So Maybe Some People Should Not Be Parents?

I’ve got a variety of short little things I’ve been meaning to note.  (It always seems like I’m slightly behind these days.)  At the risk of eliciting groans of despair, I wanted to briefly note this item.   Once again Nadya Suleman, mother of octuplets, is in the news.   It just never ends, does it? 

I’ve written about her story any number of times in the past.   It’s hard to imagine anyone making a better case for the regulation of ART.    It does seem that perhaps she should not be in charge of eight children, or fourteen children or maybe even a single child. 

But the main reason she’d be subject to regulation is that she used ART and there is something seemingly reasonable about regulating access to medical procedures.   But it seems to me she’d be just as good (or just as bad) a parent if she had conceived via intercourse. 

Which leads me to wonder (again)–if we care so deeply about the well-being of children shouldn’t we take some steps to regulate who gets to have them?   Adoptive parents and foster parents are certainly subject to review.   Why shouldn’t all parents be treated equally? 

I see, of course, that it would be much harder to regulate sexual reproduction than it is to regulate adoption, fostering or ART.   And perhaps that practical objection is the end of the matter.   But, being an academic, I still get to wonder–apart from simple practicality, is there any reason why those who can reproduce on their own should be excused from qualifying as at least passable parents?


16 responses to “So Maybe Some People Should Not Be Parents?

  1. Who creates the definition of a “passable parent?” (I realize this is tangential to your point).

    • Tangential it is, but still probably the critical inquiry. Is there any chance we (as a collective society) would agree? Perhaps we would on a bear minimum. What about the standards for adoptive or foster parents? It’s always easier to borrow something already in use.

  2. I’m sorry but who says Nadya would not be a fit parent to a more normal number of children? 14 babies could drive ANYONE nuts.

    And who exactly do you think is qualified to determine who is a fit parent? Sorry, but I don’t think just because you have a PHD that cuts it. Parenting ultimately is a relationship, not an academic discipline.

    • I don’t have a PhD, but I agree that even if I did it’s hardly the right qualification. I don’t think I’m particularly more qualified to decide who is a passable parent than anyone else, though I’m probably not less qualified either. In any event, I’m not proposing myself as decision-maker. Also, it’s surely true that I don’t really know enough about Nadya Suleman to judge–I suppose I find the endless publicity exasperating and perhaps I was a bit intemperate as a consequence. Finally, as you say, we might look differently on a person’s request for a first or second child than on her/his request for

      Accepting all those points, though, I’ll still persist in my main question–is there a reason, apart from practicality, why some people have to pass some sort of review before they become parents while others do not?

  3. I recall a case when a judge included the use of contraception as a condition for parole, for a woman who had already been proven guilty of child abuse and neglect (Julie, maybe you know what I’m talking about?). It was quite controversial in itself.

    But to potential parents who have committed no crime? That would be an outrageous denial of due process. Even Big brother will not dare go there.

    (Note also, that parole is and OPTION, and extra reward so to speak for an incarcerated person, not part of the sentence itself).

    • I think I’ve heard of several such cases–it does occur to judges from time to time. And it’s generally thought to be pretty outrageous. I wonder if you’d see the same reaction if the judge prohibited a parolee from contracting for ART services? (Let’s assume the parolee had been found guility of some form of extreme child abuse.)

      It’s also true that few would dare propose what I mentioned (and I’m not proposing it myself.) The question is why is that proposal outrageous. I don’t think that the fact that it is impractical is what makes it seem outrageous. It might be that we think people have a right to make their own choices about whether to become parents. In which case ART users at least ought to have the same right, no? It could be something else going on, which I’m trying to figure out how to articulate.

      • I suppose that the distinction between medicine and reproduction may apply here- reproduction via coitus is thought to be a natural human behavior akin to eating and sleeping; while ART could be considered an elective medical procedure, akin to plastic surgery.

  4. Given that birth parents don’t need permission to reproduce, the requirement that adoptive parents get approved seems to be about the rights of the birth parents who relinquish children. It’s necessary to ensure the legitimacy of adoption as a system, which relinquishing parents (or orphanage systems) need to trust.

    On the other hand, you don’t have to go back that far (the 1970s) to the time the state forcibly sterilized people deemed in advance to be unfit parents: That was not about children’s rights, though – it was about the burden of “undesirable” children on society.

    • I hadn’t thought about the rights of the original parents in an adoption, but I should have. I’ll need to mull on that.

      There’s a terrible history in this country of regulating reproduction for awful reasons, and of course our country is hardly alone in this legacy. Forced sterilization has been used to try to eradicate “undesireable” populations in the past. I don’t mean to shrug that off lightly. Perhaps that danger is substantial enough to dismiss my musings out of hand.

  5. Remember, according to Roe vs. Wade, the state’s interest in protectiong “potential life” does not supercede the rights of the already living.

  6. (Adoptive parents therefore can not be compared to parents having children naturally, since in the case of adoption, there is a living child who has rights. In regulating reproduction, we are referring to “potential life”, at most.

    • Good point. This one I need to think about some more.

    • I have thought a bit more about it and it strikes me that the point is important when considering adoption it doesn’t have the same weight vis-a-vis ART. In ART, too, decisions about suitability are made before there is a child to consider. And generally we do not regulate who gets to be a parent under ART, and perhaps this is why.

      I realize this doesn’t address some of the other points about ART–that it might be considered to be akin to plastic surgery, say. I’ll come back to that point when I have a bit more time.

  7. I’ve addressed this question elsewhere before and, in fact, just yesterday under the topic A Child-Centered Perspective and Natural Parenthood. There are several reasons why people who marry do not require any interference in their decisions to bear children. As Philip pointed out, the eugenic movement tried to influence evolution by enacting forced sterilization laws to limit the reproductive rate of the “undesirables” prior to WW2 but fell into disrepute after the Holocaust was exposed. However, there are still forced sterilization laws on the books in a few states. Donor insemination itself was invented by doctors promoting the eugenic creation of superior children.

    Since Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights has been made a right. Restricting who gets married is no longer permissible since it violates the right of privacy. However, in the case of adoption and ART, reproduction and child-rearing are subject to the interests of the states since both require the PUBLIC services of professionals who are licensed by the states and because they are third-party participants who enforce contracts or agreements. Therefore, it is appropriate that the state be involved and that the best interests of the child are addressed. The standards for judging potential parents in adoption (which I listed in my above-mentioned post) are not arbitrary but based on reasonable considerations, enforced by excellent agencies. I believe that these also should be the same requirement imposed on clinics and ART professionals. I also believe that governmental oversight must be initiated in ART in order to ensure that future octo-moms are vetted out.
    In private reproduction, my right to know who I am is a personal matter between my mother and myself. I have no recourse to the courts for redress, only to my own ability to persuade my mother of my need to know. However, as a DI conceived person, I would have no recourse to my right of identity since government has not yet recognized this right. As it stands, ART professionals are acting as self-appointed powers who create rules against my interests. They are the sole legislature, executive, and judiciary in one person, outside of any social controls. Who speaks for the rights of ART conceived to know their full identity?
    Let’s not limit this discussion merely to “legal parenthood” but address the ethics of anonymity itself.

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