IVF is Nobel-worthy, but ethical issues remain
By Susan Martinuk,
October 8, 2010
Thirty-two years ago the world anxiously held its breath and waited for news of the birth of the first test- tube baby. Both scientists and the public alike were questioning the novel technology that created her, worried that some kind of a monster child with multiple birth defects would emerge.
But when Louise Brown was born on July 25, 1978, she was remarkably ordinary. A five-pound, 12-ounce, blond baby girl with 10 fingers and 10 toes. Adorable. Just like every other baby.
Yet, as we look back, it's clear that this one changed our view of human reproduction and ushered in a new era of medicine. Suddenly, a diagnosis of infertility wasn't the end of all hope -- it was merely the beginning of making a baby the "high-tech" way.
In recognition of this achievement, the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded this week to Robert Edwards, the British biologist who developed the IVF (in vitro fertilization) technology that produced Louise Brown. The Nobel citation stated that Edwards' vision now brings "joy to infertile people all over the world."
The problem is, the Nobel Prize implicitly marks society's broad acceptance of the process of fertilizing eggs outside of the human body. Over the years, the once-extreme technology has gradually morphed into a commonplace means of having a baby.
The history of IVF's rapid societal acceptance demonstrates how easily we will accept controversial technology -- and that's something to take note of as we consider other controversial technologies, such as cloning or genetic engineering. While Edwards' discovery opened the door to hope for the nearly 15 per cent of all couples who suffer from infertility, it also opened the door to numerous still-unanswered ethical, social and legal questions.
In other words, Edwards' highly successful technology has left a big, fat ethical mess in its wake and we're still trying to figure it out.
IVF is a relatively simple procedure. It involves taking eggs from a woman's ovary and fertilizing them in a petri dish. One or two of the fertilized eggs are then placed into a woman's womb to develop naturally. In bypassing the natural process of egg meets sperm, IVF can overcome a host of infertility problems.
But the ethical concerns that stem from Edwards' work aren't that simple. Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of fertilized eggs are never used. Hence, there are now huge numbers of leftover, but still viable embryos that are stored in fertility clinics around the world. What do we do with them? They can be donated to other couples, but rarely are. In some countries, extra embryos supply the live material needed for embryonic stem cell research -- but the embryos are killed as the cells are removed.
Edwards' work also founded the principles that are used in reproductive cloning technologies and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis -- a technique that allows scientists to test embryos for undesirable genes and traits prior to implantation in the womb. If any undesirables are found, the embryo is destroyed.
The ability to fertilize eggs outside of the body has also redefined fundamental social roles such as mother/ father/family. Using IVF, women can donate eggs to others or donate their wombs to carry a child for other couples. Children can now have biological parents who supply the genetic material and birth parents who raise them. Women are giving birth to their own grandchildren.
Finally, there are legitimate concerns that the search for the perfect child has lead to the commodification of human life as sperm and eggs are bought and sold.
All of the above stems from the IVF technology developed by Edwards and his impact on our lives isn't about to go away any time soon. According to Arthur Caplan, a well-known American bioethicist, "Edward's discoveries will make the issue of designing our descendants . . . trying to create children who are stronger, faster, live longer . . . the biggest issue in the first half of the 21st century."
Edwards' scientific achievement is worthy of a Nobel. So far, more than 4.3 million children have been born using IVF technology. But he also opened Pandora's box of ethical surprises and, for many observers, that's the gift that just keeps on giving.
October 14, 2010
As Populations Age, a Chance for Younger Nations
By TED C. FISHMAN
YOU MAY KNOW that the world’s population is aging — that the number of older people is expanding faster than the number of young — but you probably don’t realize how fast this is happening. Right now, the world is evenly divided between those under 28 and those over 28. By midcentury, the median age will have risen to 40. Demographers also use another measure, in addition to median age, to determine whether populations are aging: “elder share.” If the share, or proportion, of people over 60 (or sometimes 65) is growing, the population is aging. By that yardstick too, the world is quickly becoming older. Pick any age cohort above the median age of 28 and you’ll find its share of the global population rising faster than that of any segment below the median. By 2018, 65-year-olds, for example, will outnumber those under 5 — a historic first. In 2050, developed countries are on track to have half as many people under 15 as they do over 60. In short, the age mix of the world is turning upside down and at unprecedented rates.
This means profound change in nearly every important relationship we have — as family members, neighbors, citizens of nations and the world. Aging populations also alter how business is done everywhere. The globalization of the economy is accelerating because the world is rapidly aging, and at the same time the pace of global aging is quickened by the speed and scope of globalization. These intertwined dynamics also bear on the international competition for wealth and power. The high costs of keeping our aging population healthy and out of poverty has caused the United States and other rich democracies to lose their economic and political footing. Countries on the rise amass wealth and geopolitical clout by refusing to bear those costs. Older countries lose work to younger countries.
For most of television history, sitcoms have been about families. From “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “All in the Family” to “The Cosby Show,” TV shows have generally featured husbands and wives, parents and kids.
But over the past several years, things have shifted. Today’s shows are often about groups of unrelated friends who have the time to lounge around apartments, coffee shops and workplaces exchanging witticisms about each other and the passing scene.
As Neal Gabler wrote in The Los Angeles Times this week, “Over the last 20 years, beginning with ‘Seinfeld,’ and moving on through ‘Friends,’ ‘Sex and the City’ and more recently ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Glee,’ ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ ‘Cougartown’ and at least a half-dozen other shows, including this season’s newbies ‘Raising Hope’ and ‘Better With You,’ television has become a kind of friendship machine dispensing groups of people in constant and intimate contact with one another.”
These flock comedies serve an obvious dramatic function. In an age of quick cuts and interlacing, frenetic plots (think “30 Rock”), it helps to have a multitude of characters on hand zooming in and out of scenes.
But the change also reflects something deeper about the patterns of friendship in society. With people delaying marriage and childbearing into their 30s, young people now spend long periods of their lives outside of traditional families, living among diverse friendship tribes. These friendship networks are emotionally complicated and deeply satisfying — ripe ground for a comedy of manners.
Then, when these people do get married, friendship becomes the great challenge. Middle-aged Americans are now likely to live in two-earner families. But despite career pressures, they have not cut back on the amount of time they spend with their kids. Instead, they have sacrificed friendship time.
So these flock comedies serve another purpose for the middle-aged. They appeal to people who want to watch fictional characters enjoying the long, uninterrupted bonding experiences that they no longer have time or energy for.
The shows also serve one final purpose. They help people negotiate the transition between dyadic friendships and networked friendships.
Throughout history, the most famous friendships were one on one. As Ruth says to Naomi in the biblical narrative: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
Most essayistic celebrations of friendship have also been about the deep and total commitment that can exist between one person and another. In his book, “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis paints a wonderful picture of such an ideal: “It seems no wonder if our ancestors regarded Friendship as something that raised us almost above humanity. This love, free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels.”
But today’s friendships — those represented in the flock comedies and perhaps in real life — are less likely to be one on one. Instead, individual relationships tend to be deeply embedded in a complex web of group relationships. This creates a different set of social problems.
Thanks to social network technologies, people have to figure out how concentrated they want their friendship networks to be. Those with low-density networks can have a vast array of friends, but if the network gets too distended you are left with nothing but a dispersed multitude of shallow connections. People with a concentrated network have a narrower circle of friends, but if it is too dense you have erected an insular and stultifying social fortress.
Thanks to the segmentation of society, people have to figure out how rigorously they should segregate their different friendship circles: their work friends from their play friends; their artsy friends from their jock friends; their college friends from their religious or ethnic friends.
Thanks to greater equality between the sexes, people are more likely to socialize within co-ed flocks. They have to figure out how to handle sexual tension within the group: whether the eroticization of friendship ruins the essential bond; whether sex between two people within a friendship mob threatens to destroy the entire chemistry of the mob.
Finally, there is the question of whether group friendships are more or less satisfying than the one-on-one, bosom-buddy relationships. In an age of Facebook, Twitter networks and geo-location apps, are people trading flexibility and convenience for true commitment?
In other words, group friendship is burbling to the surface of television life because the promise and perplexities of modern friendship networks are burbling to the top of national life. What’s striking is not that television is treating changing friendship norms so thoroughly but that other cultural institutions are treating it so sparingly.
Growing Up With H.I.V.
Interviews by Pam Belluck, Video by Tony Cenicola, Produced by Lisa Iaboni
The first generation of children born with H.I.V. are now entering adulthood. What is it like to be a child with H.I.V.? How does it affect your relationships and your outlook? Four young adults speak about a their lives with H.I.V.
November 5, 2010
As H.I.V. Babies Come of Age, Problems Linger
By PAM BELLUCK
WARWICK, R.I. — “They’ve been telling me since age 3 that I would die,” Tom Cosgrove said quietly. “Then age 6, age 8, age 10.”
Now 20, he is considered the longest-living person born with H.I.V. in his state, but every year has brought struggle.
As a toddler at a shelter for children infected with H.I.V. from birth, he watched others die. Then, AIDS killed his mother and newborn brother. At 8, his body rejected medication and he became temporarily unable to walk.
He raged with anger, once even striking a teacher with a chair. Classmates, paranoid about his disease, refused to shake his hand or sit at his lunch table. Friends’ parents forbade them to visit, and he could not join basketball teams or karate classes.
Even now, medications impair his short-term memory, making school, and job prospects, difficult.
“We call them his stupid drugs,” said Barbara Cosgrove, who adopted Tom at 3. “But, as I say to Tom, ‘You’re either stupid or you’re dead.’ ”
At a time when H.I.V. in the United States has become a manageable disease for many, Tom Cosgrove and others like him are proof of the epidemic’s troubling, lingering legacy. They are the survivors, born beginning in the 1990s to the first big wave of people with AIDS, babies practically destined to die. Improvements in drugs, along with some luck, allowed some 10,000 of them to live — and these days only about 200 children a year are born with H.I.V., thanks to vigilant drug treatment of infected pregnant women.
But life for those first H.I.V. babies now entering adolescence and adulthood has been a battle, and their experience is considered so significant — not only in this country but also for the millions of H.I.V.-positive babies worldwide — that federal health agencies have begun an extensive study to follow these young people as they grow up.
Some are weakened by years of yo-yoing symptoms that early drugs failed to treat. Some have developmental delays or other problems related to having H.I.V. at birth. And their medications often have harsher side effects than those taken by people infected more recently as teenagers or adults because complications from their illness, or previous drugs they took and became resistant to, have made their disease more stubborn to treat.
Emotionally, they grapple with hostility toward parents who infected them, grief that those parents suffered and usually died, and anxiety about trusting others with a secret that still provokes hazing and fear.
And a serious problem is emerging: some are rebelling or asserting independence by skipping or stopping medication, which can make H.I.V. spiral out of control and become impervious to previously effective therapies.
“It ain’t over yet,” Dr. Ellen Cooper, medical director of pediatric and adolescent H.I.V. at Boston Medical Center, said about keeping these young people alive and healthy. Although she has not lost a patient in five years, she said, “I’m expecting a second wave” of these young people “dying because they’re not adherent” to medication, or because of “complications from treatment.”
No rights, no obligations - just companionship
Misyar or 'confidential' marriages abound in the region
* Muna Ahmed
Published Monday, August 23, 2010
The wife is not added to the citizenship document in misyar marriage. (FILE)
More than 20,000 marriages in the UAE are "misyar marriages", according to a judge. He also pointed out that the men and women who choose such confidential marriages, are almost exclusively Arabs.
A misyar marriage is legal in the UAE. It is a contract under which the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives, the wife's rights to housing, and maintenance money, and husband's right of homekeeping and access etc.
The couple continue to live separately from each other, as before their marriage, but get together regularly, often for sexual relations in a permissible and halal manner.
Although allowed in some Muslim countries, misyar is not popular with many because women lose nearly all their rights in a confidential marriage. A large number of such marriages end up in divorce.
A misyar marriage is one under which a couple get officially married in courts, but later on, the man does not complete the processes of the marriage.
He doesn't add the wife into the Citizenship Document, which is a must so that the wife gets her full official rights, sources said.
Widad Naser Lootah from the Community Development Authority in Dubai, said that misyar marriage is a legal marriage in the country.
"In this, they get married officially and have marriage certificate from the courts. They avoid having children, but if this happens, the children will be given their father's name and will be issued passports. The man is not obliged to spend on the wife and the children. He is exempted from paying for anything for them. However, he can pay from his own will."
She added: "Women generally accept to get into this kind of marriage when they reach 35 years of age and above and need male companionship.
"These women don't want to be alone. They seek male companionship, and thus accept to get married instead of being alone. In many cases, these women are divorced or widows," she said.
She added that almost all men who seek this type of marriages are getting married for the second time. "In these cases, the man normally hides his misyar marriage from his first wife and children. Thus, he doesn't spend the night with the second wife. He only visits her during the day after work and spends some time with her without his first wife's knowledge."
She added that the girl's family also doesn't mind such marriages as they want their daughter to have someone in their lives.
"When I was a marriage counselor in Dubai Courts, I received many women who wanted to get into such marriages. I personally don't encourage such marriages, but for some women, it is the best solution for their loneliness. For example, a widow came to me once and needed help for a misyar marriage.
"Her children had gone abroad for higher education, and they were to spend many years away from home. She was all alone, and got a misyar marriage proposal. She accepted it, and her uncle encouraged her to get married. Now she is living happily with her husband. This marriage was the perfect solution for both of them as they don't want to have children. All they want is to have each other's companionship," she said.
Below is an interesting graphical illustration of the socio/economic trends in our world based on information and statistics generated from 200 countries. It is also providing an interesting projection into the future....
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences
By Hanna Rosin
February 14, 2011
The Experience Economy
By DAVID BROOKS
Tyler Cowen’s e-book, “The Great Stagnation,” has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year. Cowen’s core point is that up until sometime around 1974, the American economy was able to experience awesome growth by harvesting low-hanging fruit. There was cheap land to be exploited. There was the tremendous increase in education levels during the postwar world. There were technological revolutions occasioned by the spread of electricity, plastics and the car.
But that low-hanging fruit is exhausted, Cowen continues, and since 1974, the United States has experienced slower growth, slower increases in median income, slower job creation, slower productivity gains, slower life-expectancy improvements and slower rates of technological change.
Cowen’s data on these slowdowns are compelling and have withstood the scrutiny of the online reviewers. He argues that our society, for the moment, has hit a technological plateau.
But his evidence can also be used to tell a related story. It could be that the nature of technological change isn’t causing the slowdown but a shift in values. It could be that in an industrial economy people develop a materialist mind-set and believe that improving their income is the same thing as improving their quality of life. But in an affluent information-driven world, people embrace the postmaterialist mind-set. They realize they can improve their quality of life without actually producing more wealth.
For example, imagine a man we’ll call Sam, who was born in 1900 and died in 1974. Sam entered a world of iceboxes, horse-drawn buggies and, commonly, outhouses. He died in a world of air-conditioning, Chevy Camaros and Moon landings. His life was defined by dramatic material changes, and Sam worked feverishly hard to build a company that sold brake systems. Sam wasn’t the most refined person, but he understood that if he wanted to create a secure life for his family he had to create wealth.
Sam’s grandson, Jared, was born in 1978. Jared wasn’t really drawn to the brake-systems business, which was withering in America. He works at a company that organizes conferences. He brings together fascinating speakers for lifelong learning. He writes a blog on modern art and takes his family on vacations that are more daring and exciting than any Sam experienced.
Jared lives a much more intellectually diverse life than Sam. He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.
They don’t even create many jobs. As Cowen notes in his book, the automobile industry produced millions of jobs, but Facebook employs about 2,000, Twitter 300 and eBay about 17,000. It takes only 14,000 employees to make and sell iPods, but that device also eliminates jobs for those people who make and distribute CDs, potentially leading to net job losses.
In other words, as Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity.
Jared’s other priorities also produce high quality-of-life gains without huge material and productivity improvements. He practically defines himself by what university he went to. Universities now have nicer dorms, gyms and dining facilities. These improvements have not led to huge increases in educational output.
Jared is very health conscious and part of a generation that has spent much more on health care. This may help Jared lead a vibrant life in retirement. But these investments have had surprisingly little effect on productivity or even longevity.
For Sam, income and living standards were synonymous. But for Jared, wealth and living standards have diverged. He is more interested in the latter than the former. This means that Jared has some rich and meaningful experiences, but it has also led to problems. Every few months, new gizmos come out. Jared feels his life is getting better. Because he doesn’t fully grasp the increasingly important distinction between wealth and standard of living, he has the impression that he is also getting richer. As a result, he lives beyond his means. As Cowen notes, many of our recent difficulties stem from the fact that many Americans think they are richer than they are.
Jared is also providing much less opportunity for those down the income scale than his grandfather did. Sam was more hardhearted, yet his feverish materialism created more jobs.
Jared worries about that. He also worries that the Chinese and others have a material drive that he and his cohort lacks. But he’s not changing. For the past few decades, Americans have devoted more of their energies to postmaterial arenas and less and less, for better and worse, to the sheer production of wealth.
During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.
May 3, 2011
U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End
By JUSTIN GILLIS and CELIA W. DUGGER
The population of the world, long expected to stabilize just above 9 billion in the middle of the century, will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100, the United Nations projected in a report released Tuesday.
Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.
The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.
“Every billion more people makes life more difficult for everybody — it’s as simple as that,” said John Bongaarts, a demographer at the Population Council, a research group in New York. “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.”
The projections were made by the United Nations population division, which has a track record of fairly accurate forecasts. In the new report, the division raised its forecast for the year 2050, estimating that the world would most likely have 9.3 billion people then, an increase of 156 million over the previous estimate for that year, published in 2008.
Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some poor countries, and has shown a slight increase in many wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Denmark.
The director of the United Nations population division, Hania Zlotnik, said the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the wealthy Western nations that help finance their development, face a choice about whether to renew their emphasis on programs that encourage family planning.
Though they were a major focus of development policy in the 1970s and 1980s, such programs have stagnated in many countries, caught up in ideological battles over abortion, sex education and the role of women in society. Conservatives have attacked such programs as government meddling in private decisions, and in some countries, Catholic groups fought widespread availability of birth control. And some feminists called for less focus on population control and more on empowering women.
Over the past decade, foreign aid to pay for contraceptives — $238 million in 2009 — has barely budged, according to United Nations estimates. The United States has long been the biggest donor, but the budget compromise in Congress last month cut international family planning programs by 5 percent.
“The need has grown, but the availability of family planning services has not,” said Rachel Nugent, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, a research group.
Dr. Zlotnik said in an interview that the revised numbers were based on new forecasting methods and the latest demographic trends. But she cautioned that any forecast looking 90 years into the future comes with many caveats.
That is particularly so for some fast-growing countries whose populations are projected to skyrocket over the next century. For instance, Yemen, a country whose population has quintupled since 1950, to 25 million, would see its numbers quadruple again, to 100 million, by century’s end, if the projections prove accurate. Yemen already depends on food imports and faces critical water shortages.
In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the report projects that population will rise from today’s 162 million to 730 million by 2100. Malawi, a country of 15 million today, could grow to 129 million, the report projected.
The implicit, and possibly questionable, assumption behind these numbers is that food and water will be available for the billions yet unborn, and that potential catastrophes including climate change, wars or epidemics will not serve as a brake on population growth. “It is quite possible for several of these countries that are smallish and have fewer resources, these numbers are just not sustainable,” Dr. Zlotnik said.
Well-designed programs can bring down growth rates even in the poorest countries. Provided with information and voluntary access to birth-control methods, women have chosen to have fewer children in societies as diverse as Bangladesh, Iran, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
One message from the new report is that the AIDS epidemic, devastating as it has been, has not been the demographic disaster that was once predicted. Prevalence estimates and projections for the human immunodeficiency virus made for Africa in the 1990s turned out to be too high, and in many populations, treatment with new drug regimens has cut the death rate from the disease.
But the survival of millions of people with AIDS who would have died without treatment, and falling rates of infant and child mortality — both heartening trends — also mean that fertility rates for women need to fall faster to curb population growth, demographers said.
Other factors have slowed change in Africa, experts said, including women’s lack of power in their relationships with men, traditions like early marriage and polygamy, and a dearth of political leadership. While about three-quarters of married American women use a modern contraceptive, the comparable proportions are a quarter of women in East Africa, one in 10 in West Africa, and a mere 7 percent in Central Africa, according to United Nations statistics.
“West and Central Africa are the two big regions of the world where the fertility transition is happening, but at a snail’s pace,” said John F. May, a World Bank demographer.
Some studies suggest that providing easy, affordable access to contraceptives is not always sufficient. A trial by Harvard researchers in Lusaka, Zambia, found that only when women had greater autonomy to decide whether to use contraceptives did they have significantly fewer children. Other studies have found that general education for girls plays a critical role, in that literate young women are more likely to understand that family size is a choice.
The new report suggests that China, which has for decades enforced restrictive population policies, could soon enter the ranks of countries with declining populations, peaking at 1.4 billion in the next couple of decades, then falling to 941 million by 2100.
The United States is growing faster than many rich countries, largely because of high immigration and higher fertility among Hispanic immigrants. The new report projects that the United States population will rise from today’s 311 million to 478 million by 2100.
June 18, 2011
A Father’s Day Plea to Sperm Donors
By COLTON WOOTEN
WHEN I was 5, my mother revealed to me that I had been conceived through artificial insemination. This was before I understood anything about sex or where babies came from — I think I thought they just sprang from their mothers’ stomachs at random. Because my understanding of conventional conception was so thin, my mom remained vague about the details of my conception — in all its complexity — until I got older.
When that time came, I learned how my mother, closing in on her 40s, found herself unmarried and childless. She had finished graduate school and established a career, but regretted not having a family. And so she decided to take the business of having a baby into her own capable hands. Artificial insemination seemed like a smart idea, perhaps the only idea.
She arranged a consultation at the University of North Carolina fertility clinic in early 1992. During the visits that followed she examined the profiles of the sperm bank’s donors, compared favorable traits and credentials, and picked one. In the autumn of that year, I was born.
My mom’s decision intrigued many people. Some saw it as a triumph of female self-sufficiency. But others, particularly her close friends and family, were shocked. “You can’t have a baby without a man!” they would gasp.
It turns out, of course, you can, and pretty easily. The harder part, at least for that baby as he grows older, is the mystery of who that man was. Or is.
I didn’t think much about that until 2006, when I was in eighth grade and my teacher assigned my class a genealogy project. We were supposed to research our family history and create a family tree to share with the class. In the past, whenever questioned about my father’s absence by friends or teachers, I wove intricate alibis: he was a doctor on call; he was away on business in Russia; he had died, prematurely, of a heart attack. In my head, I’d always dismissed him as my “biological father,” with that distant, medical phrase.
But the assignment made me think about him in a new way. I decided to call the U.N.C. fertility center, hoping at least to learn my father’s name, his age or any minutiae of his existence that the clinic would be willing to divulge. But I was told that no files were saved for anonymous donors, so there was no information they could give me.
In the early days of in vitro fertilization, single women and sterile couples often overlooked a child’s eventual desire to know where he came from. Even today, despite recent movies like “The Kids Are All Right,” there is too little substantial debate on the subject. The emotional and developmental deficits that stem from an ignorance of one’s origins are still largely ignored.
I understand why fertility centers chose to keep sperm donation anonymous. They were attempting to prevent extra chaos, like custody battles, intrusion upon happy families (on either party’s side), mothers showing up on donors’ doorsteps with homely, misbegotten children with runny noses and untied shoelaces to beg for child support. It’s entirely reasonable, and yet the void that many children and young adults born from artificial insemination experience from simply not knowing transcends reason.
I don’t resent my mom; she did the best thing she knew how to do at the time, and found a way to make a child under the circumstances. But babies born of the procedure in the future should have the right to know who their donors are, and even have some contact with them. Sperm donors need to realize that they are fathers. When I was doing college interviews, one of the interviewers told me that he didn’t have any children, but that he had donated sperm while in college because he needed the money. He didn’t realize that he probably is someone’s father, regardless of whether he knows his child.
I’m one of those children, and I want to know who my father is. There are some programs like the Donor Sibling Registry that try to connect those conceived through sperm and egg donation with lost half-siblings and sometimes even parents. But I don’t have much hope that I’ll ever find him.
For my eighth grade project, I settled on fabricating the unknown side of my family tree, and not much has changed since then. I’m 18 now, today is Father’s Day, and I still hardly know anything about my biological father, just a few vague details that my mother remembers from reading his profile so many years ago. I know that he was a medical student at U.N.C. the year I was born. I know that he had olive skin and brown hair. I know that his mother was Italian and his father Irish.
I call myself an only child, but I could very well be one of many siblings. I could even be predisposed to some potentially devastating disease. Because I do not know what my father looks like, I could never recognize him in a crowd of people. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities, by the reality that my father could be anywhere: in the neighboring lane of traffic on a Friday during rush hour, behind me in line at the bank or the pharmacy, or even changing the oil in my car after many weeks of mechanical neglect.
I am sometimes at such a petrifying loss for words or emotions that make sense that I can only feel astonished by the fact that he could be anyone.
Colton Wooten graduated from Leesville Road High School this month.
elderly in JapanKo Sasaki for The New York Times Playing gateball in Matsue, Japan. Some economists see graying societies like Japan as a disaster in the making. Others see falling fertility as a rational response to a crowded planet.
A recent report from the Social Trends Institute points to falling fertility rates -- not only in Japan and Western Europe, but also in China and the United States -- and warns that "nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman." In the United States, the Pew Research Center recently said that the birth rate appears to be falling when the economy suffers. If a slow economy curbs the birth rate, and low birth rates hurt the economy, it sounds like a downward spiral.
As Japanese, European, Chinese and American women have fewer children, is the global economy endangered? Or is that trend a healthy step toward balancing the population explosion in many developing nations?
November 23, 2011
Are We Getting Nicer?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It’s pretty easy to conclude that the world is spinning down the toilet.
So let me be contrary and offer a reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving. Despite the gloomy mood, the historical backdrop is stunning progress in human decency over recent centuries.
War is declining, and humanity is becoming less violent, less racist and less sexist — and this moral progress has accelerated in recent decades. To put it bluntly, we humans seem to be getting nicer.
That’s the central theme of an astonishingly good book just published by Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard. It’s called “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” and it’s my bet to win the next Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
“Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” Pinker writes, and he describes this decline in violence as possibly “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.”
He acknowledges: “In a century that began with 9/11, Iraq, and Darfur, the claim that we are living in an unusually peaceful time may strike you as somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene.”
Still, even in a 20th century notorious for world war and genocide, only around 3 percent of humans died from such man-made catastrophes. In contrast, a study of Native-American skeletons from hunter-gather societies found that some 13 percent had died of trauma. And in the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War reduced Germany’s population by as much as one-third.
Wars make headlines, but there are fewer conflicts today, and they typically don’t kill as many people. Many scholars have made that point, most notably Joshua S. Goldstein in his recent book “Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide.” Goldstein also argues that it’s a myth that civilians are more likely to die in modern wars.
Look also at homicide rates, which are now far lower than in previous centuries. The murder rate in Britain seems to have fallen by more than 90 percent since the 14th century.
Then there are the myriad forms of violence that were once the banal backdrop of daily life. One game in feudal Europe involved men competing to head-butt to death a cat that had been nailed alive to a post. One reason this was considered so entertaining: the possibility that it would claw out a competitor’s eye.
Think of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. One academic study found that modern children’s television programs have 4.8 violent scenes per hour, compared with nursery rhymes with 52.2.
The decline in brutality is true of other cultures as well. When I learned Chinese, I was startled to encounter ideographs like the one of a knife next to a nose: pronounced “yi,” it means “cutting off a nose as punishment.” That’s one Chinese character that students no longer study.
Pinker’s book rang true to me partly because I often report on genocide and human rights abuses. I was aghast that Darfur didn’t prompt more of an international response from Western governments, but I was awed by the way American university students protested on behalf of a people who lived half a world away.
That reflects a larger truth: There is global consensus today that slaughtering civilians is an outrage. Governments may still engage in mass atrocities, but now they hire lobbyists and public relations firms to sanitize the mess.
In contrast, until modern times, genocide was simply a way of waging war. The Bible repeatedly describes God as masterminding genocide (“thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth” — Deuteronomy 20:16), and European-Americans saw nothing offensive about exterminating Native Americans. One of my heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, later a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was unapologetic: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely in the case of the tenth.”
The pace of moral progress has accelerated in the last few decades. Pinker notes that on issues such as civil rights, the role of women, equality for gays, beating of children and treatment of animals, “the attitudes of conservatives have followed the trajectory of liberals, with the result that today’s conservatives are more liberal than yesterday’s liberals.”
The reasons for these advances are complex but may have to do with the rise of education, the decline of chauvinism and a growing willingness to put ourselves in the shoes (increasingly, even hooves) of others.
Granted, the world still faces brutality and cruelty. That’s what I write about the rest of the year! But let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge remarkable progress and give thanks for the human capacity for compassion and moral growth.
By DAVID BROOKS
We’re living in the middle of an amazing era of individualism. A few generations ago, it was considered shameful for people to have children unless they were married. But as Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise reported in The Times on Saturday, these days, more than half of the births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage.
In 1957, 57 percent of those surveyed said that they believed that adults who preferred to be single were “immoral” or “neurotic.” But today, as Eric Klinenberg reminds us in his book, “Going Solo,” more than 50 percent of adults are single. Twenty-eight percent of households nationwide consist of just one person. There are more single-person households than there are married-with-children households. In cities like Denver, Washington and Atlanta, more than 40 percent of the households are one-person dwellings. In Manhattan, roughly half the households are solos.
A few generations ago, most people affiliated with one of the major parties. But now more people consider themselves independent than either Republican or Democrat. A few generations ago, many people worked for large corporations and were members of a labor union. But now lifetime employment is down and union membership has plummeted.
A few generations ago, teenagers went steady. But over the past decades, the dating relationship has been replaced by a more amorphous hook-up culture. A few generations ago, most people belonged to a major religious denomination. Today, the fastest-growing religious category is “unaffiliated.”
The trend is pretty clear. Fifty years ago, America was groupy. People were more likely to be enmeshed in stable, dense and obligatory relationships. They were more defined by permanent social roles: mother, father, deacon. Today, individuals have more freedom. They move between more diverse, loosely structured and flexible networks of relationships.
People are less likely to be trapped in bad marriages and bad situations. They move from network to network, depending on their individual needs at the moment. At the same time, bonds are probably shallower and more tenuous.
We can all think of reasons for this transformation. Affluence: people have more money to live apart if they want to. Feminism: women have more power to define their own lives. The aging society: more widows and widowers live alone. The information revolution: the Internet and smartphones make it easier to construct far-flung, flexible networks. Skepticism: more people believe that marriage is not for them.
But if there is one theme that weaves through all the different causes, it is this: The maximization of talent. People want more space to develop their own individual talents. They want more flexibility to explore their own interests and develop their own identities, lifestyles and capacities. They are more impatient with situations that they find stifling.
Many people have argued that these changes have led to a culture of atomization, loneliness and self-absorption. That’s overdrawn. In “Going Solo,” Klinenberg nicely shows that people who live alone are more likely to visit friends and join social groups. They are more likely to congregate in and create active, dynamic cities.
It’s more accurate to say that we have gone from a society that protected people from their frailties to a society that allows people to maximize their talents.
The old settled social structures were stifling to many creative and dynamic people (and in those days discrimination stifled people even more). But people who were depressed, disorganized and disadvantaged were able to lead lives enmeshed in supportive relationships.
Today, the fast flexible and diverse networks allow the ambitious and the gifted to surf through amazing possibilities. They are able to construct richer, more varied lives. They are able to enjoy interesting information-age workplaces and then go home and find serenity in a one-bedroom apartment.
On the other hand, people who lack social capital are more likely to fall through the cracks. It takes effort, organization and a certain set of skills to surf these new, protean social networks. People who are unable to make the effort or lack social capital are more likely to be alone. As Klinenberg and others have shown, this is especially likely to happen to solitary middle-aged men, who are more likely to lack the drive and the social facilities to go out and make their own friendship circles.
Over all, we’ve made life richer for the people who have the social capital to create their own worlds. We’ve also made it harder for the people who don’t — especially poorer children.
These trends are not going to reverse themselves. So maybe it’s time to acknowledge a core reality: People with skills can really thrive in this tenuous, networked society. People without those advantages would probably be better off if we could build new versions of the settled, stable and thick arrangements we’ve left behind.
March 12, 2012
The Fertility Implosion
By DAVID BROOKS
When you look at pictures from the Arab spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men, and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge — hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete. As Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having many fewer kids.
Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birthrates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S.
The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.
The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly aging population and the lack of young people entering the work force could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.
As Eberstadt is careful to note, demographics is not necessarily destiny. You can have fast economic development with low fertility or high fertility (South Korea and Taiwan did it a few decades ago). But, over the long term, it’s better to have a growing work force, not one that’s shrinking compared with the number of retirees.
If you look around the world, you see many other nations facing demographic headwinds. If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion.
Already, nearly half the world’s population lives in countries with birthrates below the replacement level. According to the Census Bureau, the total increase in global manpower between 2010 and 2030 will be just half the increase we experienced in the two decades that just ended. At the same time, according to work by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the growth in educational attainment around the world is slowing.
This leads to what the writer Philip Longman has called the gray tsunami — a situation in which huge shares of the population are over 60 and small shares are under 30.
Some countries have it worse than others. Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia has managed the trick of having low birthrates and high death rates. Russian life expectancy is basically the same as it was 50 years ago, and the nation’s population has declined by roughly six million since 1992.
Rapidly aging Japan has one of the worst demographic profiles, and most European profiles are famously grim. In China, long-term economic growth could face serious demographic restraints. The number of Chinese senior citizens is soaring by 3.7 percent year after year. By 2030, as Eberstadt notes, there will be many more older workers (ages 50-64) than younger workers (15-29). In 2010, there were almost twice as many younger ones. In a culture where there is low social trust outside the family, a generation of only children is giving birth to another generation of only children, which is bound to lead to deep social change.
Even the countries with healthier demographics are facing problems. India, for example, will continue to produce plenty of young workers. By 2030, according to the Vienna Institute of Demography, India will have 100 million relatively educated young men, compared with fewer than 75 million in China.
But India faces a regional challenge. Population growth is high in the northern parts of the country, where people tend to be poorer and less educated. Meanwhile, fertility rates in the southern parts of the country, where people are richer and better educated, are already below replacement levels.
The U.S. has long had higher birthrates than Japan and most European nations. The U.S. population is increasing at every age level, thanks in part to immigration. America is aging, but not as fast as other countries.
But even that is looking fragile. The 2010 census suggested that U.S. population growth is decelerating faster than many expected.
Besides, it’s probably wrong to see this as a demographic competition. American living standards will be hurt by an aging and less dynamic world, even if the U.S. does attract young workers.
For decades, people took dynamism and economic growth for granted and saw population growth as a problem. Now we’ve gone to the other extreme, and it’s clear that young people are the scarce resource. In the 21st century, the U.S. could be the slowly aging leader of a rapidly aging world.
Last October, the United Nations announced the global population had breached seven billion and would expand rapidly for decades, taxing natural resources if countries cannot better manage the growth.
Nearly all of the increase is in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population rise far outstrips economic expansion. Of the roughly 20 countries where women average more than five children, almost all are in the region.
Elsewhere in the developing world, in Asia and Latin America, fertility rates have fallen sharply in recent generations and now resemble those in the United States — just above two children per woman. That transformation was driven in each country by a mix of educational and employment opportunities for women, access to contraception, urbanization and an evolving middle class. Whether similar forces will defuse the population bomb in sub-Sarahan Africa is unclear.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum