I’m sure many of you read or heard about the woman in California who recently gave birth to octuplets. It turns out she already had six children under the age of 8. So now she has 14 children, all under the age of 8. It does sort of catch your attention. But what to think about it or, in my case, say about it?
After some thought, this is what strikes me. In all the furor over this (and it really has attracted a lot of attention) I find myself struggling not to be (too) judgmental. Whatever we may think about other people’s choices to have or not have children, I think we do generally recognize they are just that–other people’s choices. There may be criticism to level at the doctor(s) who apparently (if the LA Times is right about this) implanted eight embryos. But this was the mother’s choice.
Of course, this “choice” is only an option if you can afford it. IVF (if that is what it was) or even less sophisticated fertility treatment is quite expensive. So one can choose to use all the wonderful reproductive technology we have developed freely if, of course, you have the money (or perhaps a very fine insurance policy.)
Beyond that, it’s interesting to listen to/read the coverage and notice all the commentators shy away from saying of the mother “she shouldn’t be allowed to do this.” I think what is behind that is a (laudable) sense of a woman’s autonomy over her own reproductive functions, at least as far as choosing to have (rather than not have) children. It’s rarely acceptable, if ever, to tell a person “you shouldn’t have so many children.” (But again, I think of issues of class and money–the government is often quite eager to tell poor women not to have more children.)
Given this apparent recognition of some level of privacy and/or autonomy around child-bearing, why is that any number of people are willing to say “she shouldn’t be allowed to do this” when it comes to adoption? What I mean is that adoption is regulated–only qualified individuals can adopt. Who gets pregnant is not regulated. The temptation is to say “but having a baby is natural, adoption is not” and distinguish them that way. But was this recent birth of octuplets really all that natural?
I don’t mean to suggest that we should regulate who gets to use ART as we regulate who gets to adopt. And I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t regulate who can adopt. Though I’m opposed to the anti-lesbian/anti-gay/anti-single people adoption restrictions, I think checking out who becomes an adoptive parent is not a bad idea. For the moment, perhaps all I want to do is observe that once again, ART blurs lines between adoption and the”natural” path to parenthood. It therefore leads us to more questions.