I’ve recently finished grading family law exams and I’d give my students something close to a creative writing assignment. One of my students wrote a piece that set me to thinking. The topic was whether people should have to get some sort of license or government seal of approval before they become parents.
Now the reality is clear: Adoptive parents must be pre-screened, but people who become parents via ART or via intercourse do not. The question the student wanted to discuss is why this makes sense. Of course, in the end there are insurmountable practical considerations that make pre-screening of all prospective parents impossible. True enough, but having read many volumes of sci fi/fantasy in my life, I was moved to consider a thought experiment.
Suppose through some massive industrial accident humans became unable to reproduce without medical assistance. Now suddenly everyone needs medical treatment–but let’s say simple treatment–in order to conceive. Could the treatment be allocated based on some showing of capacity to parent or need? Or would all people have a right to that treatment?
Somehow I think relatively few people will say that everyone has a right to the treatment. I’m being a tad evasive here, because I’m not entirely sure what I think. But I am not initially inclined to say that everyone has a right to have a child. After all, as countless comments have pointed out, there is the point of view of the (prospective) child to consider.
There are endless problems with any scheme of allocation, of course. Who gets to decide who gets to have kids? On what basis? Do we review whether you will be a good parents, or whether two people together (assuming two people together apply) will be good parents or whether you have the capacity to support the child, or what? And what does it mean to be a good parent? I doubt we’ll all agree and the questions will be endless.
The point is, I’m fairly sure, obvious. People who adopt are generally subjected to just such an analysis. And it’s not uncommon to hear suggestions that those planning to use ART (IVF, surrogacy, third-party gametes) be screened or that some other form of regulation be imposed. By contrast, people who can reproduce via intercourse are free to do so at will, as often as they like and without regard for the well-being of their children.
Now I’m not prepared to assert that there is some grand plan at work that determines who can reproduce at will and who cannot. It seems to me it is simply chance. So does it really make sense to exclude those who are lucky enough to be able to reproduce unaided from scrutiny/regulation? Or conversely, does it make sense to subject those who are adopting to that scrutiny when it isn’t applied across the board? And what about people using ART?
I started with a thought experiment because there are obviously very substantial practical problems with regulating unassisted reproduction. But I wonder whether pragmatism is really the only justification for differential treatment. If it is, is it an adequate justification?
Even if the practical difficulties cannot be overcome, it’s worth thinking about whether the differential treatment is problematic. It would be good to know whether this is one of those places where you throw up your hands and say “Life isn’t fair.” And if the differential treatment is only justified by pragmatics, then it seems to me it’s a bit more difficult to insist on the regulation of ART. After all, the only thing that does is put more people on the “disadvantaged” side of the line.