Capacity and Limitation in Embryo Selection: A Narrative Analysis of Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" in Response to Julian Savulescu's "Procreative Beneficence"
Emma McDonald, MA(c) in Religion, Yale Divinity School
While selection of embryos to avoid devastating disease is already in practice in the process of in vitro fertilization, choosing embryos based on avoidance of disability or less desirable traits has fewer proponents. Julian Savulescu, however, argues in favor of "procreative beneficence," the idea that parents should select the "best" child of the possible children they could have. He suggests that parents should usually give embryos with the "best" traits the chance to exist and deny that to embryos with disabilities. However, the alternatives he sets up, between a life with disability and a life with full capacities, actually obscure what the process of embryo selection provides in the way of alternatives for each individual embryo: a chance at life or none at all. I will argue contra Savulescu that selection against an embryo with predicted disability during IVF procedures is not distinct from ascribing less value to the life of someone with a disability. I will further suggest that Savulescu's mistaken assertion that the good life arises from an optimization of human traits impairs his capacity to imagine the good life expansively. I will then suggest that the concept of holiness, as elucidated in Robert Merrihew Adam's Finite and Infinite Goods and illustrated in Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral" can provide one account of the good that makes room for a diversity of abilities, traits, and capacities. The process of close reading "Cathedral" challenges Savulescu's myopic view on what makes life worth living.