Reproductive Technologies – Does choice mean freedom?

«...One does not, it might be said, increase a person's freedom simply by increasing the sheer quantity of possibilities which he or she can choose from.»

N Richard Norman

The issue of reproductive technologies in our society today raises an interesting question. Do they increase a women's freedom of choice or do they expand the power of men and science over women. Is freedom to choose what they can do with their bodies truly freedom. Freedom, as a core, is the absence of external impediment. In this sort of area can women truly be free of external impediment, also is this truly freedom of choice? «The range of physical possibilities from which a person can choose at a given moment has no direct relevance to freedom...Whether a person is free or not does not depend on the range of choice.» (Haylek 1960, p.12f). This subject is so socially charged that a women could not possibly have true freedom of choice but a choice which is basically decided for her, whether it be by the limited choices made available to her by medical science or by the men which are directly involved with them in the decision.

In order to truly understand this issue we must look at it's core, reproductive technology. This is a vast area to discuss because it ranges from artificial insemination to abortion to contraception to genetic engineering with many area in between.

Artificial insemination is the introduction of sperm to an ovum artificially either inside or outside the female genital tract. Abortion is the «extermination of pregnancy before the fetus is capable of independent life.» Birth control is a huge area of reproductive or contraceptive technology, in effect though all sub areas of this main area deal with the prevention of fertilization of the ovum or egg, also in some cases such as the condom it can stop the spread of disease. Genetic engineering is a new and extremely scary technology which hopes to enable the precise engineering of an unborn child.

The previous examples are just some of the areas of reproductive technologies but they are sufficient to cover the basic scope of the issue.

What is freedom. In the Webster's dictionary the definition is «The state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint». This is the core of freedom but to truly understand freedom one must define it with much more detail. two people who have concentrated their efforts on the subject of freedom are Norman and Haylek. Norman feels that freedom is equated to the absence of social pressure yet the possession of social and political power and wealth. Haylek's version is much simpler, he believes that freedom is «The absence of external impediment» (Haylek 1960, p17). Unfortunately Haylek is to general in his claims for this subject so Norman's definition will be our focus.

Is it truly freedom of choice when a the decision is morally effected. No it is not, as Norman said, freedom is the absence of social pressure. One can read a newspaper everyday and see an article discussing a mob of pro-life activists barricading an abortion clinic or reading an editorial surrounding the moral dilemma of genetic engineering, in fact this subject is one of the most socially charged. With so many groups hammering their ideals at you, a truly «free» choice cannot be made.

Almost the only area of reproductive technologies which could be seen as a freedom to women is the area of artificial insemination. In this choice there is no real moral issue, it is the creation of life therefore society condones it, and her decision will not be influenced by social pressure. In fact this area can help a women give birth to a child who previously could not, and out of all the decisions in the area of reproductive technologies it is the one least influenced by men. A man can wish his «wife» would have a child but if she is unable to naturally conceive, it is her decision to be impregnated using this technology. In other words this area of reproductive technologies is the most socially neutral, the influence of a man in her life (if any) can be a strong one and therefore can effect the freedom the women can exercise in this choice.

Abortion is not a freedom to women when applying Norman's version of freedom. It is the most socially fueled area of this technology and it is the most shunned. If a women becomes pregnant and wishes to have it aborted, it usually means that the pregnancy was not planned, and society usually blames the women because in the mind of most people it is her responsibility alone. This is the most ignorant of social beliefs but unfortunately it is one of the most prevalent ones, thankfully this is changing but unfortunately the process is a slow one. (A case where the pregnancy must be aborted due to medical reasons is not truly a decision, more of a necessity and therefore does not apply in this context.) It could have been the result of many things such as the improper use of contraception, or as a worst case, due to rape. In this case the decision does not fall on the female alone, she is bombarded with opinions from many different sources, the most influential in most cases is the male involved. There have been so many cases where a woman has had an abortion because of constant coercion being applied by the man whose child it is, or she has been pressured by an external source, and in no definition freedom does this apply. The decision, if it can be called that, is also politically influenced because should she decide to have the child she might not be able to support it financially and therefore might have to ask for government assistance and in the minds of some politicians she would either become a burden or a «poster child» which they can use to attain more social and political power. The decision to go through with this form of reproductive technology or termination is the hardest on a women and quite often her freedom of choice is taken away by others.

Contraception is in some ways a means for men to control women. The decision to use contraception is not one which is made by the women alone. «The pill» for example is used by some women to regulate their menstrual cycle and in this case it is often a necessity and not a choice, but quite often a women uses this drug because of pressure from males who do not wish to use other forms a birth control which might inhibit them in some way. Contraception is also used because more often than not sex is not used for procreation and most men would not live up to their responsibility should the women get pregnant in an unplanned situation and then the option of abortion would become an issue and as discussed, it is an altogether unpleasant one. Also the area of science would now have power over the women because it first of all offers these options and continually finds new ones. Through social and political means they make money off of women. Contraception is not a true freedom for women because it's use is influenced by so many different sources that a truly «free» decision to use it cannot be made.

Genetic engineering is a broad term, in this case we are looking at the area involving human reproduction. It is the newest of all reproductive technologies and one which has stirred a plentiful amount of controversy. It's basic goal is to enable the «building» of a human to exact specifications. If and when this technology becomes readily available it will cause extreme moral dilemmas. To use this, on one hand, would enable the elimination of birth defects and certain diseases, but on the other it would eliminate nature from the process of evolution. The choice to use this will also not be a free one for women. After all is a choice a free one when all of society is participating in the technology you are deciding to use? No it is not. Would a mother have any choice not to use this technology? No, if she chose not to when the majority of people were chose to, she could quite possibly give her child a disadvantage in life. This decision could also have political influence because a government could very easily push people towards the use of certain types of genetic engineering by launching a campaign to prove it would be the best for everyone should people use this.

Although the previous choice a women might have to make regarding reproductive technology, at this point in time, has it's basis in theory more than fact it should not be dismissed. In fact if one reads almost any literature on this topic we see the same theories and fears emerge. Also this could very possibly be a technology reserved for the rich, and those who cannot afford this would be at a major disadvantage.

The examples of reproductive technologies in this essay were sighted as a tool to display the power which men and science have over women when in the area of reproductive technologies. In the definition of freedom used in this paper we see that a person is only truly free when they are free from social pressure yet have political and social power and wealth. All of the above «choices» have a heavy influence from society and involve politics and money. Also stated was the fact that limited amounts of choice can also hinder one's freedom and the scientific community has offered only a few choices. Reproductive technologies as a core science could possibly expand women's freedom of choice but under today's conditions it does not. These technologies are still relatively dangerous and allow for the manipulation of women by others such as men and the scientific community.




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