Adoption as Crusade?

I have written from time to time about international adoption.   (I’m sorry to say it is a little hard to find all the old posts–I only just started using and “international adoption” tag.  Until I go back and retag earlier entries, you’ll have to look under adoption and/or globalization and pick through entries you find.)    Here is a new piece of investigative journalism that documents some interesting developments.

As some of the earlier posts (and the number of comments) suggest, international adoption is the subject of some controversy.  Doubtless many people initiate international adoptions for the best of reasons, but not everyone who participates in the process is scrupulous.   Thus, prospective adoptive parents have always had to be wary of possibilities of fraud, child-selling or kidnapping.   That’s part of why international adoption can be a long and complicated process.

The article I’ve linked to details the rise of what the author calls an evangelist adoption crusade.  It gives me pause.  There is a long and troubling history of religious (generally Christian) efforts to “save” children from other cultures.   While many of those involved in these efforts may be well-meaning, they have often been insensitive to other sets of cultural and/or religious values.  Indeed, the very idea that this is a Christian crusade–designed to bring children not born/raised as Christians into the fold–seems to me to be inherently problematic.

If you layer this on top of the chaos and need in many countries around the world, you can see that you can get problematic results.   Children who are not orphans or children who are situated within an extended family group may end up being adopted into US families.   No matter how well-meaning the adopting family, this cannot be good or right.

So I worry about a religious crusade to increase the number of international adoptions and to make them easier to complete in order to do so.  I worry that we end up running roughshod over other families, other cultures, and other religions in certainty that a child will have a better life in a US (Christian) home.    The impulse to help poor children in other countries may be a good one, but surely we need to think fairly carefully about what the most effective way is to do this.   An adoption crusade seems too reminiscent of other forms of colonialism for me to be happy about it.


12 responses to “Adoption as Crusade?

  1. There is so much irony in this post. ‘Child selling’, ‘well meaning’, ‘insensitive to culture…’ – identity – connections – by design…hmm where have I hear this before? (you don’t have a father/mother, you have a ‘donor’/’surrogate – all that matters is our love) Just sayin

  2. I’m actually not sure what you are alluding to, but I will take a guess and reply. You mean to draw parallels to arguments against use of third-party gametes?

    If that is right, then it leads me to a further observation that bears thought. (Actually, I suppose it leads me there even if I’ve guessed wrong.) Perhaps I’d say similar things about anyone who disrupts an existing parent/child relationship “for the good of the child.” Since I don’t accept genetic linkage as a sufficient basis, in and of itself, for a parent child relationship I don’t see these points as issues in discussions about use of third-party gametes. People who do place more weight on genetic linkage will see greater similarity between that practice and this.

    Yet even for people relying more on the genetic link to define parenthood, I think there are important differences here. The imagery of a crusade, with implications of saving non-Christian children, for example, doesn’t seem to me to carry over. (I suppose you do see a little of that in the frozen embryo stuff.) And it seems to me that the cultural issues are different, too. People using donor gametes often try to match race/ethnicity/culture, which is quite different from what is going on here.

  3. Julie, it’s all spin talk – the parallels are obvious. Mothers and Fathers (family) (genetic/biological) matter and I do believe ‘third-party’ (which can also be second or fourth party – or even more?) reproduction has enormous ethical, societal and human dignity problems. It should all be strenuously (federally/internationally) regulated if not banned altogether. That’s my last word on it on this forum. There are people more capable than me working on this. My opinion really doesn’t mean that much alone – luckily it’s not just me who feels this way.

  4. I think when you say this is “spin” you suggest that it isn’t a substantive disagreement, but just rhetorical gloss. I totally disagree with that characterization.

    This isn’t spin at all–there is an important substantive point on which we disagree: How do we determine which people are a child’s parents? That’s a question that can be (and historically has been) answered different ways.

    If you accept that DNA defines parenthood, then you might equate the position of children taken from their families overseas and children conceived using third party gametes. (You could still also agree that there are differences, some of which might be important.) But if you do not accept that DNA defines parenthood (and I do not), then you do not make this equation.

    Also, for whatever it may be worth, I think it is quite possible to agree that there are lots of questions of many different varieties raised by the use of ART and third-party gametes without agreeing that DNA should determine parentage. Surely this blog is witness to that point?

    • Darth Vader didn’t say “Luke, I am your parent!” He said “I am your father!” When my friend Eric was hit with a support order, he didn’t say “wow, I’m a parent!” he said “wow, I am a father!” So I think you are arguing against a straw man here, no one says that DNA defines parenthood. No one says that children must be parented by their DNA provider (not even kisarita). Sometimes we use “parent” as a synonym for mother or father, because usually they do parent their own children, but we all recognize that they are separate concepts, and sometimes a persons parents are not their “real parents” (by which people mean “biological parents” (by which people mean “progenitors”)) Don’t get thrown off by the terms “real parents” and “biological parents”, those are not attempting to refer to the act of parenting or the legal status, the term is used only because of the common norm that progenitors generally parent their own children.

      • If what you are saying is that as far as you are concerned those who contribute DNA may or may not be legal parents, then we have possibly found a point of agreement. It’s hard to tell when people say “parent” whether they mean to invoke the social concept, the legal concept, the biological concept, or some combination of those. Maybe one should always attach the appropriate modifiers? I’ve resisted that tack, but it’s probably worth reconsidering.

        I do resist the use of the term “real parent” as that seems very likely to mean different things to different people, while terms like “legal parent” at least have some fixed meaning. I do not agree, for example, that biological parents are always the “real parents.” There’s a lot more judgment implied in the use of the term “real.”

        The first point you make–about father/mother/parent–is an important one in its own right. I’m very interested in the extent to which we use gendered terms for parents and what the implications of all that are. This, it seems to me, is somewhat independent of the discussion of the different varients of the word “parent.” But there’s a parallel discussion–one could mean a legal father, a social father, a biological father and so on.

    • OK, I gotta eat my words a little when I read Jennifer Roback Morse’s testimony in Minnesota:

      We often hear the objection that some marriages don’t have children. This is perfectly true. However, every child has parents. Depriving a child of relationships with his or her parents is an injustice to the child, and should not be done without some compelling or unavoidable reason.

      She is obviously not talking about legal parents here, she’s talking about progenitors, using the term parents as if it only meant progenitors. She goes on:

      Up until now, marriage has made legal parenthood track biological parenthood, with adoption for exceptional situations. The legal presumption of paternity means that children born to a married woman are presumed to be the children of her husband. With this legal rule, and the social practice of sexual exclusivity, marriage attaches children to their biological parents.

      So I’ll withdraw my point above while I reconsider what my point is, and get back to you in a little while.

      • thanks. I was going to try to dig something out on that, but now you’ve saved me the trouble. Even so, I stand by my response to your comments on language, which are important even if some do promote the DNA=parent point.

    • Wow, I think Jennifer Roback Morse is who you were arguing against (not a strawman after all), and you are who she’s arguing against. Some people probably don’t believe her but you are the proof.

      The theory would be that the genetic connection between the child and one member of the lesbian couple for instance, cannot be permitted to “privilege” her in any way over the other member of the couple.
      This suggestion makes plain how deeply same sex marriage will alter our social structure. The biological principle of determining parentage will have to be suppressed, and eventually replaced with another principle. That principle will be that the state will decide who counts as a parent.

      Let us be clear: the alternative to the biological principle for determining parentage is the principle that the government decides who is a parent. Instead of simply recording parentage, the state will determine parentage, not in exceptional cases, but routinely. This is far too much discretion to allow the family courts.

      • I do believe you’re right and I ought to go read that testimony myself. She is correct that I would say that the gentic connection between the child and one member of the lesbian couple cannot be permitted to privilege her in any way over the other member of the couple.

        But I think she’s done something slightly misleading in that last paragraph. I think law (or if you insist, the government) or society always defines who gets to claim the rights of a legal parent. Implicit in her argument is the assumption that there is some pre-existing (natural law?) rule that biology determines legal parentage. That’s not the case. At times law has given biology meaning but at times it has not. Once upon a time illegitimate children had no legal parents. That wasn’t because people didn’t know about biology. It was because society chose not to give legal meaning to the biological connection.

        I can put this is a slightly different way. Law that defines who gets to be a legal parent is always constructed by society. It changes over time and across culture. It’s in contention these days and so we discuss it and argue about it. But (in my view) no one gets to claim that their perspective is grounded on the natural order of things and hence doesn’t need the same level of justification as others.

  5. “the alternative to the biological principle for determining parentage is the principle that the government decides who is a parent…. This is far too much discretion to allow the family courts.”

    Perhaps this is more appropriate to previous posts, but Julie it seems to me that you have favored just such an approach. Even as one who does not believe in the value of genetics, ultimately doesn’t that seem just as arbitrary, reckless, and potential for abuse?

    • I just posted a reply to this point in reponse to John’s comment, but I’ll briefly reiterate here. Society always has to decide who gets to be a legal parent. There isn’t any natural or default answer to the question. No one gets to be a legal parent until society creates laws that recognize parenthood. And when society does that, we have to figure out how to assign that role. Some people would say it should be assigned according to DNA. That’s a possiblity, just as assigning it according to intent is a possiblity. All possiblities should be considered and each needs to be justified.

      I think the sentence you’ve got quoted creates the impression that doing things via DNA is just the natural way to do things and that all the other possiblities represent human tinkering and hence should be regarded with suspicion. But doing things via DNA is just as much a human (or governmental) choice and should be regarded with just as much (or as little) suspicion as the other options.

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