There are so many different threads running through the conversations in my last few posts. It’s hard for me to keep track of it all. I just thought I’d try to write something short to isolate some questions about gender and legal parentage. I want to make a few observations even though the evening grows late and I’m probably not thinking all that clearly.
First, it seems to me that if you take genetic relationship as being the criteria for assigning legal parentage, then it is easy to figure what to do about surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy with the genetic material of the intended parents is unproblematic. Because the intended parents are using their own genetic material they are going to be the legal parents.
Any other form of surrogacy is problematic, but not because of anything to do with surrogacy or gender, really . It’s problematic because the intended parents are using someone else’s gametes. From this perspective, the problem is the same as any time you use a third-party gamete provider.
Second, historically there has been a strong presumption that a woman who gives birth is the legal mother of the child. Indeed, this presumption continues to be in force virtually everywhere and surrogacy is carved out as an exception in some jurisdictions. The thing about this presumption is that it is impossible to say whether it arises from the fact that the woman who gave birth was always genetically related to the child or whether it arises from the fact of pregnancy/birth. It’s only within the last forty years that we can pull the two things apart and during the time the presumption took hold both criteria were always found in tandem.
It’s when we try to split them and figure out what contributions count that things get tricky. In particular, if you use genetics to assign legal fatherhood, how can you justify using any other standard for assigning legal motherhood?
And this leads me to the third thing I’ve been thinking about today: Should we use gender neutral language when discussing genetic parenthood? I mean, why say “genetic mother” or “genetic father”? Why not just “genetic parent?” Genetic parents make identical contributions to their offspring whether they be male or female–the contribute a gamete that contains 1/2 the needed DNA.
Maybe a genetic mother is a female genetic parent and a genetic father is a male genetic parent, but the femaleness or maleness of the person isn’t important, is it? I mean, is providing an egg in any way different from providing sperm?
I’ve been thinking about this because of the recent post I put up about gametes from skin cells. If you are using skin cells (which can then be turned into sperm or eggs) surely it is silly to call a person a genetic father if the skin cells were turned into sperm and a genetic mother if the skin cells were turned into eggs. But perhaps if a man provided skin cells that became eggs we’d still call him a genetic father–because he is male? Of course where this could lead you is to a child who had two genetic fathers (or two genetic mothers) which I think most people would consider impossible.
All in all it seems to me that the genetic parentage rules, at least in their purest form, ought to read gender out of parental titles. Maybe this means I’ve found something about genetic parenthood that I like? I
Okay, it is late, I am tired and this is getting too strange even for me. I stop now. Hope anyone on the east coast is safe and dry.