On Friday 9 March the Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences (LML) hosted the 2018 Baron de Lancey Lecture, organised in collaboration with Cambridge Family Law (CFL), and kindly sponsored by the Ver Heyden de Lancey Fund. This year, Professor Glenn Cohen delivered his thought-provoking talk ‘Parenthood Disrupted(?) Dilemmas of Reproductive Technologies’.
Professor Cohen began by explaining – from a technological perspective – the progress of human reproduction and what the future may hold. He covered topics including in vitro fertilisation, uterine transplantation, mitochondrial replacement therapy, and in vitro gametogenesis.
He then discussed how reproductive technology has ‘unbundled’ the rights associated with gestational, genetic and legal parentage.
Whereas in the past one’s genetic, gestational and legal mother was one and the same woman, and one’s genetic and legal father would often be the same man, this is often not the case with modern and emerging reproductive technologies. Already there are technologies which result in a child having a handful of ‘parents’. And in the future, one’s genetic ‘mother’ and even one’s gestational ‘mother’ could be a man.
In the third and final part of his lecture, Professor Cohen discussed whether and how legal and political theory can help resolve the controversies which arise from the ‘unbundling’ of parentage. He also discussed different regulatory approaches by which the State could facilitate or limit modern reproductive technologies. He also noted a variety of ways in which the State’s regulatory decision could be made. He showed how the judgement of which approach is ‘preferable’, links to one’s preferred view of the State and its place in supporting, or controlling, reproductive freedoms. And also to ones view about the importance of reproductive choices for equality, and human well-being.
Professor Cohen commended several aspects of the UK regulatory system and the way that the State in this country has made a serious effort to consult the public as well as a wide variety of experts. On the other hand, he challenged the UK legal system for requiring decision-makers to consider the welfare of the future child as if this was the most central consideration. His point was that: provided the future child is better off alive than not alive, the future child’s welfare is not harmed by the reproductive technology. There are however many other issues which the law and the State should be considering. By focussing so much on the welfare of the future child, the UK legal system was at risk of overemphasising the unimportant, and overlooking the important.
More resources, including video and audio recordings and photographs, are available at the LML website.