“Desire for a child – desired child – designer baby”

Medical development noticeable in births © Patrick Pleul

Parenthood can now be separated from partnership: Women can freeze eggs. Homosexual men can hire a surrogate mother abroad. Procreation no longer even requires sex. All topics of the "Week for Life.

When the world's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in England in 1978, it was a sensation. People were fascinated and frightened at the same time by the possibilities of medicine. In the meantime, this has become completely normal: from 1997 to 2014, in Germany alone, 233.749 children born with the help of reproductive medicine.

Human beings as products of laboratory technology?

New procedures are constantly being developed that were previously unthinkable. Preimplantation diagnostics (PGD) allows embryos to be tested for genetic defects even before they are implanted in the womb. Simple blood tests on pregnant women make it possible to detect hereditary diseases. Gay and lesbian couples become parents through surrogacy, sperm, egg or embryo donation. And on the horizon, new genetic engineering methods are on the horizon that could be used to specifically alter the genetic makeup of human beings.

And each time, new ethical, legal and social ies are raised: Are humans increasingly becoming the product of laboratory technology?

What to do when biological and legal parenthood fall apart? And to what extent are new diagnostic methods for detecting hereditary diseases justified? Starting this Saturday, the nationwide "Week for Life" of the two major churches will also deal with these ies. It stands until 6. May under the motto "Kinderwunsch – Wunschkind – Designerbaby" and will be opened in Kassel.

Increasing demand for reproductive medicine

One thing is certain: the demand for reproductive medicine is increasing. According to the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, almost one in ten couples between the ages of 25 and 59 in Germany is involuntarily childless. This is also due to the fact that women are deciding to have children later and later – and female fertility declines significantly in the course of the third decade of life.

Reproductive technologies have long been a global phenomenon – with huge profit margins. Countries with liberal legal regulations benefit particularly. In India, for example, there are several hundred baby clinics where surrogate mothers carry off offspring for European and American couples. The German Embryo Protection Act, on the other hand, is considered to be extremely restrictive and is thus – in view of worldwide medical tourism – particularly under prere.

For example, surrogacy is still prohibited in the Federal Republic of Germany – also to prevent the exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers and to guarantee the right of every child to know its parents. But in 2014, the Federal Supreme Court set the course in a different direction in a very special case: Two homosexual men from Berlin had both been recognized in the U.S. as fathers of a child carried by a surrogate mother – conceived with the sperm of one of the two fathers and the egg of an anonymous female donor. The Federal Court of Justice ruled that dual paternity should be upheld for the good of the child, even under German law. Last weekend, however, the Higher Regional Court of Braunschweig opposed the Karlsruhe judges in another case and a "deliberate circumvention of national laws".

Effects on the legal system

The case shows that new techniques are having a significant impact on the legal system: The classic family – woman and man, married, with biological children – is now only one possibility among many. "Our laws are written for two parents married to each other. They urgently need to be adapted to the new realities," declared Federal Constitutional Judge Gabriele Britz last year at the German Jurists' Day.

In this debate, the churches see themselves as advocates of humanity, the image of God and the unavailability of the human being. Science makes new technical procedures possible, emphasizes the Mainz Catholic moral theologian Johannes Reiter. But they do not provide any orientation with regard to ethical boundaries and questions of human dignity. "If we know what we can do technically, we still don't know what we should do morally.Children," Reiter summarizes the position of the churches, "are a gift of love and not the product of laboratory technology.

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