We don’t buy and sell people.

26 February 2013

This article was originally published in Faith Today.

Embryo donation does occur in Canada. Couples who undergo in vitro fertilization often have nine eggs fertilized and then have three implanted. If pregnancy does not result, the next three are implanted. A successful pregnancy often leaves “spare” embryos left over.

What to do with them is a technologically created moral dilemma. Some are then made available to other couples. And there’s at least one Christian organization in Canada that, out of its respect for human life, facilitates embryo adoption.

When regulations on such areas were being shaped, the EFC argued for the importance of the sanctity of human life and our society’s affirmation of the dignity of human life.

These principles underlie current laws that prevent buying and selling human eggs, sperm and embryos, and ban payment to mothers who carry someone else’s child.

Commercialization of embryos might assist those wanting to be parents. But is that what we want as a society?

Protecting human life often requires extra care for the vulnerable, as our child care institutions show. For example, in fostering and adoption it’s not the parental interests that are primary. We want to find homes for waiting children, not to find children for wanting parents.

Similarly Canada has long banned slavery, and recently we even strengthened our laws to protect children and youth from being trafficked. Our abhorrence of the exploitation of slavery is shared worldwide, and universal condemnation falls on all remaining places where it is still practised.

Another example is the sex trade. In Canada there is increased lobbying to decriminalize prostitution, including major cases currently before our top courts. Do we as a society accept that the bodies of others should be bought for sexual pleasure?

Decriminalizing prostitution, it’s often argued, has worked in European countries. But in fact many there are pushing to re-establish criminal laws against buying sex. Such laws have been effective in Sweden and Norway, supplemented with counselling and retraining programs.

Where human trafficking is tolerated, children are hurt. Many of the youth being recruited to prostitution, even in Canada, are kids from group homes and foster homes.

Rejecting the commodification and exploitation of a human being today is part of a centuries-old battle including Evangelicals who led the charge to abolish slavery in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The same abolitionists also worked to prevent the exploitation of child labour. In Toronto it was seeing six-yearolds selling newspapers on the streets that motivated J. J. Kelso to establish the first Children’s Aid Society in Canada.

Resisting the commercialization and commodification of human life is a critical expression of our society’s respect for the dignity of the human being. This respect shapes our laws governing biotechnology, adoption and slavery.

Such principles also underlie our universal health care system, our social programs and even our employment laws – you can hire someone, but you can’t buy them or rent them.

But it takes effort to maintain these principles in a society driven by markets and a consumerist and materialist ethos that reduces life to transactions.

Soupcoff asks, “How does adding money to the equation change the dynamic of adopting embryos? How might money undermine a process that is very much like an adoption?”

Our response should be this. Since we reject buying and trading infants, we must be consistent and reject buying and selling eggs, sperm and embryos, and hiring women to carry children to term.

Soupcoff concludes, “Canadian outrage over treating embryos as salable goods rather than precious lives seems particularly strange given that Canadian law currently offers embryos no protection or status whatsoever.”

I agree in part. But a key reason we don’t permit trafficking in human embryos is to acknowledge a certain status, a valuation that would be undermined by affixing a price.

If we permit commercializing activities that define our humanity, if we allow some or parts of us to be commodified, we will be offering sacrifices to those commercializing forces we allow to govern so much of our lives.

Let us affirm today, alongside the abolitionists of history, respect for life and the dignity of all, created in the image of God.

Author: Bruce J. Clemenger