It may, therefore, come as something of a surprise to you that I don't really have a fully formed opinion about the subject of today's post. Not really. I more have a gut reaction, which could be described as "anxiety." What is the subject that inspires such a reaction?
In yesterday's Washington Post I read an article describing a recent study of female reproduction. Specifically, the study indicates that techniques for restoring fertility to women at, and beyond, menopause may be possible. Don't get me wrong- the research is preliminary, the findings may only apply to mice, and any potential applications are considerably in the future- but the possibility exists.
The thing is, I really don't know what to think about this. On the one hand, I could see this as a tremendous benefit for women. Many women are pushed between a rock and a hard place when it comes to their careers and their families. Having children early, at least for a woman, seems to signal to potential employers that she is not committed, but delaying children is only a somewhat viable solution since time, and eggs, eventually run out. Men have it considerably easier in that we remain fertile over the vast majority of our lives, even if many of us don't have the wisdom to make good use of that fertility. Then again, immature morons come in all shapes, sizes, and sexes, so I don't think men are alone in that regard.
In any case, I could definitely see this technology serving a useful purpose- helping to extract women from the career-family vice, and maybe provide us all with a few more options. I am, after all, generally pro-technology, and I largely approve of technology that gives humans more choices, and more control over their lives. Beyond those very sociological concerns, the ability to restore fertility might be a deep comfort for women who must undergo medical treatments such as chemotherapy, that can often include sterility as a side effect.
So why is it, then, that this possiblity leaves me with a sense of deep foreboding? Is it, perhaps, that I'm concerned about what it says about U.S. culture that we may be on our way towards developing techniques to extend fecundity, but that at the same time a vocal minority is working hard to eliminate our ability to responsibly limit childbearing? I somehow doubt that the religious right, with all of their "concern" for the unborn would bat an eye at a technique that increases the length of time in which women may bear children- even if that technology also increases spontaneous abortions. (I have no reason to think the techniques being developed at Harvard do have such a side effect, I just wouldn't be surprised by it. Being able to conceive past menopause, and being able to carry to term, are quite separable issues) I think what might be bothering me here is that a societal approval for techniques meant to extend the ability of women to have children, and societal condemnation of techniques that allow women to choose when they will have children, seem to add up to a global assertion that the only legitimate use for women is reproduction. A book I read many years ago (and that's about the best citation you're going to get, unfortunately) once praised the birth control pill, condoms, and other such prophylactics, for freeing women from their role as a "...decorative piece of reproductive hardware."
As a side note, what a wonderfully mixed assertion in terms of chauvanism and feminism. The paradoxical elegance brings tears to my eyes.
I find quite a bit of black humor in such a view. Given that among mammals females carry the young to term, nurse them during infancy and childhood, and generally are much more deeply involved in child rearing than males, it is my own sex that is biologically disposable. And don't even get me started on the whole "decorative" thing- among many species it is the males who are, for lack of a better term, "fancy." The reorientation of this order in our society is one of the most perversely humorous elements about the relations between the sexes. Yet, many buy into it, and such a view of women as little more than reproductive engines demeans us all- even as it may be driving our peculiar views of fertility control technologies.
In any case, I think my concern stems not from the technology itself, but from what the overall context says about us. I guess what it comes down to is that I think we can, and probably should, have all manner of technologies for managing our fertility. I'd like to see us fight for those rights in a manner that doesn't turn us all into hypocrites, true, but I don't think such a restriction will really limit us. We cannot, must not, have fertility enhancement, without the added boon of fertility control. If we're going to have the technology to extend childbearing beyond anything our species has known before, then we absolutely must have the tools to limit childbearing until it can happen responsibly.
And maybe that's just the question we need to ask the religious right: which would they prefer, a culture of "life," or a culture of responsibility?