As I realized reading Silas Marnier (and wrote about here) the arguments about who is a parent and why may seem new and startling, but in fact they are not. Contexts change, of course. The rise of lesbian parenting and the growing use of sperm donors via commercial ART centers means that the issues arise in new forms. But the claims of the genetic parent vs. the social parent are essentially similar. Surely new understandings of DNA offer new arguments, but these are mostly variations on the (it turns out, ancient) themes.
Perhaps this is no surprise. Like the apparently eternal nature/nurture debate, it seems to me obvious that these are old questions. Look at the story of the judgment of Solomon–where the wise king is challenged to determine the “real” parent of the child.
So apart from recognizing ancient roots, is there anything else to be noted from this (admittedly late) recognition? What comes to mind for me is this: Arguments could not be so enduring if they did not both have merit. So for example, there must be something to both nature and nurture, or we couldn’t possibly still be going round and round on that question. And in the same way, both Godfrey and Silas must have points to make or we couldn’t not sustain this debate over countless generations.
This does not mean (to me, anyway) that there can be no resolution of the debates. In individual cases (as in Silas Marnier) we need resolutions. It’s not enough to say “both people have some good points to make.”. Someone has to raise the child. And so we must decide. (A nice process question here: how do we decide? Vote of legislature? Decision of judge? Ad hoc?).
But even as we decide (and you know I’ll be arguing for one particular side) perhaps it is worthwhile to recall that each side DOES have its points. There’s a reason the arguments persist and will persist. And while we can decide individual cases (as we must) or set legal rules (as I think we should), we won’t totally resolved the underlying tensions.
Will we ever? If we clearly came down on one side would that, ever time, create it’s own reality? I rather doubt it. But perhaps it would.
As you all may know, it’s been quite a while since I’ve written here and, while I haven’t changed my fundamental views, perhaps I have come to see an even greater need to give weight to both sides arguments, even if one must choose. What does that look like? Perhaps it means acknowledging that Godfrey certainly believes he has a claim, as does his wife. This is genuine and real–as real as Silas’ claim. That one must be preferred does not erase the other.