This story–a fairly recent one–typifies the conflicting attitudes towards genetics that I think are often on view in public discussion and within families. I don’t mean to offer any particular judgment about the actions detailed here. I just want to point out what I think is an essential tension at the heart of this story.
Geromy Moore “always knew he wanted to be a parent.” I don’t actually know whether that means that Moore always knew he wanted to raise a child–that is, to be a psychological parent–or whether that means he always knew he wanted to pass his genetic material on to the next generation. Probably both? Certainly for many people these two things are deeply intertwined.
In any event, it appears that the genetic connection part mattered to him. As the article concludes: “having a child that has his genes was worth the time, money and legal wrangling.”
To accomplish this goal, Moore used gestational surrogacy. (For more discussion on that, check out the tags on the right.) As the article makes clear gestational surrogacy is an expensive and somewhat complicated route to parenthood. Moore went to a California surrogacy center (since defunct) that in turn sent him to a surrogacy center in India.
But of course, Moore couldn’t create a child using his sperm alone. He needed an egg. Moore and his now-husband, Peter Dandridge, chose an egg donor on- line. I assume this means that the donor is anonymous–unknown to them. (I could be wrong about that assumption of course.) Cecilia was born through gestational surrogacy and is now two years old. She is genetically related to Moore and to the unidentified donor. As Dandridge has adopted Cecilia, I might also note that she is genetically related to one of her legal parents and not to the other.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with this–I don’t think there is. But it does seems like there’s a varying view of genetics. Genetic connection is very important (which is why Moore went to the lengths he did) but it isn’t important at all (which is why it is okay to have used an egg provider who does not seem to play a role in the child’s life.) Genetic connection is important (and contributes somehow to Moore’s role as father, but it isn’t important, which is why Dandridge, who has no genetic connection, can also be a father.)
How can these things fit together? Perhaps because genetic connection means different things to different people? Maybe it means a lot to Moore but not so much to the egg provider or to Dandridge? Thus, Dandridge believes he can be a full parent (in the social/psychological sense) without genetic connection while Moore felt the additional connection was valuable? For Moore, genetic connection is a critical part of legal parenthood but for the egg provider it was just an egg? I certainly hope these assumptions are correct, because it seems to make a harmonious future for this family more likely.
But I do wonder. For instance, does Moore feel he is more of a parent than Dandridge because of the genetic connection? (Remember, the genetic connection is important to Moore.) Does Dandridge feel that he is less of a parent for that same reason? Does Moore feel that he is? Other people will certainly make those judgments (and will consider the egg provider to be more of a parent than Dandridge, too). What’s the consequence of that social messaging?
I’m reminded that many lesbian couples have been confronted for years with the question “who is the real mom?” For lesbians it’s never clear if that’s a question about genetics or pregnancy/birth, but whatever it is, it’s telling. And couples like Moore and Dandridge have to work out how they will negotiate those moments.
I really do not mean to pick on this particular family. I don’t know anything about them beyond what is in that story. I use them only as an example of how attitudes about the importance of genetics seem to vary with perspective.
There’s one other point I’d note. We do not know what Cecilia’s attitude towards the importance of genetics will be. I don’t think it will necessarily be important to her. I don’t really know what shapes a person’s attitudes in this regard. I’m sure family is influential as is society. But given the importance Moore places on genetics, it seems possible that Cecilia, too, will conclude that it matters. And then you have to wonder about what she might make of her connection to Moore, to Dandridge and to the woman who provided the egg.
If this all feels rather muddled (as it does to me) it’s because I don’t really know what my point is. It’s complicated. Even within a single household there are what I can only see as conflicting attitudes. That’s the tension I want to spend some time thinking about.