Downgrading Fathers?

I’ve had this article open in a tab for a few weeks now, always meaning to comment on it.  Today’s the day.  

It’s an opinion piece from the Telegraph in the UK.   I actually don’t plan to discuss the first point (about birth certificates) at this moment.   There’s been substantial discussion here in the past.  (You can start to track back on that here or you can just use the handy tag.)  The only thing I’ll add now is to say that there are perhaps two intertwined issues here–which people get to be parents automatically upon the birth of a child and what sort of certificate is issued upon the birth of a child.   I think it would be helpful to untangle them.

At the moment I am more interested in the second point raised–the one that garners the headline–the statement that the role of the father has been downgraded.    

Here’s the background:   UK law provides single women and lesbian couples access to ART services.   This was the subject of some debate in 2008 when the governing statute was last amended and I wrote about it at that time.   The perceived problem then as now was that single women and lesbian couples are interested in creating fatherless families.  

I think it’s likely we can all agree that men should be encouraged to undertake parenting responsibilities fully, that they should be supported when they do so, and that their contributions to their families should be recognized.  I’d say the same for women, of course.    But men and women also need to understand that being a good parent is not an easy job.     

I don’t see why the existence of healthy fatherless families would discourage men from participating as parents in their own families.   To say that fathers are not necessary is not the same thing as saying that men are necessarily bad parents or inept parents.    Perhaps fatherless families will help men see that becoming a parent is not about simply filling the right gender slot, but is instead about choosing to undertake substantial responsibilities, about making a limitless and life-long commitment.  

I imagine some men (and some women) if they think about it that way might decide not to become parents.    I don’t see that as a tragedy.   Better to have people understand that being a parent isn’t a matter of simple biology.   

Does every child needs a father?   I don’t see that that follows, myself.    Of course I know that all children are created from sperm and an egg and that only men can produce sperm.   But I don’t think we do men or women or children, for that matter, a service when we assert that a man is a father simply because his sperm fertilized an egg that subsequently developed into the child.   To the contrary, if that’s all it means to be a father, then I think we have set the bar way to low.  In effect, that will make men think it is awfully easy to be a father.     

There’s a deeper point here.  If you say every child needs a father, it must be because a male parent provides something (apart from sperm) that no female parent can provide.  That is, there is something essentially unique in being a male parent as opposed to a female parent.    Put slightly differently, the “every child needs a father” statement is necessarily premised on an assertion that men and women are essentially different in what they bring to parenting.   (Again, apart from the sperm/egg difference.)   While this is obviously a subject of debate, I don’t agree.


54 responses to “Downgrading Fathers?

  1. This is a tough one. While I don’t think that every child inherently must have a father or father figure, it does society as a whole as little good to think of fathers as expendable as it does to think of women as expendable. Raising children is one of the few areas where the popular notion values women over men; it’s still a form of gender discrimination, just not the usual situation where maleness is an advantage. Michelle Wallace has a good book Black Macho and the myth of the Black Super-Woman that discusses the consequences of devaluation of a father’s role. She asserts that because in the first part of the twentieth century it was easier for black women to find employment and fill the role of bread winner, black men felt emasculated by the emergence of this new female-dominant family, and that’s what led to the hyper-masculinity seen in the Black Power movement and still influences black culture today (well, 1990, when the updated edition came out). Obviously, it’s a difficult tight rope to walk- valuing all forms of families while trying to not negate the role of parents of either gender.

    • I really think this post is overfocusing on gender. To prove it, lemme do the Gloria Steinem what if trick:

      “Does every child needs a mother…? Of course I know that every child must be conceived and gestated for at least 6 months, and that only women can gestate. But I don’t think we do men or women or children, for that matter, a service when we assert that a woman is a mother simply because she carried the child before it was born. To the contrary, if that’s all it means to be a mother, then I think we have set the bar way to low.

      “There’s a deeper point here. If you say every child needs a mother, it must be because a female parent provides something (apart from a womb) that no male parent can provide. ”

      Does this sound absurd? It is no less absurd than the first statement. It isn’t the mother’s social gender role that makes her a mother- She can be a construction worker if she so pleases. It’s her biological contribution. Ditto for a male hairdresser.

      Ok, so let’s say a mother’s biological contribution is more? So what? Does that eliminate the fathers? Birth ends, but DNA is forever. The institution of surrogacy only confirms this.

      • Perhaps it is overly focused on gender. I don’t think mothers are particularly less dispensible for fathers. But as a culture we have been far more preoccupied with the “problem” of fatherless children than that of motherless children. This, of course, is because of the biological difference between women and men when it comes to reproduction. Absent egg donation and surrogacy (and I’ll return to that in a moment) the woman who provides the gamete is necessarily is around at the time of the birth of the child. She’s generally identified. Thus, the law is fixated on finding fathers in a way it is not fixated on finding mothers. As a result, the law for fatherhood is quite different from the law for motherhood, and this creates any number of puzzles as you try to introduce both more gender-neutral law and ART.

        So I don’t say every child needs a mother, though of course, every child was conceived using a gamete from a woman and developed in a woman’s womb. I think men are capable of raising a child.

        ART–particularly egg donors and IVF, which allows gestational surrogacy–give us a range of roles women can play. Where once the same woman provided the egg and the womb and gave birth, now two different women can do that. And a third person (male or female) can be paying the bills and intended to be a parent. This is what makes it so challenging now. Which things count? The thing is, the egg donor is very much in the same position as the sperm donor and the sperm donor is very much in the same position as many men who participate in intercourse that results in pregnancy without any real relationship between the two people involved. That means if you don’t pick the egg donor, you have to deal with all these other questions.

  2. ” becoming a parent is not about simply filling the right gender slot, but is instead about choosing to undertake substantial responsibilities, about making a limitless and life-long commitment. ”

    The operative word is “choosing.” No. Parenthood is not a choice. Parenthood is an obligation.

    Perhaps obligation is a dirty word in our choice obsessed society. Nevertheless, for a stable society certain obligations must be constant.

    If one can choose to be a parent, one can just as easily choose not to be a parent, or the extent that one wishes to , whether married to mom or not.

    2. Do all children need a father? This question is a bit superfluous, since all children already have a biological father.

    If your question is, do children need a father substitute in the absence of that biological father, and whether it is better if that father substitute is male, it all depends on the individual circumstances.

    • I completely agree that parenting is about obligations as well as rights. Indeed, this was rather my point. I think it is critical that people thinking about becoming parents consider those obligations and decide whether to accept them. If you aren’t willing to undertake the obligations, then you shouldn’t become a parent. Thus, in my ideal world, people would carefully choose to become parents.

      Of course I know it often doesn’t happen that way. Heterosexuals engage in sexual intercourse without thinking about whether they want to be parents with some frequency. But notably, women creating fatherless families are choosing to become parents. No one undergoes assisted insemination purely for pleasure or on the spur of the moment.

      I think you could probably anticipate my response to 2, above. Clearly there is some male who provided sperm to create every child. While that man is necessary to the child’s existence, I don’t automatically call this person a father. In my view there ought to be a good deal more than that required before you get recognized as a father.

      If we skip that, though, perhaps I can agree with your point. Maybe you can recast my question as whether all children need to be raised with a male parent, or even whether it is best for all children to be raised wtih a male parent. If the answer is “it depends” (as I think you say) then that’s a way of saying it isn’t always better, right?

      • “In my view there ought to be a good deal more than that required before you get recognized as a father. ”

        The crux of the difference is that you seem to be saying that the fulfilling the obligations of fatherhood must take place BEFORE one is to be called a father, which is a logically untenable position, because if there is no father, than there can be no obligations of fatherhood, as there is no person on whom the obligations of fatherhood are to fall.

        Thus The only thing that makes sense is that there are some people who are parents by their very identity, on whom parental obligations fall, except in certain extenuating circumstances. In summary, parental identity must come first in order for there to be parental obligations.

        I don’t see how you can escape this conclusion without reverting to the parenthood as a choice model.

        Regarding recasting the question- it seems there are two questions to recast: Are children better off being raised by THEIR male parent. Assuming he is a fit parent, I would say the answer is almost invariably yes. (Of course, I give the same response for a female parent). Your question, whether children are better off being raised by ANY male, related or unrelated, is an entirely different question, and no, it isn’t always better.

        • I know a long time has passed and it is late for me to be responding, but I think you are right that I would assert that you have to earn the title “father” (or “mother” for that matter.) I see your polint about the logical difficulty, but I don’t think it’s that big a problem. Perhaps there are some people who get first crack at stepping in and doing the job. For example, if the woman who gives birth is living with someone, that person is frequently going to have the opportunity of stepping up.

          Beyond that, as I’ve said before, I’m willing to consider separating the obligations from the rights (which is what gives a person power.) If you wanted to argue that a male progenitor is presumptively responsible for providing financial support, I might agree. But I won’t say he is automatically entitled to make decisions about the child and I don’t think he’s the real father.

          The last questions are of key, and we disagree. If a man and a woman have a postive relationship and are inclined to raise a child together, that’s all well and good. But procreation being what it is, there are countless times that the man and the woman involved do not have a working relationship. And then there’s ART–where a man and a woman do have a fine working relationship, but he’s not genetically related to the child.

  3. Regarding “setting the bar too low”: We do not set the bar too low. We require fathers to pay child support by law. And while not legally enforceable, we expect them to show love and interest in their offspring.

    If you are saying we should not, it is you who are setting the bar too low. It is you who are encourage absentee fatherhood.

    • If you recognize a man as a legal father you do much more than just oblige him to pay child support. You give him substantial power over the child’s life and, via the child, over any other parents actually engaged in raising the child.

      This grant of power for nothing more than having provided sperm is what I object to. I’m actually willing to consider imposing some sort of support obligation on a man without also giving him the power to make decisions about the child. If he invests time/love/energy in the child raising process (which depending on the circumstances, might be a good thing) then I might think about giving him the power that comes with being a parent. There are many circumstances in which I think we ought to encourage men to make that commitment to children.

      • I agree that parental power should be withheld from an absentee or otherwise derelict parent; who here is suggesting otherwise?

        However, why assign him the status of a derelict parent before he behaves with dereliction?

        And even if, why not give him an opportunity to redeem himself later on?

        In addition, why assign him the status of a derelict parent, if he was kept away in large part due the the wishes of the other parent?

  4. Imagine the following scenario: two heterosexual, married, fertile partners. They’re happily married and hope to remain so to the end of their days, except for one thing: One desperately wants kids, the other doesn’t.

    “Tell you what,” he says. “We can discontinue the birth control, and stay married, as long as we sign some documents absolving me of all parental privileges and obligations toward any offspring that may result.”

    Do you find any fault with this scenario?

    • I take it your question is whether an agreement like that should have any force? This makes me think about what might happen when a child is born as a result of this plan. Given the demands of child-rearing, it’s hard for me to imagine that they are going to remain a stable three person household with one doing all the child-care and the other doing nothing towards child rearing–no money, no time, no effort. Indeed, if someone came to me and said they were considering such an agreement, I’d tell them they were totally unrealistic.

      That said, I think what I just did might count as fighting the hypothetical. If they really followed through on the deal and if they really managed to make it work–more power to them. I do think the law would make the man a legal father (because he is married to the mother.) I’m not sure I think it ought to do that, though.

  5. The state should not even consider gender as a criteria for who can adopt. The state is not replacing father, it is are granting a person the authority to act on the abdicated father’s behalf. If those titles can not be reserved exclusively to describe genetic relationships – throw the titles out the window and describe the nature of the relationship clinically or contractually. You can assume the legal responsibilities of the father without being a man absolutely. The state needs to let that happen. But one certainly cannot hope to fill the hole in a childs heart and existence if their father is absent, no matter how well they care for the child. Replacing a father with a male adopter can’t replace whats missing only the absent father could. You can’t replace his absense by saying there are two mother’s either because there are not. There is only one mother and one father and there presense will be missed no matter who steps in to take up the slack.
    The state should not allow single women to conceive offspring with anonymous men unless they have someone all lined up to adopt that kid the moment its born. The state can’t be deliberately put into the position where if the female progenator ever goes on welfare there is nobody to go after for child support. Its not good enough to be married or in a committed relationship, those partners need to want to adopt the kid so that there is always two people responsible for raising the child unless one dies.

  6. I take that last part back, not that I don’t think it but the state can’t and should not tell people what to do that way.

    I think if the female progenator wants child support or if the partner seeks custody they’d better have gotten it all legalized by adoption if they hope to win though.

  7. Kisarita
    Yeah but you can’t waive your rights under the law and if the woman needs support for her child at some point, she can’t waive her right to it. The state would go balls out for the guy, they won’t want to pay her wellfare when he could pay because she was stupid and wiaved her right? Would not work.

  8. The scenario is a hypothetical one, addressed to Julie. Not intended to be realistic at all. The question is not WHETHER the law accepts this type of arrangement (I know it doesn’t), but WHY the law should or should not accept this.

    • The reasoning is that Julie has suggested extending “sperm donor” status to the one night stand guy who impregnates the mom via intercourse. Why not take that to its logical conclusion and include the married guy who doesn’t wish to be a parent?

      If not, then what you’re really saying is that parental status should be based strictly on the man’s relationship to the child’s mother.

      • I think parental status ought to be based on a person’s relationship with the child, not the mother. However, if you think about the life of a newborn (and I have friends who just had a baby so I’ve been marvelling over this incredibly demanding phase of life), it’s hard for a second person to have a real relationship with the child if that person doesn’t have a decent relationship with the mother. (I’m assuming here that the woman who gives birth is raising the child and that we can call her a mother, but I realize there could be questions here.) Maybe I should make this more general–it would be hard for two people to join in raising a newborn unless they had a solid relationship.

        If a married woman were living with a person not her spouse and gave birth to the child, and the cohabitant took an active role in rearing the child, I’d surely be inclined to pick that person over the absent spouse.

  9. sorry kisarita, I read what i wanted to read instead of what you were truly saying.

    I read and older post on here – these women I think handled their situation well, so did the court. The relationship broke up but because the child was actually adopted by the female progenator’s same sex partner she was able to still be a legal. Parent. If 2 women decide to raise a child together it would be smart to follow the road paved by these women.
    “News In Brief: NC Appellate Approval for Second-Parent Adoption”

  10. Julie, you ask: Does every child needs a father? Please tell me how one is expected to know when a father is redundant or not? Upon conception or before how are we meant to foresee if a child needs a father? Your argument taken to its logical conclusion is that men are essentially redundant as parents. You effectively see men only useful for their production of sperm and if they DECIDE to parent they are basically a nice accessory but not fundamentally important in any real way for a child.

    • I think there are two different questions. First, do children (in general) need to be raised by a mother and a father, as opposed to by only a mother or only a father or two fathers or two mothers or two mothers and one father or whatever. This is not a question about any specific child or any particular man or woman. And for me, the answer is that a child does not need to be raised by a mother and a father. Other configurations are equally well-suited to producing happy and healthy children (whatever that might mean.) Of course I realize that some will disagree and that there may be need for discussion.

      There’s a second distinct question: In a particular setting is a particular person important/necessary or redundant. I cannot answer that without knowing the setting. I make no claim to be speaking about specifics.

      I also don’t mean to assert that there are no circumstances under which a father is a necessary part of a family. There are instances where a man and a woman decide to have a child together and the man provides sperm and the man is essential to the success of the parenting project. I know many families where the father is indispensible to the operation of the particular family. But there are also situations in which the man provides sperm (and in that sense is necessary) but where his continuing participation is not necessary. That’s nothing against men as parents in general.

  11. There is probably a reason it takes two people to conceive, because it really takes two people to take care of an infant anyway. Someone has to keep the baby with them constantly and someone else has to go get them food. It would seem that on its most basic animal level that the male has a responsibility to participate in that process for a while anyway. Times change now there is welfare and daycare but without some kind of assistance it would be a rough road to do it alone. Women would have to pool their resources communally in order for their young to survive I guess.

    • I’m wary of reasoning like this. It’s true that it takes two people to conceive and it’s true that newborns are certainly an overwhelming amount of work for one person (though some people do it), but I don’t think the latter caused the former nor vice versa. And just because newborns are a lot of work, there’s no reason why the progenitors need to do the work, or only the progenitors. It’s not hard to imagine asy to imagine a system where a group of women would collaborate in raising children and raising food without too much involvment from men. Indeed, I think in other cultures, grandmothers and aunts are much more involved in raising the children and taking on part of that work.

      • That may be true Julie. Many cultures have elaborate extended kin and community networks. However, I am sure it is extremely rare for the aunt and grandmother and other clan members to totally replace the mother. The mother still retains her status over the lifetime.

  12. Sandy, I think that you have an important point. Either we say: “a child needs a father” before conception or we say : “the child needed a father when it is too late. Did the donor twins of the 60 year old Spanish women, who died two years after their birth, need a father?

    Economically speaking the question is absurd. Fathers were evolutionary “invented” because human offspring need an extraordinary high level of investment to reach reproductive age. This has not changed. On the contrary, in modern society children are relatively more “expensive” than in traditional society. This is why a major and increasing part of the world has fertility below replacement level,it is not because people don’t like children anymore. Besides the brute facts of resources, there are good reasons to belive that the human species has evolutionary adapted to fathers (anything else would be extraordinary in biology), and that there would be other consequences for children besides poverty, when they are deprived of them.

    We are conducting a social experiment and our children serve as “guinea pigs”.

  13. What is quite interesting is the fact that not only women have decided to dispense with men and have children via sperm donors, but a growing number of men are saying that they no longer need to be burdened with a wife and rearing children, they can now become open sperm donors and fulfill their biological need to reproduce with no responsibility. If this trend continues I believe that the burden of child rearing financial as well as physical might soon again come to be seen as primarily a woman’s responsibility with men opting in at will – effectively Julie’s preferred model.

  14. Julie asks if children need fathers. As the grown child of a single mother by choice I can give you the answer and is yes. The reason is very simple, because there are men and women in the world and when you are raised only with the insight and the influence of only one half of the world, when you get out to that world, you are in total disadvantage towards the other half of the The world. I had a wonderful mother, prepared and financially sound and even though I have struggled my whole life when it comes to dealing with men, and all the women I know in my situation (and the ones with absent fathers too) have the same problem and are constantly falling in abusive relationships.
    I agree with that Julie is being sexist and discriminatory against men and from her writing seems she thinks men are good only to be sperm machines
    for women when they want to be mothers And if they want to be fathers they have to gain the acceptance of the woman to be a father. That is gender discrimination.

    • At the risk of tedious repitition–I do not mean to denigrate men in this regard. I think men can be loving and nurturing and everything else that it takes to be a good and involved parent. I know many men who are just this. But I do not think–as a general matter, and I do not presume to address your specific situation–that it is necessary to involve men as parents in every single family. I think that there are perfectly good families without male parents. I think there are perfectly good families without female parents, too. A family without male parents does not need to be a family where men are kept at a distance or where there are no male role models. (Ditto a family without female parents and female role models.)

      • I actually disagree on this… I think although men are capable of being great parents, many men are less likely to be good parents than women, because they are less socialized into that role. The idea that sperm does not a father make only increases that possibility.

      • I just want to clarify two things, I actually agree with Julie that being a father is very different that just providing sperm, but I think that men should be encouraged to be more responsible towards their offspring and the current culture actually encourages more the irresponsability of men and we are turning fatherhood into a comodity for the woman when she needs it intead of something that is there the benefit of children. I think a father should be the person who is there permanently for the benefit of the child not the person who is with the child’s mother and stepfathers are the perfect example of why, because when the relationship with the mother breaks the child ends up affected.
        Second, another thing just in case, my mother never kept men away from our family, in fact, I grew up surrounded by many good male role models, and my mother and I had a healthy family but male role models have their own life and many times their own children and most likely they won’t teach and guide another child from somebody else. Usually the life teaching and guiding comes from the mother, we observe the male role models but they are not next to us to provide guideance every time we need it, and that situation puts children coming from single parents (either fatherless or motherless I think) in disadvantage of the ones who had two involved parents.

  15. And let me repeat myself… that ultimately discriminating against men in this regard it is women and children who will suffer- children as mawy wrote, and women who will be overburdened going at it alone

  16. I don’t think Julie is suggesting that fathers are unnecessary. I think what she’s doing is trying to seperate the act of conception from the act of child rearing. Men and women have an equal role in conception and presumably an equal role in raising the resulting child. Raising kids is not easy alone for a man or a woman. A motherless family is at as much a disadvantage as a fatherless family as far as balance is concerned. Its hard to do with two people, far more difficult to do alone, raising a kid. I’ve done it both ways. Since people are inherently imperfect – you could grow up just as inclined to unhealthy relationships being raised by mom and dad together as by just mom or just dad. I think what is important is that men and women never underestimate their respective importance to the children they create – that they never leave their children wondering why they were not important enough to be cared about.

    • There’s much you say here I like, though of course there is some I disagree with. I think you’ve hit it right when you say I’m trying to separate the act of conception from the act of child-rearing. That might be a useful way to think about it.

  17. I’ve reunited people with fathers who had no idea that they’d gotten anyone pregnant 30 or 40 years ago. They went off to the viet nam war oblivious to the fact that they had children. Their mothers married and the men they married pretended to be the father’s to these kids for years and years. And while that is lovely and noble – lets make something clear…they were not these kids fathers. In two particular instances I found my friends fathers and they both embraced their children and they told their wives and they have become extremely close. They want to be dads. My friend’s father moved her up to Oregon, bought her a truck signed over his property to her, got her a job got her off drugs was thrilled to have a grandson and was heartbroken when she returned to San Francisco on her feet. He writes her letters all the time and talks on the phone to her and his grandson twice a week. She is a changed woman because he had an opportunity to be her father finally after 37 years of not knowing. Who is the real father there? It was nice of the other man to raise her as his own, she even has his last name, but her mom ultimately divorced him when my friend was about 20, they don’t really talk anymore.

    • It’s hard for me to know what to say about individual situations–especially one’s where other people (those more directly involved) have a far greater understanding of the facts. It’s clear to me that the range of family structures and how people think about them is boundless. Thus, the idea that you can really find a one-size-fits-all is probably fantasy.

      That said, let’s go back in time with the folks you describe, perhaps 25 years. At that point the woman you describe would have been 12. And focus only on legal parenthood–which is all the law can hope to do. It seems to me at that point you could say 1) the man she had never met was her legal father or 2) the man she knew and lived with was her legal father or 3) she had no legal father. Which of these would have served her best at that time? It seems to me giving legal authority to an unknown person is not desireable–not to her and not to her mother. So I’d suggest that 2) or 3) are better. If the man in place is actually playing the role of parent, then we might want him to have the legal authority (and obligations) that go with it.

      All of this matters a good deal less once a person becomes an adult. At that point they have authority over who they see and parents no longer have decision-making power. Many adult children re-define their families for a lot of different reasons and I’m not sure the law is terribly important in that process.

      I know you don’t want to use the term “father” or “parent” as I am using them. But for me these are useful shorthands for “the person who has legal rights regarding the child.”

  18. What you say is true, when she was a girl, her mother’s husband was certainly her “legal father” as I said, my friend still has that man’s last name. But boiling it down to facts – her father was never told about her because it was not convenient for her mother; she’d moved on and in her eyes everything was fine. Her father never had any other children, she is to this day his only child and he was deprived of the opportunity to make decisions about her life, to have christmas’ with her, to let his mother and father be grandparents to his daughter before they died. I think its terribly confusing to tell a child that any man that takes responsibility for raising a child is a father. Its so transient to children that may be in a few foster homes, then they get adopted then maybe the adopters get divorced. It really is something you are not something you do. While the other man was her legal father, and willingly so, its not because she would not have had a father otherwise. It took her about a year to stop calling her stepfather Dad, I mean she still calls him Dad when she talks to him (which is hardly ever), but no longer in casual converation.
    There was a person who posted on your blog – her words ought to be in a book somewhere..something about be careful not to praise social parenthood to highly because it usually does not outlast the relationships that formed it. Not nearly as eloquent as she put it.

    • It seems to me you are raising questions about the the mother’s conduct in not telling the man who was genetically related to the child that the child existed. That, it seems to me, is a separate question. Perhaps she should have told him promptly and perhaps, if she had, the whole story would have unfolded differently.

      I am wary of moving too quickly to designate people as parents based on their function. I do see the problem you raise. If there’s a single mother who has a series of boyfriends, I don’t think each of them becomes a father. Ideally you want to be reasonably confident a person is “all-in” and that it is for keeps and that it is not simply because of the relationship between the parents.

  19. People should not be allowed to bring a kid home from the hospital without first taking a maternity/paternity test. That way the wrong person would never be named on a birth certificate and if a man wanted to be the “legal father” of another man’s child he could go through the adoption proceedings to do it all properly. Same with women – no surogate would ever be able to steal a child from its mother. My friend’s dad could have had joint custody and her step father still would have been in her life on a daily basis. Sure my friend shares his name, he did so much for her but after all he did where are her alliances going to be? To the tree her apple came from, she does not belong to her stepfathers family.

  20. I am concerned about a state violation of bodily integrity here.

  21. I dont understand. They take the baby’s foot and handprints and certainly everyone with a state ID or bank account is fingerprinted. Is it any different? Its just more accurate and would prevent people from lying about being a childs parents to gain custody without adoption. Are you concerned that the DNA would be evaluated in some other way to violate our privacy? I don’t know if we have the right to do something wrong and keep it private – is that what you mean? Or do you mean the right to keep it private if you have a genetic disorder or something?

  22. marilynn huff, you say: “Are you concerned that the DNA would be evaluated in some other way to violate our privacy?” the DNA used for maternity/paternity identification is called “junk DNA”. It doesn’t code for proteins and is not under selective pressure and can only be used the purpose of human identification. A so called “DNA fingerprint” can therefore not be misused for other purposes.

  23. Every adult is entitle to make decisions over his/ her body. In cases of compelling state interest, the state may overrule the individual rights. Striking a balance between civil rights and state interests is often a subject of debate.

    In my opinion the state has no interest in knowing whether a particular person is someone’s biological parent or not. Thus the state has no right to order medical tests, unless the state is involved by one of the parties, ie via lawsuit.

    (We are not at war and thus no person is required to hold or present an ID at all, unless the particular circumstances call for it)

    (If someone is discovered to have lied on a birth certificate, the penalty should be the same as lying on any other legal document. )

    Did you know that an alleged rapist can not be coerced into taking an HIV test? Instead the victim is reccommended to take some very harsh prophylactic measures on the chance that she (or he) may contract HIV. (I think even once convicted the law is the same, but I’m not sure of that). Bodily integrity is an extremely important right, although it isn’t usually referred to as such, since Roe V. Wade, the term “privacy” comes to mind but I prefer bodily integrity.

  24. Thank you Nelly and Kisarita. Well, it seems the state would save a ton of money dealing with lawsuits if they simply ordered the tests as a matter of course, especially if the tests could not infringe on people’s privacy in any other way. I see Kisarita’s point except like with forcing people to wear seat belts for their own safety or like with banning assault rifles, the government does overstep the bounds in some cases and act preemptively to stop people from breaking laws before they do it of their own accord. I’m not sure how I feel about that in the broad sense, but in this particular case, it would sure stop alot of the lies.

    • It would only save a lot of money if some uncertain legal status turned on the outcome of the DNA tests. I think in the vast majority of cases, they’d prove to be a waste of time. For example, when most married women give birth, the genetically related man would turn out to be the husband. In some percentage of the cases where the husband would not be genetically related, that would be because they used donor sperm–but that would be known to the parties. In cases where the husband had doubts about his relatedness, the husband could request testing. While that might be under-inclusive, doing universal testing would be vastly overinclusive and, dare I say it, quite expensive.

      • The fact that a married couple knows they used a sperm donor is no excuse for them to lie and list the husband on the birth certificate as the childs father. Same goes for listing the woman on the birth certificate if she used an egg donor.

        To date, over 1,000,000 donor children have been born internationally. That’s 1,000,000 birth certificates where the names of one or both parents is an outright lie. Why does the government not stop all the lying? Because from an economic standpoint at least someone is willing to take financial responsibility for the child. I don’t think the government had any way of knowing how huge ART would become or how common and prevelent it would someday be. It is now an ENORMOUS public health issue that so many birth records contain inaccurate information. Its unconcionable that in an era where a mail order DNA test costs $99 the government would not mandate that those tests be a prerequisite to state certification of the facts surrounding a child’s birth.

        I bet insurance companies would cover that cost in a heart beat if they could then exclude the unrelated child from the parents policy. That would sure make some wanna-be parents think twice before signing up to procreate with anonymous progenators through a fertility clinic.

        So it would save money in paternity suits and no man would have to prove or disprove his parental status after years of paying support or fighting for visitation. Those problems would never have to start. Children would not be misled people would go through the court to gain custody of children if they wanted it so badly and insurance companies would not be paying for dependants unless they were actually offspring or were legally adopted.

        • I’m not suggesting that anyone lie, just that it’s sort of pointless to do a DNA test when you know the outcome–it is not the husband’s DNA. Also, I don’t know if you’ve read the other discussions about birth certificates, but in the US the listing of a man’s name on a birth certificate is not a representation that the child carries his DNA. Thus, it isn’t a lie to list him. I understand that you may want birth certificates to be more like pedigree statements, but no state presently uses them that way.

  25. In most countries and in many states in the US you are required by law to submit to a breathalyzer test if suspected for driving under the influence of alcohol. This is a medical test and some people protest that it violates their bodily and moral integrity. Never the less it is considered to be in the interest of the community at large.

  26. So that wraps this up in my mind. It would be nice to just pass a federal law. Its already a crime to lie when filling out birth certificates but none of the ART folks or even oldfashioned step-parents are getting in trouble, nobody is getting fined or going to jail, so lets just stop it from being a problem by taking steps to REALLY certify the facts of a childs birth.

  27. Julie, I know that you are not suggesting that anyone lie. I work on construction sites and I don’t show up to work high, my boss knows I’m not high, but I still have to pee in a cup every now and then to satisfy the insurance carriers that the construction company is verifying that nobody on site is inebrieated. Just par for the course if I want a paycheck. If I was high, I would not bother showing up to work that day you know, don’t even claim to be ready to go to work. I am suggesting that people would not lay automatic claim to parenthood and would then go thru necessary legal steps to be granted custody instead.

    I have read your whole site, all the posts about birth certificates and the various comments. I’ve learned alot from you and everyone who comments. I’m aware that the listing of a man’s name on a birth certificate is not a necessarily a representation that the child carries his DNA. I would submit to you though thats because DNA is a relatively new thing and the law has not caught up yet to technology. It was certainly always intended to be a representation of genetic fatherhood verified to the best of the ability of the people recording vital statistics at the time. I work with lots of adoptees with birth certificates that originally listed their mother’s husband and then were later changed to reflect the name of the guy she had the affair with once her husband divorced her. Thus, it certainly was a lie for their mother to list the husband and he divorced her when he found out the kid was not his. The certificate was corrected to reflect genetic fatherhood based on the best tests of the era.
    You are correct I’d like birth certificates to be a statement of genetic fact and if custody is granted to someone else at some point they don’t need to be on the birth certificate to act on behalf of the child as legal guardian. The whole birth certificate thing is just an ego trip for them. I know that no state currently handles it that way. I know what the law is I’m interested in thinking about how it could be improved how other people think law could be improved to be more fare.

  28. Julie, you say: “If you say every child needs a father, it must be because a male parent provides something (apart from sperm) that no female parent can provide”. I can easily think of “something”, and that would be to provide the child with that part of its identity which has to do with its own creation, and which otherwise would be missing. The right to an identity is protected by human rights conventions and in countries like Canada and the UK by national laws. The adult donor offspring Joanna Rose won her case in High Court in 2005 which ended donor anonymity in the UK. The adult donor offspring Olivia Pratten is doing the same now in Canada and is thought to have a very good chance of winning. Joanna Rose says that: “this is the bare minimum and that children should have the right to be raised by their own parents”. As a matter of fact this right is contained in the “UN convention of the rights of the child”, but perhaps it was never meant to be used? If we only make laws for children to suit our own convenience, we better remember that children have a tendency to grow up, like these two fearless young women.

    • I think what you are suggesting is that the provision of sperm includes not only the bare genetic information but also some element of identity? If that is the case, then it seems to me it’s one aspect of the provision of sperm.

      That said, identity is such a tricky concept. I suppose I could agree that we all have an entitlement to an identity, but what makes up identity? When is that right denied? If the child has information about the provider of sperm but the person has no legal rights to control the child, does this mean the child has been denied some form of identity? None of this is obvious to me. But in any event, I don’t think the identity point demonstrates that the sperm provider needs to provide more than just sperm. Instead, it suggests that providing sperm is more important (in your view) than I’ve made it seem.

  29. Julie, you ask a very important question: “what makes up identity?” the best answer we can get, is from the people who are searching for it, like donor children, adoptees and others who don’t know their parents. As a species we are smart enough to think about where we came from (“we are not cattle” as they said back in the fifties when ART became publicly known), and more importantly, our biological and social parents have largely been the same throughout our history. (genetically speaking, we have on a historical average been a predominantly monogamous species). When these two facts are taken together it is not surprising that for many people their conception is an important part of their identity.

    “When is that right denied?” I think it is denied when the sperm bank and the government has information about your conception, but you are denied the right to access it. Apparently, the concern for the people who conceive, is more important than the concern for the people who are conceived.

    “If the child has information about the provider of sperm but the person has no legal rights to control the child, does this mean the child has been denied some form of identity?” Instead of seeing it from the adults point of view: “legal rights to control”, I would prefer to see it from the child’s point of view: “legal right to be cared for”. This was Joanna Rose’s perspective. Donor children’s identity problems are real and they constitute a public health hazard. As such they should not be dismissed even if it will cause us inconvenience to address them.

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