I’ve been thinking a little more about yesterday’s post and some comments on the blog and on Facebook (though not all on this post). In particular, I’ve been thinking about a different way to approach questions about regulation of access to ART in particular and parenthood more generally.
Let me start from a different point. Generally we seem to be comfortable with the idea of regulating adoption. I don’t mean to suggest that we all agree on what exact regulations should be in place. Indeed, the eligibility of single people and unmarried couples (including lesbian and gay couples) to adopt is very much in contention just now. What I mean is, there seems to be broad agreement that there should be some regulation of who can adopt. There’s not a large contingent out there arguing that we should do away with all home-studies and let any person who steps forward become an adoptive parent.
I’ll even go a step further down this path. There’s agreement that the eligibility to adopt should turn on whether you’re likely to be a good parent. One has only to look at the current debates about the suitability of lesbian or gay couples as adoptive parents to see this. One side contends that children need a mother and a father, and hence lesbian and gay couples are deficient while the other contends that lesbian and gay couples can provide a perfectly good home for children. The thing to notice for the moment is that both sides tacitly agree that the question is whether lesbian and gay couples can be good parents.
Shouldn’t this reasoning apply to ART? Back when Nadya Suleman and her octuplets were in the news, I considered regulation of ART for a bit. Suleman’s case dramatically illustrated the nearly total lack of regulation of ART. (Given that ART is particularly important to single women, lesbians, and gay men wishing to have children, the prospect of regulation is a bit frightening.) This time I want to approach the same question from a different angle.
The arguments in favor of regulating access to adoption are clear and uncontroversial. Why would the arguments for regulating access to ART be otherwise? Why wouldn’t we say that only people who can be good parents should have access to ART? (Perhaps I haven’t quite captured the question we ask before allowing adoptions. The key point here is why wouldn’t we ask the same question before allowing ART?)
Somehow we think of ART as a completely different thing from adoption. Perhaps it is because ART is a medical procedure and we don’t tend to regulate access to medical care, except by making the cost of it out of reach. Generally speaking you are allowed to buy any medical care you can afford.
This distinction may have some explanatory power–it may help us understand why initially approach adoption and ART so differently. But on closer examination, it’s not a very satisfying distinction to me.
Consider this: One implication of thinking about ART and adoption differently is that there will be people we would never allow to adopt because it is so clear that they’d be unfit parents, but these same people can use ART and essentially buy their way to a child. Does that seem like an acceptable result?
Of course, we do regulate access to ART–it’s expensive and only folks with money can generally afford it. But it seems to me there’s an interesting case to be made for some more systematically child-oriented regulation of ART, even if I’m not sure I’d like it. At the very least, I think it is worth a bit more thought.