Darwin at his very best

By Steven Martinovich
web posted November 1, 1999

Rush Limbaugh once opined that the next civil war in America would likely be over the issue of abortion and it's not hard to see why. Nothing inflames passions faster than when it comes to the entwined issues of reproductive technology and ethics. Whether it's medical experiments on fetuses or fertility clinics, the debate strikes at the very core of what it means to be a human being for many people, the ability to procreate.

As proof of these changing times, a web site is offering the eggs of some very attractive women to anyone who wants a shot at having a beautiful baby and a spare $150 000. When the story broke on October 25, Ronsangels.com received five million hits and a serious bid of $42 000 for the eggs of one model.

"This is Darwin at his very best. It's the butterfly that's the prettiest that gets the guys," said Ron Harris, the Ron behind Ronsangels.com, horse breeder, and a father of three.

That may be, but Harris faced criticism from reproductive experts and ethicists who questioned whether it was moral to put a price on a human egg. Of course, their entire industry is based on fat fees extracted from desperate couples determined to bring a life into the world so one might be excused if thinking there was some hypocrisy in their arguments.

Be that as it may, many compare the buying and selling of sperm and eggs from abnormally intelligent or attractive people to America's early 20th century fascination with and approval of social Darwinism and the eugenics movement (which goes all the way back to Plato's Republic), not to mention experiments performed during the Third Reich. There is a difference though, between Ronsangels.com and Charles B. Davenport or Sir Francis Galton, the later a founder of the English eugenics movement and no less than a cousin of Charles Darwin.

Eugenics was founded on two rather dubious ideas. The first was a belief in junk science as a dependable and useful form of knowledge and the second was that the human race can be "perfected." It's a nice thought but only if you subscribe to the ideal that Anglo-Saxons -- the main proponents of eugenics in America and Europe -- are the perfect model. Do we really need more people who look like Prince Charles?

Ronsangels.com, on the other hand, is merely a variation on a very old idea. In today's world, as through all time, men compete for those prettiest butterflies so that their prospective children have the best chance of surviving in the world. It's the basis of the web site and it's the basis of every date you have ever gone on. You may not be able to fall in love with a test tube, but the end result is essentially the same. You pass along the best genes you possibly can to your children so they can fend for themselves. You have seen it on every nature show and you've done it if you ever helped to create a new life.

The only difference between the date and the test tube is that money is passing hands and the egg has been turned into a commodity. The objections stem from commerce and ethics.

The objections to commerce can be handled fairly easily. Blaming capitalism for the selling of eggs is like blaming the air because its hot: both are merely conduits for other forces. The free market is a neutral one when it comes to personal choice. It makes no value judgments of what is being sold, for what price and what that commodity's eventual use will be, only that the exchange is a voluntary one.

The ethics argument is a little more tangled but not much more difficult. It is important to remember that no genetic manipulation is going on and the egg isn't being prepared for the eventual birth of an uebermensch a la Adolph Hitler. If you object to the selling of eggs you may as well also object to the use of in vitro fertilization technology and fertility clinics, both of which continue to raise ethical questions of "playing God" but which also are responsible for thousands of lives being created and raised by loving parents.

Nor are we dealing with lives here. Even the most ardent critics of abortion believe that life begins at conception, something which isn't possible in a single egg. By selling these unused eggs, people are actually creating life where none was likely before since women carry many more eggs then they usually have children, enough to satisfy the Bible's unspecific demand for being fruitful and multiplying.

It will take some getting used the fact that women and men will sell the fruits of their loins to people who want to try and have better babies, but those who don't to object to fertility clinics which earn their doctors -- who are in essentially the same business -- large German cars and ski vacations are hypocritical to attack a man or woman who wishes to keep the benefit for him or herself.

Steve Martinovich is the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.




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