Longevity Report No 79, September 2000
Could cryopreservation solve or defuse the political conflicts surrounding abortion, by giving both sides what they want? Can abortion strife be replaced by "cryobortion" peace?
This idea has been proposed by people in the cryonics community, most recently by Daniel Ust. The idea is to get "Right to Life" anti-abortionists to support abortion by having aborted fetuses cryopreserved rather than destroyed or "killed". If one can gain support for this idea, suggest its defenders, one could defuse a very deep conflict in Western societies. This could also be a test case or showcase for cryonics technology.
I believe the answer to this question is no and yes, respectively. Because there really are two questions involved.
The first question is about the relationship between morality and technology. This is the "no"-part of the answer, because technology cannot really alter the moral issues involved in abortion, it can only expand the range of possible choices. That is, new technology cannot obliterate, override, or curtail existing individual rights. Everyone still has full sovereignty and exclusive rights to decide over one's own body and all its parts. This includes the right to remove and destroy a body part, such as an embryo or a fetus.
The second question, with the "yes"-part of the answer, is about the relationship between politics and technology. Cryopreservation technology opens up a new set of possibilities for the abortion-seeking woman, possibilities which are, or ought to be, palatable for (rational) anti-abortionists.
In this article I simply take the premise of the existence or future possibility of a functional cryopreservation technology for granted. I do not presume to evaluate the technical feasibility of fetus cryopreservation or the time horizon for such a technology. I'm only interested in exploring where the premise of a functional cryopreservation technology might lead to, in the context of abortion.
Given this premise, and the moral and political premises outlined above, I do believe that fetus cryopreservation could go a long way towards defusing and/or solving political conflicts about abortion. If the anti-abortionist can peacefully persuade the abortion-seeker to allow cryopreservation rather than destruction of the fetus, then they both get what they want. I want to stress that given the premises I have outlined above, a decision to cryopreserve the fetus is not a compromise - it is a win-win situation, freely chosen by both parties. For the abortion-seeker cryopreservation is just one more option to choose from; for the anti-abortionist it is a possibility to save a life, if the negotiations are successful.
So let us explore how a negotiation might proceed, and the social and cultural background that may be required if there is to be a negotiation at all (that is, what does the anti-abortionist have to offer an abortion-seeker? Why would an abortion-seeker even bother to listen?)
I can imagine at least four reasons (and I do not presume to be exhaustive, but these cases illustrate how one might proceed with a persuasion or negotiation to save the fetus).
In order to address this need, the anti-abortionist might support laws that protect privacy, and point out to the pregnant woman how their anti-abortionist group have supported such rights. Still, private investigators have a lot of techniques for finding people; usually someone will succeed in finding their biological parents if they really want to. The anti-abortionist could then explain about how the anti-abortionist group will (1) offer the offspring to join their free-of-charge "abortion surviver" support group, (2) assist the offspring finding professional psychological help if necessary, and (3) if worst comes to worst, provide free legal counsel and other help if the abort-seeking woman were ever stalked or harassed by the offspring. Surely anti-abortionists would work together in order to be able to offer all these things, if they are serious about protecting the "little people" from death. This certainly must be a more constructive and satisfying activity than today's political struggle, and demonstrations and badgering in front of abortion clinics.
Still, destruction would preempt a lot of potential problems for the abortion-seeker, wouldn't it?
So then the anti-abortionists may pull the ace from their sleeve: "If you agree to a cryo-preservation, free-of-charge, we guarantee you, and you will have this in a legally binding contract, that the embryo or fetus will not be reawakened in your lifetime. For you, that is indistinguishable from destruction. For us, it is a life saved."
The anti-abortionist answer to this concern would be to support laws that make void any would-be claims from someone who was "aborted" (or "cryoborted"). This is similar to adoption; abortees as well as adoptees can make no claims on their biological parents - such claims could only be directed at their "real" parents, i.e., the people who assumed parental responsibility and raised them, or their legal guardians. An "abortee" would just be a special case of an adoptee.
Indeed, establishing and maintaining a clear legal distinction between "real" (social, upbringing) parents and biological parents (when different), ought to be one of the primary causes and concerns of anti-abortionists, since it will help them "save lives".
Daniel Ust suggests that in a society with widespread cryonics, inheritance might cease to exist - except in cases where total destruction of a person happens. Surely, this would still happen, but imagine if only 10% of people who died were dead permanently. That would call for a change in the legal definition of death and probably nullify inheritance laws like the ones in Norway.
I think the adoption system needs some amending; in a fully free society there would be an option, for those biological parents so inclined, to specify certain demands and preferences related to values and beliefs that the guardians or adopting parents must fulfill. For example, an Objectivist woman adopting away a child might insist that the guardians must not be fundamentalist Christians; that preferably they should be atheists, or if possible, even Objectivists. So one should be able to indicate some preferences about the guardians, and thus about what kind of upbringing the offspring will get. This would increase the possibility of the offspring being acquainted with and perhaps choosing some of one's own values, and the benefits deriving from these. The more such demands one would make, the more difficult it would be to find guardians, so there is obviously a trade off here for the biological parent renouncing parental responsibility. Perhaps few abortion-seeking women would care about this, and only want to get rid of the embryo or fetus.
But perhaps an abortion-seeking woman would prefer destruction of the fetus rather than becoming the cause of a child raised with irrational beliefs and destructive values.
In order to meet and argue against this concern, it would be a great help for an anti-abortionist to be able to point to a well-organized agency or organization whose specialty is to locate and offer guardians within the desired range of values and upbringing style. Or at least to be able to say, "we have just begun the work of building up our special division which will address this need, and we will not reawaken your embryo/fetus until our agency is running smoothly and we are able to meet your standards and requirements.". So anti-abortionists should not only support the creation of such organizations, they ought to be proactive in creating them, and working for them.
Thus, one can imagine an abortion-seeker who would want to donate the embryo or fetus to such research or treatment - especially if there has been neurological disease in the family. Suppose she has a living spouse or parent with Parkinson's disease in desperate and life-threatening need of regenerative tissue. In such a case, one could even imagine a woman choosing to get pregnant with the conscious intent of producing an embryo/fetus that can be used to save the life of the spouse/parent.
Well, you can't win them all; the anti-abortionist would have little to offer in such a case.
One thing that can be done in order to alleviate such cases, is to support and speed up the development of artificial womb technology. This would not only increase women's range of choice, it would also separate the medical need for embryos and fetuses from their current "method of production", i.e., women having abortions. This would spare a woman from having to get pregnant herself if she needed embryo/fetus tissue to save a loved one from a deadly neurological disease. Unfortunately, this artificial womb scenario is unlikely to appeal to an anti-abortionist, because it doesn't "save" any embryos or fetuses. On the other hand, artificial wombs would also reduce the number of cases of health problem pregnancies, including pregnancies where one must choose between the life of the woman and the life of the fetus. In other words, in this scenario artificial wombs can be used to save fetuses from destruction. Alternative solutions include cryopreservation and/or transplantation of the fetus to another womb.
Artificial womb technology and/or cryopreservation also opens up the possibility of producing, "farming" and harvesting embryos and fetuses in accordance to medical and clinical needs, just as one is now gearing up to produce (other) body parts and organs industrially. This will probably become an area of political conflict, since anti-abortionists are certain to oppose it.
However, the issue of using or producing embryos and fetuses in order to get regenerative nervous tissue may become irrelevant in a couple of years. Geron and other biotech research companies may be able to make embryonic research unnecessary and anachronistic by developing new knowledge about and techniques for neurological regeneration.
Probably some anti-abortionists will support the cryopreservation proposal, some will oppose it, and yet others - perhaps even a majority of them - will advocate cryopreservation as a mandatory replacement for plain abortion. The latter could create a good deal of social tension and conflict. Or perhaps this would simply divide and weaken the anti-abortionists. I suppose this too could be judged a successful result of the proposal by pro-choicers.
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