Monday, April 8, 2013
Sex in Space
Now that the title of this post has your attention, what this post is actually going to discuss are the rights to reproduce in space. Seems like it this would be a no brainer. So much of a no brainer that a special suit has been developed to facilitate the "process." In a recent op-ed Laura Woodmansee, author of the book Sex in Space, questioned the ethics of reproduction in an environment where gravity, or lack of, affects the formation of cells. A study at the University of Montreal found that "intracellular traffic flow is compromised under hyper-gravity conditions and that both hyper and microgravity affect the precisely coordinated construction of the cellular envelope in the growing cell." What this means is that when the sperm and egg meet the new life will not grow as it does under Earth's gravity. Does the knowledge that a fetus will be malformed if conceived in space create an ethical obligation to not conceive in outer space? Who is going to prevent people from attempting? Can the government prohibit this private, recreational act? These are all good questions and as in most legal questions the answer depends.
One can begin by looking at how the U.S. Supreme Court has defined the right to procreate within the Constitution. In the case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), a case involving the sterilization of criminals, the Court considered marriage and procreation fundamental to the survival of humans. By classifying procreation as a fundamental right any governmental attempt to prohibit that right has to meet the highest level of scrutiny.
In Griswold v Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) the Supreme Court found a state law prohibiting the use and distribuion of contraceptives unconstitutional. Justice Douglas discussed a right to privacy implicitly found in the Bill of Rights, more specifically the First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments. Douglas said it would be "repulsive if police were allowed to search the sacred precincts of the marital bedroom for signs of the use of contraceptives."
Expanding on Griswold, Justice Brennan wrote in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) "if the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."
The issue of contraceptives came up again in Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977). This time the issue was whether or not the government could limit the sale and distribution of contraceptives to minors under the age of 16 by licensed pharmacists. The Court found that limiting the distribution of contraceptives to minors by licensed pharmacists placed an undue restriction on the access to birth control and infringed on the right to control procreation.
In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) that a state law prohibiting sodomy between persons of the same sex violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not further a legitimate government interest that would justify a severe intrusion into an area of personal privacy. In other words, private consensual sexual activity between consenting adults may not be prohibited.
This handful of cases is by no means a comprehensive look at the jurisprudence that makes up the rights to privacy, but they do lead to a conclusion that there is a fundamental right for people to engage in private consensual sexual activity and that the government would need to show a legitimate purpose that furthers a government interest in order to uphold any prohibition on this right. It seems unlikely that the government will be able to stop people from engaging in the procreation arts.
There was a quote by Jeff Glodblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm in the movie Jurassic Park, (1993) in regards to cloning dinosaurs that seems like it may provide some insight to this situation: "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." With upcoming ventures to Mars such as the 2 person, 501 day mission around the red planet Inspiration Mars, and the Dutch startup Mars One which plans to colonize Mars via financing through reality TV, there will certainly be opportunities where people can engage in the reproductive arts. The answer to the question of whether or not they should, with current scientific knowledge, is going to be a judgement call that will be made, hopefully, after weighing all of the scientific, sociological, and psychological pros and cons.