The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | Partly Cloudy
Article Tools

Pro-Choice or Prohibit Developmental Alteration: Choose One, Not Both

Science may be close to identifying the biological basis of sexual orientation. Dwight M. Chambers, in his Friday column, argues that a pregnant mother should not be able to alter a fetus in order to stop it from becoming homosexual later in life, offering as a reason the effective genocide of homosexuals; an atrocity which would unfortunately be permitted under current jurisprudence. In fact, the law does not prohibit alteration of a fetus; it even allows its termination under the "right to privacy."

Because life is a pre-requisite to the exercise of all other rights, it follows that all other rights are subordinate to the right to life. Then, for there to be a prohibition on altering a fetus, there would first have to be a prohibition on abortion. It would be difficult to argue that the right to privacy empowers us to destroy completely the fetus in the first trimester, but not merely to alter it (or the hormonal environment in which it develops).

Though banning abortion would save a baby that would grow up to be homosexual from death, it would not save it from alteration. While a mother would not have liberty to terminate the baby, she could still have the smaller amount of freedom required to modify the baby. Protecting the baby from alteration on the basis of its anticipated sexual orientation requires an additional prohibition on such an alteration.

However, can we prohibit interference of fetal development for sexual orientation assignment, but allow it for the prevention of genetic illnesses which may be more easily treated during gestation? A ban on abortion enables society to recognize the rights of the fetus, including the right to be free from developmental interference, except when necessary to treat a legitimate disease. Any attempt to classify homosexuality as an illness would likely fail due to the current medical consensus that homosexuality is not a disease.

To be sure, it might be simpler just to prohibit doctors from disclosing to expectant parents that their fetus possesses benign conditions which do not impair the normal functioning of an individual. Such a prohibition would allow those who wish to prohibit alterations to a fetus while still standing up for a right to abortion to have their cake and eat it too.

Under such a prohibition of disclosure, homosexuality would be considered a benign condition. If the parents do not know the baby is gay, they cannot take action on the basis of that knowledge.

While such a ban may seem to sidestep the necessity of banning abortion, it does not. If the mother has a right to know, then only if her right to know violates the rights of another can we possibly forbid telling the mother her fetus is gay. By prohibiting disclosure, we must then concede that the fetus has rights, and thus cannot be terminated.

If a fetus is disposed to homosexuality, expectant parents cannot be denied this information. However, parents should expect to be able to use this information to eliminate the homosexual tendencies of the fetus so long as abortion is legal — it is inconsistent to argue that the mother has a right to terminate the fetus, but not to make changes which not only preserve the life but also maintain almost all of the normal characteristics of the fetus. Outlawing abortion enables us to assert a right on behalf of the fetus to prohibit certain changes, like ones for non-illnesses like sexual orientation.

Justin Wong '07