This post is meant to follow from a recent post on intention and point of view. You might benefit from reading that one first, but in a nutshell by point there was that from a child’s point of view, the intentions of the parents (or intended parents) matter much less than the actual actions taken. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that (from the child’s point of view) intentions alone do not matter at all. Only actual action matters. (I should note that I am thinking here about relatively young children.)
But that this was just thinking about the child’s point of view. Perhaps there are other perspectives to consider? In particular, what about the perspectives of the adults? (I guess here I am thinking about the adults involved in ART.) How do we weigh or think about their point of view.
I’m inclined to think that, generally speaking, intentions matter more for adults than for children, though I could be persuaded otherwise. I’m reminded of the saying “It’s the thought that counts”–which appears to me to encapsulate the idea that intentions do matter for some purposes. (I’m not sure about this, mind you. If I mean to buy you a present but don’t, do I get to say “it’s the thought that counts”? Or does that only apply if I buy you a present but it happens to be something you do not want/already have?)
Anyway, to the point: Suppose you consider the point of view of intended parents–people who are using ART for the purpose of becoming parents. These are folks who will set in motion some chain of events that, if completed successfully, leaves them with a child to raise. This might mean a couple who are hiring a surrogate, for example. Or an individual using third-party gametes. These people are relying on the intentions of others (the surrogate or the gamete provider) not to be a parent.
Now there are two separate questions here and I want to try to keep them separate for the moment. Perhaps the most obvious question is whether one should be entitled to rely on anothers expression of intention. That’s critical for lots of reasons, but it isn’t what I want to focus on first. I’ll come back to that.
What I want to think about first is what happens if intention doesn’t match action. And I suppose I think, as with kids, that when intention doesn’t match action, then action (and not intention) is the more important. If I mean to do something and I don’t do it, the key thing is that I didn’t do it.
It may be that this appears most frequently in law in the reverse form. A man intends to be a sperm donor, which is to say he does not intend to be a parent. And yet as life unspools, he functions as a parent. Then one? Does his intention matter if you think of it from his point of view (and those of the other adult involved) rather than that of the child?
Maybe the key here is understanding that intention can really only be assessed at a particular time. In the case above maybe what you really have is two different intentions–an intention to be a sperm donor at time 1 and an intention to be a parent at time 2. Because surely the actions of the person at time 2 are intentional, too.
If that is so then perhaps the question is really about what meaning (if any) we give to subsequent changes in intent? And perhaps we should distinguish between changes in intent manifested by action (like assuming the role of a parent) as opposed to those that simply exist in the mind of the adult.
In view of all this, I think I want to restate the first question–the one I said was crucial–which is about the ability of people to rely on the expressions of intent of those involved in ART. Maybe the question (at least for adults) should be “when do you have the right to change your intentions and have the newly formed intention recognized?”
This isn’t really new. It’s a different way to posing the same question. Does the sperm donor have a right to change his mind and form a new intention (with the possibility of action following from that) or is he stuck with the first intention–the intention of being a sperm donor? If the actions are there–and notice that he can only become a social parent with the collaboration of existing social parents–that’s important to me–then that’s one thing. But if there are no actions (yet), then what?
I see timing as being crucial here, but in ways I need to think about. And I know I’ve wandered off my topic, too. Out of practice perhaps. But the whole intention thing seems so important, one has to begin to unravel it somewhere.