moral feeling in the Inquiry. The reality however has been that our personal feelings and reactions have been as diverse as those presented in the evidence. Some members have a clear perception of the family and its role within society; in considering the various techniques before us their focus has been on the primacy of the interests of the child, and on upholding family values. Other members have felt equally strongly about the rights of the individual within society. Whatever our original feelings and reactions, we have all found that our feelings changed and were modified as work progressed and as we examined the evidence in more detail. This has been a further reason for basing our views on argument rather than sentiment, though we have necessarily been mindful of the truth that matters of ultimate value are not susceptible of proof.
4. A strict utilitarian would suppose that, given certain procedures, it would be possible to calculate their benefits and their costs. Future advantages, therapeutic or scientific, should be weighed against present and future harm. However, even if such a calculation were possible, it could not provide a final or verifiable answer to the question whether it is right that such procedures should be carried out. There would still remain the possibility that they were unacceptable, whatever their longterm benefits were supposed to be. Moral questions, such as those with which we have been concerned are, by definition, questions that involve not only a calculation of consequences, but also strong sentiments with regard to the nature of the proposed activities themselves.
5. We were therefore bound to take very seriously the feelings expressed in the evidence. And, as we have said, it would be idle to pretend that there is not a wide diversity in moral feelings, whether these arise from religious, philosophical or humanist beliefs. What is common (and this too we have discovered from the evidence) is that people generally want some. principles or other to govern the development and use of the new techniques. There must be some barriers that are not to be crossed, some limits fixed, beyond which people must not be allowed to go. Nor is such a wish for containment a mere whim or fancy. The very existence of morality depends on it. A society which had no inhibiting limits, especially in the areas with which we have been concerned, questions of birth and death, of the setting up of families, and the valuing of human life, would be a society without moral scruples. And this nobody wants.
6. In recognising that there should be limits, people are bearing witness to the existence of a moral ideal of society. But in our pluralistic society it is not to be expected that any one set of principles can be enunciated to be completely accepted by everyone. This is not to say that the enunciating of principles is arbitrary, or that there is no shared morality whatever. The law itself, binding on everyone in society, whatever their beliefs, is the embodiment of a common moral position. It sets out a broad framework for what is morally acceptable within society. Another philosopher put it thus: “The reasons that lead a reflective man to prefer one. . . legal system to another must be moral reasons: that is he must find his reasons in some order of priority of interests and activities, in the kind of life that he praises and admires”. In recommending legislation, then, we are recommending a kind of society that we can, all of us: praise and admire, even if, in detail, we may individually wish that it were different. Within the broad limits of legislation there is room for different, and perhaps much more stringent, moral rules. What is legally permissible may be thought of as the minimum requirement for a tolerable society. Individuals or communities may voluntarily adopt more exacting standards.
It has been our business, however, to recommend how the broad framework should be established, within our particular area of concern.
7. We realise that some people may think that we have set the limits, or have suggested that the barriers be erected, in the wrong places. But at least we hope that we have stated clearly what we think should be done, and exposed, as far as possible, the reasoning that lay behind our recommendations.
8. Barriers, it is generally agreed, must be set up;.but there will not be universal agreement about where these barriers should be placed. The question must ultimately be what kind of society can we praise and admire? In what .sort of society can we live with our conscience clear?
Fair. Reasoned. Clear. And concise. As we say, it is a masterpiece of informed thinking and debate.
Jardine admires her predecessor’s views. She worked to uphold those values. But she said there was still work to do:
I would have loved to have been able to have spoken more often and more publicly, with more words of caution for those proposing to undertake IVF, or postponing their family because IVF seems a reliable option should natural conception fail… But newspapers today want banner headlines and excitement. Public information is nowhere on their agenda.
Try as I might, I have not been able to talk at length to all those families out there who are about to enter the world of IVF, or who are undergoing treatment and being persuaded to try again and again when it fails, or who are entering their 40s and hoping IVF will allow them to start a late family.
The world of IVF is a market, a market in hope. Those who enter it deserve to be fully informed of its potential to deliver grief and a sense of failure, as well as success.
In reaction to that the BBC spoke with people who had experienced and endured the stress, hope, cost, wonder and trauma of IVF:
Karen, Blackpool: I knew about my fertility issue as a teen and met my husband when I was 31 and living and working in France…
Thurstan, Farnborough: My wife and I are going through our second round of IVF…
Joanna, UK: At 27 I was diagnosed with Turner syndrome, and then with signs of premature ovarian failure – with a three-year time limit for most women with my condition.
Gemma, Liverpool: At 29, having found out my fallopian tubes were blocked…
Donna, UK: Several years ago, my husband and I embarked on consultations and investigations…
Beth, Sussex: Having been through IVF four times, I can honestly say that all these clinics are after is your money…
Zoe, Bristol: I honestly believe that undergoing fertility treatment was the worst decision I have ever made…
Karen, Cambridge: My husband and I went through five unsuccessful IVF treatments,… we were just on a conveyor belt.
Diane, York: I think it’s quite naive to think that couples who embark on IVF don’t know the odds of success. By the time they reach the decision of going down this route, they already know their chances are low. My husband and I certainly did….
All but one view is that of a woman. The BBC only quotes one man, Fred, who says:
Living in one of the few areas of the country where IVF is not available on the NHS, we were forced to go private. Our options ranged from 17% at one local hospital, to 65% in a London clinic. We weighed up the options and, despite the significant extra cost and inconvenience, went for the London clinic.
Like them, Dolce’s words are in keeping with the Warnock report. He says there are limits to what you can do in life. He says there are moral issues. His voice is of Warnock’s pluralistic society But in the Daily Mirror, there is no dissent. There we hear from Matt Lucas, the gay comedian, who calls Dolce & Gabbana “weird, bigoted” and “creepy”. Ruth Hunt, of Stonewall, is quoted:
“We strongly dispute the comments made by Dolce & Gabbana. Being a good parent has nothing to do with sexual orientation or whether a child has two mum or dads. The important things is loving family, whatever the make up.”
But Dolce & Gabanna were talking of creating life, not rearing a child.
A woman conceived by IVF to a married couple says the “dumb” comments “amaze” her. The Voice of The Mirror says “there is nothing synthetic about parents’ love of their children, whether born though IVF or not…”
The Mirror does not feature any contrary view. It can’t find anyone who thinks gay marrige is not a good idea, that IVF is wrong, that parenthood at any age is bad, that two dads and a surrogate mother is problematic. Not one.
Even the Daily Mail, held aloft (not without reason) as the reactionary voice of the little minded little Englander leads with news: “IVF Baby ROW: POSH BACKS ELTON.” An entire page is given over to voices backing Elton: Victoria Beckham, for it is she, David Walliams, Martina Navratilova (“My D&G shirts are gone in the bin – don’t want ANYONE to wear them”), Arlene Phillips and Ricky Martin all say publicly that D&G are terrible people. Not one voice speaks in their favour. Or, rather, not one voice is quoted.
Consensus looks a lot like conformity.
If any readers are still undecided which side they shoud be on, Gabbana hears the fury, spots Elton tossing aside a D&G £450 T-shirt and tweets:
“This is respect of a different opinion? #boycotteltonjohn”
Brilliant. Put it on a T-shirt. And if you can reduce the price to, say, a tenner, we’re in…