[NB. It is Thanksgiving Eve. I will be off-line for a few days after this goes up. I wish you all the joy and comfort of family (whatever it means to you) friends and good food. If only we lived in a world where everyone has plenty to be thankful for.]
The last post was about mandating honesty as to use of third party gametes. (Might be a good idea to read that first before going on here.) I touched on reasons why parents conceal their use of third-party gametes and suggested a couple of things we might do to encourage different choices–in particular to educate prospective parents about the values of disclosure and the costs of concealment and to consider ways we can reduce the shame factor, which is (in my view) one reasons why parents choose concealment.
There’s more to say about that, but I need to pick up on the title to the last post–echoed here. While I think there may be much we can do to encourage parents to be frank with their children, I’m not sure there’s that much beyond this we can do. In particular, I don’t think we can really require parents to tell their children. Could we pass a law that required parents to discuss the use of third-party gametes with their kids? Even as I type that I think it almost absurd to consider. The state cannot tell parents what to teach or not teach their children. Surely it cannot require parents to tell their children how ordinary conception occurs, even though I might think it a good thing to do. Actually, I cannot even imagine a legislature considering such a law.
That’s because one major purpose of parental rights is to ensure that parents get to raise their kids as they see fit with state interference reserved for extreme occasions. Just in case you think that the exception for harm opens the door–it’s generally the case that the state intervenes when a parent causes their child serious physical, mental or emotional harm. Courts are rightly reluctant to give expansive readings to the term “harm.” I don’t think you could have any chance at all of convincing a judge that the failure to talk to your kid on any particular day inflicted that kind of harm.
Thinking practically, what would a law say? “All parents of children conceived with third-party gametes must reveal this fact to their child no later than …….” No later than when? When the child is three? Five? Ten? And if we had such a law, would the police just amble round shortly after the critical birthday to chat with the child to make sure that the child had been given the pertinent information?
I know many people would like to see the information recorded on a birth certificate. Let me put all the other points about birth certificates aside here—how many kids look at their birth certificate? No doubt some do but I’m fairly sure that many do not. (As I think of it, I’m not sure my kids have seen their birth certificates.) Thus, even if you put the information on the birth certificate, it hardly ensures that parents tell their children anything.
From the law’s point of view there is a major problem with children: They aren’t generally thought to be competent to make a lot of decisions. We tend to use substituted decision makers for them–and those substituted decision makers are their parents. The parents act for the child and speak for the child. The child cannot act independent of their parents. (What I mean here is that a child cannot go on its own to request access to information.)
I don’t mean to present this was what I think would be a good idea vs. what I think would not be a good idea. The point I’m trying to make is that practically speaking, I don’t see how we can require parents to tell their children much of anything unless the parents want to do that. That’s true (I think) whether we like it or not.