From A Slightly Different Angle? How Much Does It Matter Who Raises You?

I’m always (yes, you’d think I’d learn) sort of astonished about the degree to which conversations here evolve (or devolve, depending on viewpoint), to focus on questions of the meaning of genetic relationship. I think this reflects both the personal concerns of those who take the time to write but also (and perhaps more importantly) a larger debate within our society.  Indeed, as I think I’ve said, it seems to me that the prevalence of stories about seeking genetic origins, etc. reflects the same societal concerns.

Anyway, I thought it might be useful to step away from the detailed discussion of individual cases and think more broadly, and I wanted to try out a slightly different way of looking at things.

Let’s start with the focus on a single question:  How important is it for a child to be raised by its genetic parents?    

It seems to me that people’s answers to this are going to range widely.  Some will say that it is very important, or extremely important.   And some (and I’m in this category) will say that it isn’t necessarily (and I’ll come back to why that word is there) important at all.

But to begin, let me talk about why I think this is a crucial question to focus on.   It seems to me that IF you think it is very important THEN you will think that things like use of third-party gametes (which mean that kids are not raised by their genetic parents) are a bad idea.   But IF you think it isn’t necessarily important, THEN you’ll be open to the use of third-party gametes.    Thus, the answer to this question determines how you’ll respond to a lot of the cases discussed here.

I also want to note that the question I’ve posed talks about being “raised by” genetic parents–not knowing who your genetic parents are and not having contact with (or the possibility of contact with) your genetic parents.   You could certainly pose the question differently, but I choose to post it this way because I think this focuses us on what it means to be a legal parent–it means being the people to raise the child.   Thus, I can say  “genetic parents are interesting people who may  have a role in a child’s life” and still say it’s not important if you are raised by them.

So now on to the actual question.   And I want to do two things here.  First, I want to explain my answer to the question and then I want to think about how one might arrive at a different answer.

My answer:   Being raised by your genetic parents isn’t necessarily important.   First off, I’m not aware of any kind of study that says it is necessarily important.  Many kids are quite successfully raised by people not their genetic parents.   And nothing I’ve ever seen in the way of studies even says it is necessarily best to be raised by genetic parents.

But I need some caveats here.  First–I do think it is important that kids know the truth of their origins, though exactly when and how they learn is for the parents to say.  It won’t be the same for everyone.  I don’t think living in situations shrouded in secrecy, lies and/or shame is good for kids.   But you can have truth and still be raised by people not your genetic parents, as is the case with open adoptions.

Second, the inclusion of the word “necessarily” in my answer is significant.  I think the importance of being raised by your genetic parents is socially constructed.  So if you live in a community where it is understood to be of critical importance, than a child being raised by people other than his/her genetic parents may well be at a disadvantage and in that case it may really matter.   If everyone in the community conveys to the child that the absence of the genetic parents is a big problem then it may very well be a big problem.   But if a child is raised in a community where being raised by genetic parents is just one of many fine family forms, then I think it can be quite fine for the child not to be raised by genetic parents.   In other words, we create our own realities on this point.

This being the case, I’d say, for example, that people who believe that being raised by your genetic parents is really important ought not to use third-party gametes.  I don’t really see how that’s going to work out well.   At the same time, people who don’t think it’s critical to be raised by your genetic parents can succeed at adoption or with third-party gametes.

So much for my answer (which of course I’m happy to elaborate on).  I’ll close with some thoughts about other ways to try to arrive at an answer.

I know that many people believe that being raised by your genetic parents is always critically important.   I think the challenge is in trying to support that view with something beyond personal conviction.    Is there evidence that not being raised by genetic parents causes harm to a child?  If the answer is “sometimes it does”, then it seems to me the “sometimes it doesn’t” is implicit, too.  And if “sometimes it doesn’t” then this suggest other factors are actually determinative.

Long enough.   Time for others to have their say.


63 responses to “From A Slightly Different Angle? How Much Does It Matter Who Raises You?

  1. I’m basically in agreement with you. But two further thoughts:

    1. I think part of the issue here is what openness actually looks like. Being raised by your genetic parents, and being raised by non-genetic parents who successfully deceive you into thinking they’re your genetic parents, are both clear and straightforward arrangements: subjectively, at least, there are one pair of people who are your parents (unqualified), and they at least theoretically take on all the roles and statuses that parents conventionally have.

    Of course, there are good reasons, I think most of us agree, to reject the deception model of non-genetic parentage. But alternative arrangements don’t have this clarity. Suddenly there are multiple adults in the picture with different kinds of parental status: with adoption and gamete donation, there are genetic parents and social parents, and with gestational surrogacy, you can have gestational parents, genetic parents, and social parents all being different people. But with the multiplication of parental statuses comes additional complexity in norms: if you already have two social parents, what role are your other non-social parents supposed to have in your life? Which parts of the cultural script associated with parent-child relationships, which doesn’t make these distinctions, apply to which of your parents? And this puts pressure on everyone involved: on the adults, for whom this lack of clarity can be experienced as threat (e.g., on the part of social parents who worry about genetic parents usurping part of their place) or as deprivation (e.g., on the part of genetic parents who want a relationship with their genetic children they may not be able to have), and also on the child, both directly and as a consequence of dealing with the adults.

    I’m optimistic about the prospects people have of working this out, and as I understand it, in practice, experiments with openness in the context of open adoption have worked out fairly well. But I think part of the issue with rejecting the centrality of genetic parenting is that it forces us socially and legally to untangle the multifaceted status of “parent,” and doing that may not be so easy or so simple.

    2. This isn’t so much of a comment on your question here, as it is an observation: it’s worth noticing that we’re here having a discussion that mostly takes the virtue of openness for granted, but at least in this country, we have a policy framework where openness is much more the exception than the rule. It’s worth being cognizant, I think, of the fact that this discussion of exactly how genetic relationships ought to matter takes place against a background where genetic relationships are often simply disregarded; even when (social) parents tell the truth, children have no easily accessible means of discovering their genetic origins. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed, it ought probably to have a larger role in mainstream legal and policy discussions of these issues than it does, and I don’t think it should be lost in a focus on who the law should classify as a legal parent.

    • Wow that was really well written.

      Problem is that society has a method of keeping track of people and their offspring already. Playing with the really straight forward record keeping effort so by recording people as being the offspring of individuals that could not pass a maternity or paternity test creates a huge and unnecessary mess. In the instances where we just skip recording people as the offspring of their bio parents entirely and just go straight to writing down the names of people who will be raising the person an enormously important step is skipped. That step involves taking a critical look at the reasons why parents are not going to be supporting and raising their offspring themselves. As a society if we are concerned with protecting any child from objectification by their bio parents we should be concerned about protecting every child from it.

      The issue of openness is typically more straightforward in court approved adoptions because it is understood that everyone at least gave a luke warm attempt at protecting the child from parental objectification by following that due process of inquire into the parent’s reason for relinquishing as well as inquire into the over all fitness of the individuals wishing to adopt. Though much more needs to be done to protect minors from winding up with strangers having parental authority over them, Most adoptions are somewhat ethical in that regard. The same cannot be said of parents who are exempted as altruistic donors. Openness with the donor’s offspring does not address the fact that they are being demeaned by bio parents who are allowed to hide, by being given false medical records, by being handed off to others in acts of charity or commercial trade.

      Do you think people should have a real good ethical reason for not being accountable for their offspring as parents and performing parental duties? Or do you think people should be allowed to privately contract their parental title and obligations away to others skipping the court process entirely?

      • I don’t think the kind of parental responsibility you refer to comes from genetic relatedness. It comes instead from standing in a certain causal relationship to the bringing of a child into the world. If a couple decides to have a child by means of donor sperm, it’s their decision to have that child that counts, not the choice to donate sperm on the part of the specific donor of that particular sperm.

        Separate from the question of parental responsibility, gamete donors (like everyone else) certainly have an ethical obligation to take reasonable steps to avoid facilitating wrongdoing. I think it’s wrong to deny children information about their genetic origins, so I think gamete donors should only donate under circumstances where children will have access to such information. But (and this takes us back to Julie’s question) I don’t think there’s any inherent wrongdoing in children being raised by people other than their genetic parents, so I don’t see any general ethical problem with sperm or egg donation.

        • I just like your presence here because you are fairly clear in your writing and you are trying to back up your assertions. But I want to challenge your assumptions about responsibility. Your view is common but it is not logical given other laws and given things we know to be true but are taught to forget.

          For instance your position requires that we reject the concept of bodily autonomy and freedom of choice and reproductive freedom. You say:
          “If a couple decides to have a child by means of donor sperm”….Now what they are really doing here is agreeing to raise her child by another man together, they are not both coming to the table with bodily autonomy as equals and deciding to have a child together. Why? Because only one of them, in the case of your analogy, the woman, is able to have a child. Her partner can’t make the decision to have a child and bring offspring into the world together. All he’s doing is agreeing that he will share the job of raising her child with her. He can’t make the choice for anyone other than himself to have a child with someone and if his body won’t cooperate then the limit of his authority over what he as person will or will not do is limited to helping her raise her child with her permission and with the permission of the man that she has the child with. That is the stark reality of it. She could get pregnant by donor sperm and divorce him during her pregnancy or shortly after and challenge his paternity and name her new husband or boyfriend instead as father. She could do that because she has the permission of the person she had the child with to name whoever she wants as a second parent or name nobody at all and he won’t come forward and challenge any false presumptions of paternity granted by the state to whoever her spouse happens to be or to whoever signed the vouluntary admission of paternity (falsely). It is quite misleading to imply that someone would actually have the authority to reproduce another human being’s body. It’s frightening to think that a living breathing human being who is free and has reproductive freedom would somehow be unable to withdraw consent to reproduce as a donor. Donors are just people like you and me. They are 100% in control of their decision to reproduce and with whom and under what circumstances and they approach the clinic first looking to meet women to have offspring with. They are thinking people making a conscious choice to have a child with the women who select them from the profile book. Though they never meet they are the only two individuals with the authority to have made the decision to reproduce together and have offspring/children together. Other’s may influence their decision an in fact the consent of the husband is requried not because he has authority over his wife’s body or authority over the body or reproductive choice of the man she’s making the baby with – his consent is required because he’ll be presumed to be the father of the child and will be on the hook for child support. But make no mistake the fact that he consented does not give him the right to claim their child as his own without their express consent to his participation. His consent and his marriage won’t mean diddly squat if she changes her mind about him, because it is not really his kid. If he really were having a child with her and could prove the child was his child with a positive paternity test she could not just cut her husband off as the father of her child and pick some other man. He really would be the father of the child she delivered and woud not need her permission or anyone else’s permission to call himself that.

          We can play games with words and play games with who raises the child in the end but we should be real clear on who actually decides to “have a child” and it can’t be the infertile husband without undermining the bodily autonomy of his wife and of the man she reproduces with. People say that he decides to have a child with her and they may even think it but it’s really more to make everyone feel good and feel more like it really is them reproducing and conceiving. It’s not. The peoplel who wind up with the offspring are the couple that reproduced. Hopefully it was mutually agreed upon and consented to and nobody got reproduced by force with someone not of their choosing. Even still even when it is not a person of their choosing, nobody else can create a persons offspring for them, they are the only person that can create their offspring.

          It may seem like spliting hairs but people get to the point where they forget that donors are citizens with rights and freedoms who are making a choice in concert with whomever they reproduce with.

          • I’m not completely sure I understand your argument. You say that my view rejects bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, but I don’t see how this is so. I do not suggest that a woman’s spouse could compel her to have a child against her will (I’m talking about cases where the couple agrees to have a child). To the extent you argue that the spouse of the mother’s parental status is dependent on the mother’s cooperation, I think this is descriptively false as to what the law typically is. Where state law speaks explicitly to this issue, the usual rule is that when a spouse consents to his or her wife’s conception via donor sperm, that spouse is a parent of the resulting child. One legal parent is not entitled to unilaterally deprive the other legal parent of parental rights.

            You stress the intentional decision of the donor and disparage the importance of that of the conceiving woman’s spouse, but it seems to me that the opposite is much closer to the truth. A donor does not directly bring about the creation of any particular child. Without a choice by others to use the sperm to conceive, a donor’s sperm would go unused. A consenting spouse, however, willingly chooses to share in a specific decision to have a child. It seems likely to me that most of the time, without the spouse’s consent the intended mother will not choose to conceive with donor sperm. Even in cases where she would, the spouse’s consent is a marker of an intentional taking on of responsibility for the resulting child, which is not present in the case of the donor.

            But we are getting a bit into the weeds here and I don’t know if this is especially relevant to the question in the original post. Imagine the law handled donor conception differently and initially recognized the donor genetic parent as a legal parent, but permitted that legal parentage to be transferred from donor to spouse via adoption. This would be a costly and inconvenient mechanism for the couple, but such adoption would nearly always be in the child’s best interests; in normal circumstances, after all, the couple wants the child and the donor does not want to be a parent. This would eliminate the procedural defect you seem to find in donor conception. But I don’t think it would alleviate the objection most people have to it; it would still mean the intentional choice to create a child who will not be raised by both of his or her biological parents. I don’t think there’s any getting around the need to answer the question of whether there’s some special importance in children being raised by their genetic parents.

    • I think your first point is a good one. There’s a world of complexity there. It’s also true that openness is, to a large degree, controlled by the social parents. I cannot imagine some state appointed agent stopping by the house to talk to the five-year-old about the manner of the child’s conception. All the when/where/how is done by the social parents. I don’t think this makes it unworkable–it is essentially set up this way with open adoption. But it’s a point that needs to be acknowledged.

      As to your second point, I think that’s right–I assume the virtue of openness. That can, of course, be debated. And it is perhaps not yet the dominant view. It’s my strong sense, though, that things are trending that way.

      There’s also a pragmatic aspect: with the internet and genetic testing, there may really be no secrecy any more.

  2. I think that is a great question. You know what’s an even better question? Whether people should ever be exempted from accountability as parents of their own offspring on the record, that is to say any biological parent that does not raise and support their offspring should have to go through a set of procedures that is the same for any bio parent that does not raise their offsprign so that their offspring have a protected set of expectations with regard to their biological parents and relatives and a protected right to do process and court approval before recognizing anyone other than their bio parents as having parental authority over them. A consistent set of rules for people who have offspring will net consistent expectations of them by their offspring and consistent protocol for their protection when all else fails and their bio parents don’t raise them.

    The quetion about how important is it for people to be raised by their bio parents is a trick question. Or maybe you did not mean it to be one but it is because each person’s parents are as unique as they are. It may be very important for one kid to be raised by their bio parents if they are nice healthy normal well adjusted non abusive people and then totally not the priority for another kid who has a wacked out set of parents that are way abusive. It would be impossible to intellegently defend an answer that was not adjustable based on the kid the parents and the circumstances. But the adjustibility of who should raise a given child should follow a chain of custody and certain court approved procedures that should be the same for any minor as they all deserve protection from being treated as merchandise by their bio parents who made them. It’s not enough to merely appear to be the first people on the scene, if you did not actually make the kid yourself then it is important to identify the people who did make the kid and find out the reason why they are not raising them themselves. I believe strongly that the reason a person is not raising their own offspring should not be as an act of altruism providing a service to the needy so they can have children to raise. Neither should it be a commercial trade agreement where the bio parent received consideration in exchange for not having parental authority. The reason should be something related to the child being in danger for valid reasons based on abuse etc or for other reasons where the person simply does not have their life together enough to raise a child things of that nature. If someone relinquishes “because they just feel like it” that should be a big red flag to investigate whether the parent knows the people who are trying to adopt or if the parent is working with some kind of agency that reimburses them somehow for their time etc. If they are only giving up gametes for instance they should be prohibited from also giving up parental authority and responsibilities for their offspring because clearly the term gamete donation does not describe the breadth of the agreement including a promise by the donor that he or she agrees not to fulfill their parental obligations for their offspring from birth to at least 18 years of age. People’s consent to relinquish their parental authority should be handled after their offspring are born recognizing each specific child the way is done for virtually all other individuals not raised by their bio parents. We are either going to hold people accountable as parents for their offspring or we are not and it should be blanket and universal and not up to the individual whether they intended for the rules to apply to them. Really if it’s not important to document people as the offspring of the people who made them in order to differentiate that relationship from relationships which in theory could have been obtained through kidnapping or trade agreements and trafficking. Prebirth donor agreements don’t provide the same level of scrutiny or protection before handing parental authority to non bio parents as does standard court approved procedures. Those court approved relinquishment are not nearly protection enough but it is currently the best we have and every person born should be entitled to due process to prevent themselves from being sold or purchased by people who want to raise children and present themselves as parents.

    • Marilynn,

      In all of your comments, I’ve never gotten a good idea of why you think it’s important for parents to be genetically related to children.

      It’s clearly very important to you — the genetic connection. I’m curious why it is important to you, and how you arrived at your position?

      • You have got to be kidding Tess. Read above. Personal responsibility and preventing trafficking and maintaining people’s rights. Of course kid’s can thrive raised by others but the reason they are raised by others is critical there has to be a good ethical reason unrelated to treating offspring like products that people commission like artwork or a pure bred dog. Human rights Tess

        • You didn’t answer Tess’s question, which is why do you feel it’s important for parents to be genetically related to their children? Is it because you believe it’s less confusing for the child? Is it because you feel the parents will understand the child better? Those are just examples of what a relevant answer to the question would be. The question has nothing to do with personal responsibility and it certainly has nothing to do with “trafficking” or “maintaining rights”.

        • “there has to be a good ethical reason unrelated to treating offspring like products that people commission like artwork or a pure bred dog.”

          What exactly is the claim here? Say a woman conceives with donor sperm. She and her husband are the legal parents and the two of them raise the child from birth. The child knows her genetic father and has access to information about her genetic origins and the medical history of her genetic family, but he is not a legal or social parent and has no role in raising the child.

          Is there any ethical wrongdoing in this scenario? If there is, what is it? If the idea is that the child is harmed in some way by not being raised by her genetic parents, that claim needs justification. If you’re not making a claim of harm to the child, then I don’t see the force of your argument.

        • No, I think the question is a fair one. You just assume the responsibility should be there and then say so. But why should the responsibility be there? If a person provides their gametes knowing full well that they will be used by people who want to raise children and that those people will raise those children, why can’t we say the gamete provider has fulfilled her/his responsibilities? I do think at the core of it, you rely on an assumption that people are responsible for their genetic offspring. In some contexts I get why, but in others I do think you need to offer an argument.

    • None of this is relevant to this blog post topic. The question was does it matter whether the people who raise a child are genetically related to the child? What’s a “better” question is irrelevant if it has nothing to do with this blog post.

  3. “Let’s start with the focus on a single question: How important is it for a child to be raised by its genetic parents?”

    I don’t think it’s important.

    Children thrive in stable living environments with high-level, consistent parenting. Familial, community, and economic security all play critical roles in the well-being of the child. High-level parenting skills — empathy, social skills, teaching abilities –are all critical elements of good parenting.

    It’s important that parents encourage their children to pursue dreams. Good parents provide a strong foundation of support, empathy, education, and social belonging. It’s not important, in my opinion, that parents and children share DNA.

    I have been bemused by the arguments in support of “genetic” parenting as a critical element of a healthy family. My nuclear family members did not visually look like each other, so we didn’t possess the so-called “genetic mirroring” which some think is so important. And, yes, we are biologically related.

    I see each person as individual and unique apart from their family. Children are not “mirrors” of their biological relations, and they often have drastically different personalities and talents from their biological parents.

    I don’t think it’s healthy for parents to impose and project a vision of themselves onto their children. Children deserve to be seen as unique, and cherished for their own talents.

    I think lineage is transmitted through social customs. I do not think culture can be transmitted via venereal practices.

    I value social, cultural, and familial relationships. For me, family isn’t based on blood, and biology alone does not make family.

    • The only part of your statement I disagree with is saying that being raised by genetic parents isn’t important. I believe it’s important but only to a certain extent. If the parents are bad parents (not necessarily abusive or neglectful) then it becomes less important.

  4. I think it’s more important how a child is raised than who raises them. Parents who are genetically related to their children who do a poor job of it. Not even kids who are abused or neglected there are just children who are raised poorly and it ends up hurting the kid as an adult. There are just some bad parents out there biological and non biological.

  5. I read all the time but rarely comment.
    I don’t believe it’s important for a child to be raised by his/her genetic parents. I say this as someone who should not have been raised by her genetic parents. I also happen to be a mother through adoption.

    I do think it’s important that people – and children count as people – know their biological/genetic origins. However, sharing DNA doesn’t make someone the best parent for a child.

    • Oh hey I know you I visited your blog good blog. But would you agree that people who make children and are not going to raise them themselves need to be accountable for them so that they go about the relinquishment process in an ethical way? You toughed it out, did it the hard way above board in court and they determined you to be a good match for the child you adopted. They no doubt identified the child’s non-rearing parents and made sure that they were in fact in a position to be relinquishing a child – that is attempted to make sure they were the child’s bio parents and not one of their relatives or a kidnapper all those procedures to make sure the bio parent’s reason for relinquishing is reasonable and not profit driven. I think anyone who winds up with someone who is not their bio parent having parental rights over them deserves that due process those checks and balances which are there to protect minors whose bio parents are unable to raise them. See I think that step is sorely lacking for people who have parents that were altruistic donors. There are enough clinic mix ups that people don’t know for sure that they are making babies with people who actually consented to make kids with strangers and give them up – the normal adoptive process flushes that sort of thing out because they have to acknowledge a particular specific child and sign paperwork so that an adoptive parent knows the bio parent was aware of what was going on and hopefully won’t be reflecting on having relinquished as if it were coerced. There is no court approval after the kid is born in donor conception and honestly I don’t see why the spouse of a person who mates with a donor would be somehow above reproach just because they were there when the kid was born or were around when their souse was pregnant. I also don’t see how giving birth to an egg donor’s offspring should make a woman beyond reproach either why would she not need to follow the same procedures you followed? It’s not like the kid remembers the pregnancy. Motherhood of any kind starts after the kid is born so if a person is claiming to be the parent of someone else’s offspring they should all have to do it the way you did it and not try to short cut the steps that protect not just the kid but everyone,
      The reason we don’t background check bio parents before they become bio parents aside from practical difficulty is we know for a fact a child cannot be trafficked into a bio parent/child relationship but if anyone else is going to get parental responsibilities we can’t be so sure of that which is why we check first.

      • Again most of this takes place with the donor agreement prior to conception. Doing it again after birth makes it overkill. It is simply not necessary.

        Unlike third party reproduction, parents through adoption have nothing physically to do with the conception, pregnancy and birth of the child. Two different people conceive the child, one of them carries out the pregnancy and gives birth to the child. There is a relinquishment that takes place after the birth of the child. That is why a court and legal proceeding has to take place in adoption. I think Robyn would agree. If my wife and I became parents someday through adoption, I would have no issue with going through the legal proceedings while parents through third party reproduction didn’t. It makes sense why we did but they didn’t.

        Again I think all of these types of arguments distract from the core issues with third party reproduction.

        • Greg do you realize that all that intention and pregnancy stuff is not experienced by the person that was born. They are born same as anyone else with two bio parents. If those two bio parents are not going to be raising them the State owes every person born the identical same level of care and due process before anyone other than a bio parent has parental authority over a minor. Who cares when the deal was cut? The bottom line is that a bio parent may well have been paid not to raise their own child and that really matters. The bottom line is that there may be no good reason why the bio parent can’t take care of their kid and in fact the reason might be something horrid and objectifying like they want to give some needy couple the gift of a family and they are going to force their child to pretend to be the offspring of those people rather than giving them at least the dignity of the proper process and court approval for their protection. It’s a short cut Greg that is why people like to do it. It’s quicker and faster and cheaper than gaining parental authority the most ethical way and the bonus is there is not any written record of the person’s true identity. Not even a sealed record to beg and plead and fight for. That is the hallmark of black market adoption – the naming of the unrelated person on the birth record to short cut the real process of adoption. Adoption has many many problems but there is an attempt made to recognize the graft and corruption that can go on when a bio parent is not recorded as a parent. It’s open season for profiteering off the sale of human infants it’s open season on making human children charitable donations like warm coats for the homeless only they are people and their job is to make people who can’t have kids feel better the way coat keeps off the cold winter draft. Kids are not suppose to have to perform tricks to get raised. They are able to just be themselves and their parents have to raise them. Having to “be” someone else’s kid in order to get raised is unfair to people. Why can’t they stay who they are and still deserve to be loved and raised?
          So How much does it matter who raises you? I think it’s a crap shoot and there is nothing inherently bad about not being the offspring of the people who raise you – so long as they are raising YOU as who YOU ACTUALLY ARE and not who they WANT YOU TO BE or who the REPRESENT YOU TO BE. So long as you can live life as the legally recorded offspring of your biological parents with full kinship rights identical to all other people and their biological parents and there are no special exemptions that allow yours to hide out or be replaced on paper by unrelated people then have at it. If your parents are jerks and your adoptive parents are grand fantastic so long as they are not fronting on paper like they are something they are not or you are someone you are not. Don’t just tell the truth to people record it let them live it same as other people do. How important is it to get comfortable with the kid your raising and who they really are in relation to you. Here’s a good question :
          How important is it to you who raise? If biology is not important to you in who you raise then prove it by letting the person have their bio parents on their birth record and you on an adoption decree and don’t wory about social stigma cause you won’t be furthering the stigma with your own deceptive actions to conceal the adoptive nature of the relationship. How important is who you raise and who other people think that person is in relation to you? How important is their family to you? How important is that part of them that nobody bothered to write down, that everyone wants to downplay, conceal, pretend does not matter when all around them are examples of bio parents taking responsibility and doing what is right and proper?

          Is who you raise unimportant because you are just going to pretend that they are your kid anyway? Is the biological parent child relationship not important because your just planning to conceal it and downplay it anyway? Is it not a big deal because you’ll train them to act like they are “yours” and like they “belong to you” because you “decided to have them and created them with their mother” or whatever? Who cares that they are not related so long as your able to conceal the existence of the bio parents and bio family by sealing the records that name them. Even better buy the bio parent’s silence and absence in advance of their kid’s birth and then there is no proof they even exist and bonus you can pretend that they don’t have any other family but yours cause you are a parent on their original birth record.

          • Wow, I can see this is going to be another one of these ugly discussions where you try to get under my skin by picking at my wounds.

            All I will say is that we agree to disagree on this topic. You believe genetics is the most important thing in raising a child. I don’t, I believe it’s not the only thing that is important in raising a child.

            • There is surely a time to say that we agree to disagree and that is the best we can do. Now as it happens I actually agree with you, as I think the post makes pretty clear. What I mean to say, I guess, is that I endorse the idea of calling a halt to things before they deteriorate. Discussion is only useful for so long.

  6. i take the opposite approach from you robyn. as a person who suffered much heartache from really not fitting in with their biological family, I would reaffirm the importance of genetic relatedness every day. my life is so enriched by being a part of my larger extended family and having the knowledge of my family heritage. this gives me a sense of indentity and connectedness that overcomes what i might have otherwise experienced due to my immediate family.
    There are also other members of my biological family who believe that blood is thicker than water and would stand by me no matter what and that creates a security that wouldn’t exist otherwise. it also requires that i stand by them.
    a relationship that is chosen is one that one can choose to end. it is important that some relationships are recognize as innate.
    i would not trade my biological parents for any other better fitting parents anywhere.
    caveat- i was not abused. i just suffered from various forms of non acceptance. in my opinion, protecting a child from abuse trumps all other considerations. adoption may be the most appropriate option under these circumstances.
    however, adoption can only work for society when we retain the model of the successful biolgoical family for it to imitate.
    Its unfortunate that many people’s biolgoical families fail them. but its important that as a society we still maintain a belief in the centrality of blood ties and work to support that, so that fewer peoples families will fail them in the first place.

    • What about non biological parental importance? Do you believe that non biological parents can be effective parents and non biological relatives can be effective in their importance in a child’s life? Or can those things only be done by biological parents and relatives?

  7. Thank you JHW and Tess for your fabulously clear arguments and explanations. I am with you. One problem I find however…parents may know where they stand on whether genetic or non-genetic parenting is important or not, but their donor conceived offspring may take a different view…either way. Parents can never anticipate their children’s thoughts or feelings. Hence the importance of taking good decisions before conception. Decisions that leave as many doors open as possible for their children as they move into the stage of thinking for themselves.

    • Olivia,
      I agree with you. I think it’s quite important not to project one’s beliefs onto someone else. I think it’s a good idea to never assume that someone else, including one’s children, will agree with the belief systems of their parents.

      All too often parents assume that children will adopt their religion or belief system. But parents eventually discover that children are unique individuals.

      Thank you for sharing your views. This thread is very interesting, as it shows us how our beliefs about this question inform our ideas about parenthood.

      For myself, one side of my family deeply believes that blood is thicker then water. Although it’s not so much the blood, as the birth and the relationship. Blood debts are incurred not through the mere fact of blood, but through actions within families.

      But, in other contexts, I’ve seen blood children disown parents, and blood relatives betray each other. I’ve also seen a blood sister walk away from a sibling that she raised as a young adult. This showed me that the bonds of blood obligation are not essential, but cultural and circumstantial.

      As a consequence, I think blood is what you make it.

      • So what if your view is great and so is Olivia’s and Julie’s? What is the problem then with simply adjusting laws so all people with offspring have the same legal obligations and then all their offspring and other relatives will have the same legal recognition as kin, same medically accurate information on their birth records, same benefits afforded to other people with their biological kin….what is the problem with identical obligations and identical expectations for people and their bio relatives/parents? Identical procedures to protect minors anytime anyone other than a bio parent is given legal parental authority over them. What’s the push back? Too time consuming? Too cumbersome? Short cut all the safeguards we have against people treating their offspring like marketable goods?
        I’m so blown away that people would ever think they could just pay a fee show up on day 1 call themselves a parent and think that they have not violated that little person’s indepance, their freedom, messed with their identities, falsified their birth records to prevent anyone from knowing who they really are who they are truly related to. It is so harmful and self serving. Why can’t everyone just tell the truth, and wait till a person exists to deal with the bio parent relinquishing their parental authority and the non bio parent wanting to assume those responsibilities?

        • Marilynn,

          That is simply my view on family. I do not expect anyone to agree with me. I understand that everyone will have their own opinion.

          In this thread we’re answering Professor Shapiro’s question:

          “Let’s start with the focus on a single question: How important is it for a child to be raised by its genetic parents?”

          I understand that it upsets you when non-genetic parents raise children, but I do not know why. I would be interested in your answer to the question.

      • of course blood is what you make it. but in those examples you gave don’t you have even the tiniest bit of moral judgement (assuming you knew the circumstances) regarding all those people? Don’t you think there is a “should” anywhere in the picture of what these people decided to make of their blood relationships?
        The fact that you use the word “betrayal” indicates to me that indeed you do feel there is some obligation inherent in the relationship.

        • whats more, leaving the individual level aside, I think we as a society should do more to promote the importance of biological ties. Relationships based on personal choice are notoriously unstable. The best example being marriage; marriages fall apart non stop and these are people who supposedly pledged to love eachother til death do them part.

          • oh Kisarita, we have very different views on this aspect of the world.

          • The problems with relationships based on biological ties is that they can be just as unstable as ones based on personal choice. Many families have siblings, parents and other relatives that don’t talk to one another or can’t stand one another. I don’t think biological ties have as much to do with the stability of relationships as we think.

        • An “ought” because of blood? no.

          I see certain obligations growing out of relationships. (Social relationships.)

          But I do not think an adopted child has a lesser obligation to adopted parents who changed his nappies, simply because adopted parents does not share the same DNA.

          And I do not think a DNA-related child has a greater obligation to interact with sociopathic family members, simply because that child shares a DNA relationship.

          I have a difficult time understanding the “just genetic/blood” point of view. At a very basic level I cannot comprehend it.

          But there are many diverse views in the world, and that difference makes the world interesting.

          • i agree regarding adoption, because i believe by definition adoption must imitate the expected role of bio parenthood.
            if there is no prototype to imitate than adoption as a societal institution will fail.

        • “Don’t you think there is a “should” anywhere in the picture of what these people decided to make of their blood relationships?”

          Because of the blood? No. (I think it’s interesting that you doubt my word. That means this must be a central aspect of your world view. It may be hard to comprehend that someone can hold such a divergent viewpoint?)

          It’s about relationships for me.

      • Tess you said “I’ve seen blood children disown parents,” No you have not. Back that up with paper. Show me one kid anywhere on this planet who made the personal decision as adults to “disown” their biological parents to the extent that they would be supported by our government in erasing the records that prove they are those people’s offspring. Show me one instance where someone elected to remove themselves as kin to their blood relatives. You can’t. That’s because the law is not fairly balanced in its distribution of rights. If a parent can self define themselves off a birth record so should a child be able to self define themselves off a birth record.

        In my opinion the way to balance the law would be that nobody gets to pretend they are not what and who they really are and the facts be recorded the identical same for everyone and their offspring regardless of how either the parent or the child feels about the matter – then they can all follow the same court approved procedures for offloading their parental obligations and without concealing the reality of their relatedness. If we don’t want to do that then I say level the playing field by just having the government record each person’s version of reality they way they’d like others to see it and then put no stock in the value of those records at all they’d be novelties.

        • Marilynn–This is really close to and perhaps over my incivility line. People can disagree all they want about what they think. But I would prefer you not use the “No you have not” tone when someone talks about what they have seen. You have no idea what another person has/has not seen. Even if you think it is a complete impossibility, there are respectful ways to say that–like “I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”.

          Beyond that, I certainly know children–adult children–who are completely estranged from their genetic families. They have indeed disowned (and or been disowned by) their parents.

          Do you mean to wonder about whether when this happens the birth certificate is changed? I doubt that it is, but this seems to me fairly trivial. (And I actually do know instances where adults have been adopted by people they want to be adopted by and have gotten new birth certificates to match–so I suppose this means that I have seen instances where people made the personal decision to effectively erase someone from the “parent” slot on the birth certificate.

          You are of course welcome to doubt my word. But I hope you will do so civilly.

          • I’m not sure if Marilynn is doubting that a woman I knew disowned her mother, or if this comment is about birth certificates.

            In any case, the family was friends with my family. I grew up with the girl. She disowned her mother after an argument about the religion of her fiance. Her mother died of cancer in her early 60s, but people could not get her to communicate with her mother before her death.

            I don’t understand why a birth certificate is significant in this context. I think her mother’s primary concern was that her daughter had cut off all relations.

            • Legally she was and is still her mother. The disowning of her has no legal force – its just a kid not speaking to her Mom. She did not get the documentation to actually make it look as if she was not her daughter and that is what really matters here.

              If you think its all about emotions and actions then what I propose should not bother you one little bit – record their biological parents as parents and hold them to the same legal standards as other parents and then let the other people raising the kid just feel as if they have a parent child relationship or an adoptive parent / adopted child relationship. If the documentation is no big deal Tess than let it be biologically accurate and everyone can just feel their way around the truth as your friend did with her mother that she does not speak to.

              • She was her biological parent and she was on the birth certificate.

                I don’t understand how your comment relates to this thread.

                • In any case, I agree with Professor Shapiro.

                  It is time to agree to disagree. Further discussion appears to be unproductive.

                  • I think it’s time to say my good-byes. There have been a few too many interactions similar to this one, and I really shouldn’t participate. And, honestly, I’ve got a deadline coming up.

                    Thanks everyone. It’s a great blog and I’ll continue to read.

              • Legalities mean nothing when it comes to relationships. If relationships are only based on legalities then they aren’t strong relationships.

                • If legalities mean nothing when it comes to relationships then I guess you agree with me that there is no need to be listed as a parent on the identifying documents of another person’s offspring. If legalities mean nothing when it comes to relationships then why is it that these people have different legal rights? Why would you object to having the rules be the same for everyone so that nobody had a legal advantage over anyone else? What would be the problem with everyone being identified as the legal child of their bio parents and everyone who wanted to raise another person’s offspring having to go through the adoption process and when granted being issued an adoption decree stating clearly the nature of the relationship so that it would never be misconstrued as a relationship which was medically relevant? What is the push back? What is the problem with simply having fair equitable treatment of people once they are born?

          • So it is perfectly fine for adults at the time of a child’s birth to make it look like the bio parents are not the bio parents or that someone who is not a bio parent is a bio parent? That is all perfectly honkey dorey for you and it reflects the intent of the people who do and don’t want to be viewed as parents – and then come along with stories about how bio kids disown their bio parents and expect that to be some big point proving moment ….and yet a bio kid who does not intend or wish to be viewed as a bio kid or heck, an adopted kid that does not wish to be viewed as an adopted kid can’t go have the record altered to reflect them disowning their parent the way it was altered to reflect their parent disowning them.

            Ya’ll are straight up two faced. Intent to be or not be someone’s parent is all fine and good to falsify a document for but intent or no intent to be someone’s kid is not fine to falsify a document for? Why the heck not? What if without an adoption my friend decides they want me named Mom on their birth record. I mean that is what they intend and I intend. My friend does not intend to be the child of his mother anymore so they want to disown their mother why would it be OK for a bio parent to not be listed as a bio parent on a person’s birth record when they are a gamete donor and don’t intend to be a parent, but it would not be OK for a bio kid to remove to alter their birth record to show that they don’t intend to be their bio parent’s bio kid. Why can’t adopted kid’s just walk in and change the record to show they don’t intend to be their adopted parent’s adopted child anymore? Or don’t intend to be someone’s sister anymore?

            You all are faulting me for focusing on the legal documentation of it all saying we need to worry more about the emotional aspects of parent child relationships – seriously? If the emotional is all you care about then why is it that the legal rights and legal documentation of so many people is all fouled up to reflect the intentions of the adults in power at the time of their births? If the emotional is all y’all are saying you care about then you don’t have a problem with everyone being legally recorded as the offspring of their bio parents – not just some people while other people are recorded as the offspring of people who paid a fee to make it look like they were bio parents. I’m concerned with changing the law. You Julie taught me not to talk about the emotional aspects of it because its too easy to shoot holes in. Now everyone gets frustrated when the conversation is kept away from conception and reproduction and focuses on just the legalities of how people should get parental rights over other people’s offspring. Good I’m pleased that it causes frustration because it means someone is going to have to come up with a good reason for defending differential treatment.

            You want me to play games when someone says they have seen people disown their bio parents? I said back it up with paper because I’m sorry but not talking to your mom does not qualify as severing legal recognition of the mother/child relationship. It is not the same as attempting to conceal motherhood of a child by not being written down on their record as their mother or by writing someone else’s name as mother down on their record. Those acts prevent legal recognition of the parent/child relationship in ways that cannot be duplicated by someone’s child disowning them by not speaking to them. If your records are indicative of a relationship and you wish to deny that relationship other people can humor you but that is all that is going on. Actually having the truth of the matter misstated by force without even reaching a consensus to collude in providing the government with false and misleading information is just all kinds of wrong and ten kinds of rude to boot.

    • I particularly agree with the very last statement you make: parents cannot know what their children will want so you need to leave as many doors open as possible. And then you need to be responsive to the child’s needs, even if they do not match your own needs. As with so much else in parenting, this may be terribly difficult, but I think it is part of the job.

  8. “How important is it for a child to be raised by its genetic parents?”

    Julie, that question is too stark to take into all the different reasons for or against to answer in any kind of a simple statement.

    Unlike Tess – I wasn’t raised by anyone related to me. I did however have two parents whose families were mirrors to each other, eerily so, from looks, personalities, likes, dislikes, interests, mannerisms, inflections in voice patterns.

    My answer most closely mirrors Kisarita…

    The assumption of openness is a good one – where it breaks down is in the definition, the abilities, the fears and insecurities, of the adults in the relationships, they also may jump on bandwagons and make assumptions with little more thought than what brand of soup to buy at the store. In other words – they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk in reality, and, little ones are perceptive in reading both what isn’t said and body language.

    • Insecurities exist in biological families as well especially in the case of divorce. You may have one parent that has insecurities about their relationship with the child compared to the child’s relationship with their ex spouse. It gets even worse if the ex spouse remarries and the child becomes very close with the new spouse. I’ve seen it personally and it results in a strained relationship with the insecure parent that negatively impacts the child (who one day becomes an adult).

      • Greg – but I’m not talking about biological families – I’m talking about openness in non-biological parented families. They start off with having to find their security in being a parent to a non-genetically related child, whether that is achieved before, or, after the relationship actually starts, or, a combination of the two over time establishing the bond of parent child relationship.

        A genetic parent with an established sense of self and bonded relationship as the parent to their biological child, who experiences down-the-road jealousy over a new relationship that is growing between their child and a new step parent is not the same and likely includes lingering feelings from the previous relationship with the spouse.

        Insecurity of status as parenting parent when the biological parent is part of the circle vs. jealousy over new relationship with another parental figure because of the ex-spouse.

        • Tao,

          My point was the end result of a grown up adult who was raised in either environment is likely to be negatively impacted by it. Sure the situations are different but if the most important thing is the child and how they were raised impacts them as an adult we need to recognize that insecurities in parents regardless of genetic connection to the person they raise can be damaging to that adult. So for me those damaging behaviors aren’t limited to just non biological parents.

      • Blood families break down all the time. Inheritance struggles are one big cause of this. It’s sad that money can cause those troubles, but in legal cases you see a lot of this sort of familial breakdown.

        Or, from a pop-culture perspective — consider movies about the Cosa Nostra or Ndragheta. It’s all good until family members start killing each other.

  9. I think it is important to feel a sense of responsibility to care for and raise your offspring (as well as any children that you are legally made responsible for). But I don’t think it’s important for the child to be raised by their genetic parents, though that doesn’t mean I think gamete donation should be legal. If the current parents are unfit or commit a crime, then it is more important to punish them and protect the child than to leave children in their custody so they can raise them. One crime should be intentionally creating children with someone you aren’t married to, either by purchasing gametes or entering into some kind of agreement, which I think should be punished by removing the child from that parent (even if it is a bio parent) and placing the child with a moral law abiding family. We should not reward criminals by letting them keep the spoils of their crimes.

    • since a child is not “spoils” your whole post is deeply immoral. it is clear that you don’t give a damn about child welfare but only about people conforming to your personal sexual mores.

      • Heck, most heterosexual married couples I know wouldn’t live up to his “ideals” because they have equal heads of households and don’t plan pregnancies the way he’d prefer people do. Unless I’m remembering wrong he has an issue with planned pregnancy within marriage as well…

        • To recap: All intentional pregnancy is unethical because there is no way to justify the risks and children are not a means to an end of the parents desires. Married couples have a right to have procreative sex (and marital privacy) that outweighs any risks the children will suffer, and then a responsibility to care for and raise their children.

      • “Spoils” refers to ill-gotten gains of committing a crime. Do you think that kidnappers who steal a baby should be allowed to keep the baby?

        Child welfare extends beyond the welfare of a particular child. Otherwise we’d regularly take children from poor parents and give them to richer parents. But that would harm society, even if it benefited the children.

        It’s not my personal sexual mores, which are none of anyone’s business, but the marital and family mores of thousands of years of civilization and most countries and even most people in this country, now. Very few people think people should be purchasing sperm and making children without being married to the father or mother of their children. You are way off in la la land thinking that’s OK.

  10. A good place to end this conversation.

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