February 11, 2009

Somerville says that Adoption and Donor Conception Are Two Birds of a Feather

A great article by Margaret Somerville in today's Ottawa Citizen, the daily newspaper of Canada's capital city.

One of my favorite parts of the article is when she writes:

First, we need to distinguish between natural conception and conception where there is reliance on technology. It is one matter, ethically, not to interfere with a person's decisions regarding conceiving a child when that is a purely personal and private decision as it is with natural conception; it's quite another when society provides its resources to facilitate that outcome and the institution of medicine is involved.

With rare exceptions, such as the prohibition on incest or under-age sexual relations, when natural conception unassisted by technology is involved, personal autonomy and personal and family privacy must be given priority. In short, as Pierre Trudeau famously said, "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation."

When technology is involved in conceiving a child, we are, however, not in the bedrooms of the nation, but the laboratories, hospitals and clinics of the nation. And the creation of new human life is not an outcome of private love-making, but of actions undertaken by health-care professionals using research and facilities paid for with taxpayers' money. That means the state has ethical obligations, in particular, to ensure the protection and wellbeing of the future children who will result from those activities.
I like the distinction that Somerville makes between natural conception and ART conception. Of course, infertile couples and others who "need" ART will gripe here - it's "not fair" that they should be singled out in this way for more government regulation in their so-called "private" childbearing decisions, when all those fertile bunnies get the government to turn a blind eye to their often irresponsible childbearing behavior. Treating donor-gamete childbearing like adoption may seem like yet another slap in the face for the long-suffering infertile couples, yet another indignity to be borne simply because they can't reproduce naturally.

That kind of objection makes some sense, admittedly, on an emotional level - no, it's not entirely "fair" that the fertile and infertile should be treated differently in terms of childbearing. But unfortunately, life is rarely fair (to begin with, it's not fair that some people should be fertile and others not). And infertile people are treated differently when it comes to adoption too - fertile couples who reproduce naturally don't have to prove to the government that they will be good parents, while infertile couples who try for children through adoption have to undergo home studies, etc., and prove that they will be good parents. Is it really "fair"? Maybe not, but who will argue that it should be otherwise? Who will argue that those who apply for adoption should be given the green light without any kind of investigation into their fitness as parents? It's obvious that focusing only on the fairness aspect is very limiting, inadequate and self-centered. After all, isn't the main point supposed to be, as Somerville points out, the "best interests" of the child?

Somerville is entirely right to point out the glaring similarities between adoption and donor-gamete conception (which is, in effect, a form of adoption). This is why she writes:
At the least, especially when the future child will not be genetically related to one or both parents, as happens when donated gametes are used, the conditions for having access to reproductive technologies should not be any less demanding than those for adoption.
I can't say I entirely agree with Somerville, only to the extent that I think donor conception should be outlawed entirely. In my opinion, despite the similarities between adoption and donor conception, there's a very big and fundamental difference between there two which Somerville has chosen to leave out of her analysis, at least for the time being. This is the central issue of INTENTIONALITY.

It's one thing for the state to allow adoption as a way to help a child that is already existing and in need. It's a completely different thing for the state to allow the creation of a child who will be permanently separated from one or both genetic parents. The former is an ethically good thing, but the latter is in my opinion a very unethical enterprise - in effect, the state is allowing the manufacture of adoptees - children who will face lifelong struggles due to the fact of their separation from biological parent(s) - merely to satisfy the market demand of childless adults. THAT is where the similarities to adoption come to a screeching halt and frankly, drive right off the cliff.


Super Duper said...

excellent post

Anonymous said...

Yup. I'm a huge fan of Margaret Somerville. She gets it.

Anonymous said...

Yup. I'm a huge fan of Margaret Somerville. She gets it.