“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”
Did F. Scott Fitzgerald have the bioethics of the rich in mind when he wrote those famous lines? Probably not, but his words ring true anyway.
Thirty-nine-year-old Paris Hilton, the American heiress, media personality, businesswoman, socialite, model, singer, actress, and DJ, wants a baby, more precisely, she wants a boy and a girl. So she is undergoing IVF with her boyfriend, Carter Reum.
Fertility expert Kim Kardashian, who is also famous for being famous, recommended the procedure to her, Ms Hilton told beauty influencer Mara Schiavocampo in a podcast.
She wanted to start the process now to ensure she could have “twins that are a boy and a girl“. “I think it’s something most women should do just to have and then you can pick if you want boys or girls,” Ms Hilton said. “The only way to 100% have that is by doing it that way.”
As the original professional “influencer”, Ms Hilton ought to be a bit more clued up than this about bringing children into the world. She seems to think that having children is like buying eyelash extensions on her website: surf around, click, buy, deliver.
In a bumbling and confused way, Insider, a celebrity website, attempted to highlight some of the ethical problems with choosing the sex of IVF children.
“In addition to being an expensive procedure many people in the US can’t afford, the idea of ‘picking’ a child’s gender before they are born may present some problems. Since a child could be transgender, and may not identify with the gender they are assigned at birth, no one truly knows what gender their child will be.”
Insider dimly grasps that something is amiss with Ms Hilton’s approach to becoming a parent. It mixes up “sex” with “gender” and gulps down the politically-correct transgender Kool-aid — but its ethical intuitions are correct: there’s something really, really creepy about shopping for children.
The Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel wrote a book a few years ago called What Money Can’t Buy. It was an attack on precisely the kind of attitude towards children that Ms Hilton is displaying. He wisely observed that human beings are different:
When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. But not all goods are properly valued in this way. The most obvious example is human beings. Slavery was appalling because it treated human beings as a commodity, to be bought and sold at auction. Such treatment fails to value human beings as persons, worthy of dignity and respect; it sees them as instruments of gain and objects of use.
Something similar can be said of other cherished goods and practices. We don’t allow children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be or how willing impatient prospective parents might be. Even if the prospective buyers would treat the child responsibly, we worry that a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are properly regarded not as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care.
Paris Hilton is reportedly worth US$300 million. She is rich. In fact, she is very rich. But, unhappily, she has had a troubled and turbulent life. Despite her age, her fame, her shrewdness, and her wealth, she still has a thing or two to learn about life as a grown-up. Children are persons, not objects; gifts, not fashion accessories.