“The wounded aspirations cannot be cured by all means”. This is this conviction which presents the last book by Sylviane Agacinski 1 called Corps en miettes (Body into pieces). When in the occasion of the revision of the bioethics law, press Medias emphasizes the “surrogate motherhood”, the philosopher is worried about the promotion of a technique which consists in a “biological alienation” of woman body. Her book warns against the danger to defend the dignity of the people faced with an instrumentalisation and a growing reification of the human body. Divided into organs, functions, substances, and cells, this one became an object, a stock of biological supplies to consumer service.
Beyond the unique question of the surrogate motherhood, Sylviane Agacinski brings us to think about the methods of medically assisted procreation. “The child is no more than a product made up from pieces: sperm, oocyte, uterus. What lies ahead if we forget the dignity of the person and her/his body?” she wonders.
The body managed by the economy and the technique
After the alienation of men with line production and their economic exploitation, the artificial procreation can generate a biological alienation by transforming woman into living tool. If the woman’s womb can be rented, if the baby can be given, or even sold, our society establishes an extreme form of constraint since it is the whole existence of the woman which is suppressed. The surrogate motherhood reveals “the emergence of a procreative industry and a market which terribly need women’s bodies“. This one consists of the same approach than the organ traffics to which gave rise transplantation techniques: “Organs transplantations save lives, but the pressure of the demand represents a serious threat on those on which the substance is coveted“.
This way, it is only through the prism of the technique that we now grasp the men and his body: “The poetic vision of the nature (…) gave up faced with a promethean technical vision, animated by a desire of power, a will to render the world totally knowable and controllable“. The Medically Assisted Procreation (MAP) is privileged from this suppression of the human in aid of technology: “By its own nature, the procreative medicine intervene aside the charnel desire, but, by taking care of our cells, it substitutes to it“. The technological order of the child transformed the childbirth in manufacturing method of which IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) formed the necessary technological rupture. Two steps transformed the gametes into materials “at disposal” at the same time than they cut any parent-child relationship between the donors and the child this way manufactured. It deals with the removal of oocytes from the mother body and the freezing of sperm.
Dignity and respect of the human body
This progressive reduction of the human body to a product is yet perfectly incompatible with the dignity of the human gender that Christians and philosophers agree to recognise. Sylviane Agacinski reminds that this dignity makes the man superior to any other human beings. This is sufficient to found the right to the integrity and to exclude the moral or physical venality. The things have a price but the human person has not one since it is not a thing and thus is not exchangeable.
However this is as an exchangeable being that the child hold by a surrogate mother is necessarily considered. He is subject to a contract and then acquires a market value. Thus the own children of a surrogate mothers wonder: could they keep the baby their mother bears by buying back from the future parents? And themselves, at their turn, could they not be sold by their mother? Finally, the term “motherhood” allows occulting the delivery and erasing the fact that this is a child who is given.
From her hand, the woman is really instrumentalised. The expression “surrogate mother“, which had an unpleasant veterinary connotation and revealed in a too bluntly way the application of breeding techniques to human beings was replaced by the formula “surrogate motherhood“. This one refers to a technical process of procreation and makes more functional the pregnancy which becomes a fragmented task in a production process and be altruist… Yet, concretely, the women liable to propose their “services” may be one of the most underprivileged persons who will consider this activity as a mean to survive.
Therapeutic fiction and myth of consent
This exploitation of the human being is dissimulated behind a therapeutic fiction: MAP techniques would constitute a “treatment” against sterility. The gametes, even the embryo are de facto assimilated to a drug. The denial is even expecting that the surrogate motherhood “alleviates” the masculine “sterility” of homosexual couples. But we do not give an organ or blood which saves a life like we give sperm or rent a uterus to give birth. Moreover, it is advisable to remind that the “respect of the dignity of every person must be guaranteed, even despite the individual freedom. Indeed here we consider the limits of the consent value which could not justify everything”.
It is then important to resist to the market pressure, to not make legal what is technically possible and to remind that humanity is never acquired. About this theme, the author mentions the souvenir of Lebensborn, these maternity hospitals created by Himmler to encourage women to have Aryan blond babies, even to abandon them after delivery. Learning the lessons from the past, today Germany prohibits gamete donation and takes care to respect the right to know one’s origins, in order to avoid an instrumental usage of human body, regardless of dignity of people.
A fascinating book which clarifies the consequences of a blind confidence in the technological power and the ideology of the consent.
1- Corps en miettes – Sylviane Agacinski – ed. Flammarion, mars 2009