In a historical moment where women are still struggling to guarantee - and in some countries to safeguard - the right to abort, (exemplary are the protests seen in Poland over the past few days against a political plan to ban abortion), reproductive rights are still under a constant siege.
If on one side the right to choose when, with whom, and if, to have children has been a recurrent and obstructed battle for women, on the other side, the right to parenthood stand in an equally fragile position. With medical scientific researches proceeding extremely fast (and being very well funded) sterilisation is being challenged; giving humans multiple options to overtake the initial physical obstacle of not being able to naturally procreate.
The documentary Future Baby (2016), screened at the Internazionale Festival investigates the increasingly common - and controversial - system of reproduction treatments. Despite the fast development and broad expansion of the above (to date over 5 million children have been born out of artificial reproductions practices), it feels like as much as this technology is moving forward, our capacity to understand and regulate it remains behind. In other words, this science is advancing at giant steps, yet some of the most incredible biotechnological innovations -and their consequences- remain a mystery for most of us. Like so many technological wonders. Their assistance is crucial, their understanding, apparently less so.
Understandably, every country has its own laws when it comes to reproduction treatment, transforming this practice into quite a relevant and profitable transnational touristic system that often mirrors the socio-economical discrepancy between Western and non-Western countries. While it seems a personal choice whether to consider surrogacy, or in vitro fertilisation to fulfil individual’s desire of procreation, these methods, in some cases, involve social exclusion. On one side there are wealthy patients able to access these expensive options, on the other, women from the southern hemisphere and eastern countries often offer their services (eggs donations, surrogacy, and gestational surrogacy), for the payment reward they can make.
Whether this unbalance in the access of choice-making is considered as a problem or not, what is really put at stake in the documentary is the apparent absence of boundaries when it comes to artificial human evolution.
Technology stepped into reproduction processes first with artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation (IVF), this then followed with gestational surrogacy. While these practices are nowadays common, the improvement to these methods and further experimentations on others, are posing new doubts and risks on the ethical and scientific table, yet once again, it feels we haven’t got the time to understand these problems, or maybe we just don’t want to.
From the customisation of embryos not only for health reasons but for aesthetic desires; the selection of surrogate mothers by considering the superficial features of the person through commercial agencies; to genetical intervention in the attempt to artificially generate the most ‘perfect of babies’; this practice do doubt satisfies many people, whilst also opening an immense abyss of questions concerning the future steps of human evolution.
One of the lead doctors in this field interviewed in Future Baby, has been performing IVF for years now, rightly points out the key issue of assistive reproductive technology: do we need to have the answers first and then proceed, or should we proceed and see what happens meanwhile? It is clear we have chosen the second option.
Psychologically, ethically, and socially, artificial reproduction still remains the centre of fervent debates, yet it is crucial to acknowledge that science is moving on, whether we agree with it or not. It is in human nature to explore, upgrade, and experiment, and since the advent of technology permit us to push the boundaries of our own physical existence, allowing an intervention in the most crucial process of our species (besides death): giving life. Yet, like death, also reproduction has been denaturalised to perform at its best, and to overcome our natural limits.
Ultimately, what needs to be understood here is not whether we will be able to technologically improve ourselves for the better, but if we will be able to prevent ourselves from doing so for the wrong reasons.
Words by Sofia Gallarate