Parenthood Without Hierarchy

(This is an ongoing thread.  If you want to check it out, at least read the last post, though you may find you need to go further back than that to make sense of it all.) 

As I’ve written this blog I’ve assumed (as is indeed the case) that there are a number of different grounds on which a person can claim to be a legal parent of a particular child.   And then, as the post I just linked to makes clear, I’ve tried to consider how you weigh competing grounds against each other.   For instance, if one person claims intention and another claims having given birth (this could be the dispute in a surrogacy gone wrong case who wins? 

In the last couple of posts I began to think about the possibility of rejecting a hierarchy.   After all, if you meet the conditions for being recognized as a parent, perhaps you should just be recognized as a parent, even if there are other people around who meet other conditions.   To put this another way, if you meet the conditions for being a parent you perhaps you should not be disqualified because someone else meets a different set of conditions.  

In the abstract, this seems to me to be a strong argument in favor of rejecting the hierarchical model.    Once you decide that a particular criteria (say a genetic linkage (which I do not agree with) or giving birth or whatever) confers parental status, why would you deprive someone meeting that criteria of that status? 

Is the main argument might be that you want a back-up parent, in case the first one doesn’t work out.  What I’m thinking of is this–in cases like Michael H (which I discussed last time) the man with a biological link is there in the event the husband elects not to claim his status as legal parent.  

That logic seems seriously flawed to me.   If Michael is Victoria’s parent, then he should be recognized as such.  If Gerald also has a claim, then he, too, can gain recognition.   But it makes no sense to me to say Michael has a claim only if Gerald does not.    The basis on which Michael claims parenthood (genetic linkage plus social relationship) is the unchanging.  Either it is enough to claim parentage or it isn’t. 

Of course, I think I know why the hierarchy approach seems natural.  It ensures you won’t have too many parents, or too many parents of the same sex.   In the Michael H. case, Victoria actually asserted that she was entitled to relationships with both Gerald and Michael.    The Supreme Court (I think it was Justice Scalia) found this idea hardly worthy of discussion.  

But, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog, I don’t accept biology as the defining criteria of parentage and I don’t accept the strict limit of two parents per child.   So why do I need to accept the hierarchical approach?   I have come to think I do not. 

This has some important implications.  In particular, it seems to me I need to think very carefully about which bases for parenthood I would accept,  because no one is there as a fall-back, in case no one with a better claim is around.   Once I accept a basis for parentage, the people in that category are going to be parents. 

I think I can live with that, and of course if one only has one basis for parentage anyway, this doesn’t really mean any change    I’m going to leave this here to sit for a bit and try to catch up on current events for a while.  And I noticed that the comments got lively today, so I’ll go and have a look there, too.

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4 responses to “Parenthood Without Hierarchy

  1. More than two parents is a very unstable situation for a child. (Think how destabilizing a divorce between only two parents is and multiply that by however many more people involved!) Although, I don’t believe that’s the rationale of the judge… I don’t think they even have a conscious rationale except that they try to stick as close to the biological model as possible, even when choosing non biological candidates.

  2. The problem is, that when there are multiple candidates for parental status, it’s usually because the parental role has been fragmented.

    The role of the parent is to create the child and bring it into being, care for its physical needs and establish a relationship with it. When there are multiple parents, it is because the parental role has been fragmented, thus their are some candidates who may hold a larger shard than other candidates, but none of them are really whole.

    Fragmentation is something we gotta deal with when it happens, but it’s not something we should actively create legislation to support.

  3. Julie I think you need to actually answer some questions instead of just posing them.

    If a woman’s parental duties begin at conception (40 weeks of pregnancy + labor and child birth = a mother) then how could you discriminate against a woman who needs to perform those care giving duties outside of her own body (deep freeze, incubator, womb of another woman) in order to bring a healthy baby into the world? Does a woman have the right to reproduce and be recognized as her childs mother only if she completes 40 weeks of pregnancy, labor and delivery? What about c-sections and premature births? What about women with frozen embryos – certainly time wise they are in the midst of that parental care-giving if the embryos are still viable. There is a higherarchy to prevent trafficking, kidnapping, rights from being usurped without people knowing their child even exists.

    If a mother cannot take care of her child for a while and someone else does her job for her (especially at her request for a specified duration) how can you say its ok for the stand in to say that they have a right to the child. Clearly the law needs to be changed to prevent the legalized lies that occur by naming the husband as the father when the father may not even know he has a child and certainly we need to change the laws to exclude child birth as the method for determining who is the mother.

    Birth certificates should say mother: ____ father: _____ gestational carriers name if different than mother: _______________
    Who does that hurt? Its the truth. Its the truth and anything else would be an obviscation of the truth in order to claim to have original authority over the child.

    People who perform parental caregiving duties do so at the pleasure of the mother – she did not need permission to become a mother because she created the child she had first crack at care giving – she broght the child into being even if she is an egg donor because she consented to the removal of her egg and she concented to allow it to be fertilized with sperm of an unknown man and she signed a waiver to allow the clinics customers to raise her offspring without her interference she signs saying that she will not seek to excercise her parental rights over her offspring. So even the egg and sperm donor are parents to begin with and everyone else cares for their offspring, as a I said at their pleasure with their consent. Without hierarchy people could just go around stealing sperm, eggs and embryos saying “its not hurting you if if you don’t know about it and besides you don’t have to raise your offspring, how could you let those go to waste when so many infertile people want babies? I caused your offspring to come into being because I’m the one that wanted a baby took your egg and bought the sperm to fertilize it” oi vey

  4. Certainly how one comes into custody of the child matters in determining whether or not they had permission to undertake the parental roll to begin with. There is a chain of custody – either you have the original responsibility or you assumed responsibility because someone prior to you relinquished their responsibility to you.

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