By profoundly intervening in human life, human assisted reproductive technology is challenging the convictions of all well-established ethics, Confucian ethics included. Through such technology, human life is thrown from the divine, transcendent metaphysical situation it has traditionally held into this-worldly circumstances. In particular, human assisted reproductive technology brings with it a series of ethical problems. First, the sanctity of life is put in jeopardy. From this perspective, every human life is unique and independent. However, human assisted reproductive technology has the potential to destroy such uniqueness and independence. Second, human subjectivity is lost. An essential attribute of human life is that humans exist as active subjects to be respected, rather than as passive objects to be manipulated. When human assisted reproductive technology is used to control human life, human subjectivity is thrown into crisis. Finally, the existence of human life is fragmented. Human beings are “group” animals, and they live in families built on the basis of blood and marriage. This basis is usually taken as the origin or foundation of Confucian ethics. However, human assisted reproductive technology (especially AIH and reproductive cloning technology) has broken the traditional family structure. It has caused a crisis in the notion of family as an ethical entity and life becomes nothing but “debris.”
In the face of such moral crises, it is time to explore Confucian ethics to help people out of their plight. Traditionally, Confucian ethics has a profound and rich content. It takes human life as valuable, sacred, transcendent and eternal. From the Confucian perspective, human life means not only existence as a natural object, but also existence of value and significance in the universe. In developing a proper Confucian ethics to direct the application of human assisted reproductive technology and guide its technical intervention in human life, this essay argues that we must recognize the following crucial point: a dialectical exploration and an open attitude are needed to enable Confucian ethics to provide the Confucian spirit of metaphysical origins and concerns to a new bioethics of assisted reproductive technology. That is, on the one hand, a bridge must be built to connect the metaphysical condition of real life in Confucian ethics with the technical interference of human assisted reproductive technology. On the other hand, it must be noted that human assisted reproductive technology reveals that the problem domain is not merely a simple technology ethics, but also involves deep philosophical or ethical change. Such exploration provides formal support for considering the ethical problems of human assisted reproductive technology from a comic philosophical view that the Confucian bioethical discourse of life must undertake.