There’s been an incredible amount to discuss here over the last few days and I can only regret not having had the time to even try to keep up. Many of the pieces were follow-ups on things already touched on here. At a quick scan there are at least two things from the NYT (one about parents of children adopted from China who may not have been orphans but were instead taken from their families and one a follow up on the fatherhood/testosterone study I blogged about). Then NPR had a virtual buffet of stories over the weekend about use of third-party sperm as well as what children get told about ART conceptions. And the Boston Globe had a piece about the guy has so many offspring who keeps track of the kids he is related to via a spread sheet–another one I’ve already written about a little.
At this point all I can do is promise (myself and all of you) that I’ll get to these things this week. But for the moment I thought I’d just take a step back and think about what the proliferation of stories related to various aspects of the larger “who is parent” discussion might mean. (This is something I’ve been thinking about in part because after nearly three years of keeping up this blog, I’m going to try to do a bit of more sustained writing and produce a book. A part of that project is thinking about how to say why anyone would want to read such a book, and this in turn leads me to consider the current interest in the topic.)
So here’s what I have been thinking. It seems to me that just at this time there is a confluence of a number of different factors that are driving this interest.
First (not in the sense of “most important” but in the sense of “I’m talking about this one first because it is on the top of my brain”) there is the growing sense–shared by many readers here–that genetic linkages are important. This is amplified by some of the recent science around genetics/DNA and also by evolutionary psychology and biology, I think. And it is fueled, too, by the development of cheap, quick and reliable DNA testing as well as by the internet. Taken altogether these may harken the practical end of anonymity of gamete providers. At the very least, it becomes harder to assume that a gamete provider will remain anonymous.
Second, there is the wide-spread use of ART or at the very least, a widespread awareness of the use of ART. In some ways ART users are coming out of the closet. Celebrities use surrogates and IVF. People are interested, and this no doubt drives some of the media coverage. Often it serves the fertility industry to be in the news, though of course not all of the stories are ones the fertility industry would like to see. There’s a reinforcing circle here–more interest means more news means more interest.
Now the ART users are not a monolithic group, nor is there position vis-a-vis the DNA folks fixed. Some ART users are all about creating genetic linkages while others are all about the importance of the roles played in children’s lives. This is already a complicated picture.
Then there is the decline of (or at least, the perception of the decline of) the classic nuclear family, and the corresponding rise of the less traditional models-single parent families–particularly those where the parent is single by choice–and same-sex families as well as more familiar blended families.
And then there is globalization. Our world grows smaller. Reproductive tourism is a subset of medical tourism and both have experienced explosive growth. This brings all sorts of issues like cultural differences, economic exploitation and the like into the mix.
All of which is to say it is very lively stew these days–bubbling away with new things rising to the surface all the time. Which is why it is indeed hard to keep head above water sometimes. But it does make life interesting.