The Ethics Of Baby-making

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Flash back to the summer of 1978. On July 25 of that year in an English hospital, John and Lesley Brown rejoiced at the birth of their daughter, Louise. The rest of the world, meanwhile, continued the passionate debate it had begun months earlier at the news of Louise’s conception — in a petri dish.

The media heralded the first successful use of in vitro fertilization as an extraordinary development, but religious leaders condemned it as evidence of scientists “playing God.” Some scientists were wary of the ramifications of the world’s first “test-tube baby;” others defended the technique perfected by Robert Edwards as a noble remedy for the childless and hopeless.

Now flash forward to the present. Louise Brown, nearing her 21st birthday, is virtually forgotten by the masses, and IVF has become commonplace. Hundreds of clinics in America alone perform the procedure, resulting in the births of some 60,000 American children between 1981 and 1996. Would-be parents pay tens of thousands of dollars — all or most of it out of pocket because many insurance companies do not cover infertility treatments — to conceive.

Few of the births merit a mention in the press. Yet behind the scenes, the debate about assisted reproductive technology rages as strongly today as it did two decades ago. The reason: Louise Brown’s birth opened the floodgates to a range of technological advances (egg and sperm donation and freezing, gene selection) that, in turn, have raised even more ethical and legal questions (lesbian and postmenopausal pregnancies, selective abortion, sperm-bank franchises) than Brown’s birth ever did.

Law professor Lori B. Andrews explains today’s reality in her new book “The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology” when she says this: “I feel as if the world is locked into a battle over who can push the boundaries the farthest.”

‘The Wild West of medicine’
That controversy would surround an act as intimate as procreation should not be surprising. But likewise, that so many of the estimated 6.1 million infertile women and their partners would use controversial technologies like IVF to conceive should be equally understandable because of the innate human urge to bear and rear children.


The Presidential Wage

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

As head of the Congressional Accountability Project, Gary Ruskin is never shy about questioning the actions and motives of federal officials, so his testimony at a May 24 House subcommittee hearing on presidential pay was par for the watchdog course.

The target of his ire: a bipartisan proposal, one backed by congressional leaders, to boost the presidential wage from $200,000 a year to $400,000. Ruskin insisted that no president needs the extra money (except perhaps to pay legal bills). And even worse, he said, the people who want to hike the nation’s chief executive pay have an ulterior motive. “[T]his effort … is driven by members of Congress and federal judges who wish to lift the presidential salary cap” to justify an increase in their own pay.

To the few current lawmakers who were in Congress three decades ago, Ruskin’s cynicism may have sounded like a broken record for a reason other than the reputation of the messenger: His gripe about lawmakers seeking political cover echoes that of Sen. John Williams, R-Del., 30 years before. Williams was one of the few opponents of the last presidential pay hike in 1969.

History may explain Ruskin and Williams’ cynicism, though, for the lesson of history on the pay of elected officials is this: Congressional pay increases foment controversy and revolt at the polls; presidential pay boosts, no matter how large, seem to stir little public interest. The presidential pay hike of 1969, furthermore, was followed later the same year by raises in legislative and judicial pay.

Oh, to be president!
Until belated enactment of the Constitution’s 24-word 27th Amendment in 1992, there were no hard-and-fast rules governing congressional pay. Congressional salaries have increased somewhat steadily, especially since the early 20th century — but rarely without complaint from the voters.

Controversy has been the rule of thumb since the first change in lawmakers’ pay. When lawmakers raised their pay of $6 for each day of legislative duty to a flat $1,500 a year in 1815, the public’s reaction was swift and harsh.