Brave new life: But are there unforseen negative consequences of new reproductive technologies? (Getty)
Forty years have passed since a human egg was first fertilised outside the womb and 30 since the birth of the first child so conceived. During this time, countless other children have been born and even more exotic ways of producing them have begun to be devised, such as by cloning.
To champion the new reproductive technologies is the central purpose of Philip Ball's book. He claims too much opposition to them stems from antiquated and outmoded notions about what is natural and about the value of conforming to nature's ways of accomplishing things.
As Ball rightly notes, initial resistance to these new technologies invariably abates as they become more widely adopted and their often heralded catastrophic consequences fail to materialise. However, he contends, too much unnecessary human suffering remains from their continued opposition.
To demonstrate how baseless all such opposition is, Ball undertakes a cultural history of anthropoeia, a term he coins for the artificial production of humans. By recounting its portrayal in myth, religion, literature and science, Ball hopes to show how groundless are current scruples about the new reproductive technologies. In harbouring them, he claims, opponents of them remain victims of outmoded beliefs and values from which they should be liberated.
To do this, Ball assembles a collection of legendary and fictional products of anthropoeia. Having exposed the misplaced anxieties he claims they express, he then assesses genuine reproductive technologies.
Ball rightly identifies as their primary opponents those who suppose nature the handiwork of a divine creator who has endowed it with intimations as to how best humans should live. According to this teleological conception of nature, its favoured way of making babies is that for which they should opt, provided they do so within marriage, an institution construed as equally natural to man's estate. Among other reasons, nature's way is considered best because it optimises children's chances of receiving adequate care during the dependent years.
In all the purported grounds for resisting the new technologies, Ball sees only callous indifference to those who without recourse to their use must remain childless.