I want to move off the last topic, even though it has spurred much discussion which I suspect is not exhausted, and try to broaden my thinking.
I think many of the comments on the last discussion were from what I will call a “child-centric” perspective. (For some reason this reminds me–no one actually addressed my question about what rights, if any, a donor (as opposed to a child) ought to have. What do I make of that silence?)
The idea of a child-centric perspective is to judge various rules/practices by how well they serve children. That’s not an easy thing to do by any means, partly because children vary enormously and partly because we probably don’t agree on what is good for children. Choosing the path that makes children happy isn’t always best for them. But I’ll skim over these difficulties for now.
Anyway, the comments on the last thread considered donor insemination from the perspective of donor-created children. Some of the commenters suggested that various people should not have access to donor sperm (or should only have access to it under certain conditions) because having access to it will allow them to create children who will not be raised in a what they consider acceptable circumstances.
Shouldn’t we do the same sort of analysis non-donor created children–children who are concieved without the use of any ART? Surely these children are entitled to no less concern (and surely there are many more of them) than the children who are conceived via ART.
It seems to me that this invites us to regulate natural reproduction. (Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I’m a skeptic about the invocation of nature–as in “natural parent”. I use the term here with some trepidation.) For the sake of the as yet unconcieved children we should assess the suitability of all prospective parents and decide who gets to have kids. Some people should not. People in extremely unstable relationships, for instance, might be deemed ineligible to reproduce, because the children born if they did reproduce would be unhappy.
Of course, we do nothing of the kind. Indeed, we don’t even seriously consider doing anything of the kind. But why not? If you come at it from a child-centric perspective, shouldn’t we?
At the moment, I can think of two main reasons why we do not attempt to regulated natural parenthood. I’ll take just a few moments to lay them out here.
One objection is pragmatic: it is impossible to regulate parenthood that comes about through intercourse. Certainly it would be extremely difficult and I doubt it could ever be regulated effectively. There are, however, some possibilities that could at least be explored.
I don’t think you could prevent people from engaging in intercourse. We’ve tried that before and it doesn’t seem to work. (Consider, too, that some of the people deemed ineligible might be married couples.) You could mandate abortion for anyone who was pregnant but deemed unfit to parent, but that’s a road I’m not going down for the moment.
The most promising option would be requiring universal contraception and then have people apply for permission to suspend contraception and attempt parenthood. (I’m sure I’ve read a science fiction novel with this as the premise.) That way we could scrutinize their qualifications in advance of any pregnancy. Those who were deemed capable of creating a suitable environment for raising a child would be granted a license to procreate. It wouldn’t be perfect—there would be scofflaws. But it might be a start.
This bring me to the obvious second objection which is one of principle: It would deny people their rights–rights that are perhaps both constitutional and moral rights. But wouldn’t granting primacy to these rights mean we were abandoning our child-centric perspective. The whole point of the child-centric perspective is to elevate the rights of the child above those of the adults. It seems to me that from a truly child-centric perspective, the rights of the adults should be secondary.
Since it’s pretty clear we’re not about to regulate reproduction generally, it makes me wonder what I am missing.