Georgia Update–Embryo Adoption Legislation Enacted

For some time now I’ve been following legislation in Georgia.   You can read through the older posts by following that link.   This all seemed to begin with the octuplets born in California.   (I’ve written quite a bit about that circus.  You could use the tag “octuplets” or start here and poke around a bit.)   The uproar around the octuplets (who you may recall were conceived via ART) lead to calls for regulation of ART.   At the time I wrote that this rush to regulation worried me and might go off in all sorts of unexpected (and to my mind undesirable) directions.

The Georgia legislation is actually a pretty good example of how the legislative process, once set in motion by public concern over one particular topic, can develop a life of its own.  Or perhaps more accurately, can serve as a vehicle for other interests.

I won’t retrace the whole history here–it’s there in the past posts on Georgia’s legislation.   But this is the end of the story, at least for this year.   The Georgia legislature has enacted a bill--HB388--that ostensibly provides for the adoption of embryos.  (It’s called the Option for Adoption Act.)    If you do not want to read the actual bill, you can read news coverage here.

Why do I say “ostensibly?”   Because I’m not sure it’s really an adoption  at all.   As I read it, the law allows an embryo “custodian” (an interesting word choice right there–note that it is not the parent of an embryo) to relinquish all rights and responsibilities for that embryo and for another person to acquire all those rights and responsibilities.   The bill doesn’t say exactly what the rights and responsibilities are, just that they can be transferred from one person or set of people to another.

Further, the way the transfer of rights and responsibilities is accomplished is by contract.  Once the contract is properly executed, a child born to the “recipient intended parent” as the result of transfer of the embryo is legally presumed to be the child of the recipient intended parent.

This doesn’t look very much like adoption to me.  It seems to have far more in common with a gift.   (If there were money changing hands, it would be indistinguishable from a sale.)   When I give you something (and by something, I mean some piece of property), I give up all my rights and obligations vis-a-vis that property and you get them all.   Adoption is not generally analogous to gift-giving, because we recognize that the child to be adopted is a person who has her or his own set of legitimate interests that must be considered.  So, for example, adoption typically requires some sort of assessment by the state of the fitness of the adopting parents.    That seems to be lacking here.

In other words, you can call this adoption if you are the Georgia legislature, but it isn’t at all clear to me that is what it is.  It seems to me that it treats the embryos more as property than as people.

One other thing strikes me as a bit curious.   Section 19-8-42 provides that the recipient intended parent can get an expedited order of parentage or adoption, before or after the birth of the child.   Remember, though, that the preceding section declares that the recipient intended parent is presumed to be the parent of the child.   While I understand that a person might want to get a parenting order so that they have a court document recording their legal parentage (something not that many people actually have, by the way).  But providing for adoption in the same statute that makes you the presumed legal parent seems odd to me.   I’ll need to ponder that a bit more.


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