Tag Archives: DNA

US Facing the Three-Genetic Parent Problem

I’ve written several times in the past years about how new technologies have raised the prospects of a child having three genetically related parents.   Most of the discussion has occurred in the UK, but the debate has now reached the US.

The idea here is that egg cells have both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.   Mitochondrial DNA is passed from only from mother to child (and indeed, as I recall it is used to track lineages, sometimes over hundreds of years.)  Fathers do not contribute mitochondrial DNA.

Nuclear DNA in an egg combines with DNA from the sperm when the egg is fertilized.   Nuclear DNA controls virtually all of the things we think about when we think about genetic heritability–height, weight, eye color, hair color and so on.  I believe that, to the extent more complicated things are also controlled by DNA (say tendency towards cancer or alcoholism) it is also nuclear DNA that matters.

But mitochondrial DNA is important.   Continue reading

A Different Presumption–this one from Mississippi

I’ve got a couple of recent posts up about the marital presumption.  I thought I’d add another case–this one from Mississippi.  It’s not a marital presumption case, as you can see.   (If anyone can help me understand why it isn’t, I’d be grateful. Is it possible that MS no longer uses the presumption?   Do tell if you know.)  But the facts are similar to the recent CA case I wrote about and there is a presumption at work.

So here’s the story.   Anne and Jake had an intimate relationship before the married.   But during that time, apparently unbeknownst to Jake, Anne had a one-night stand with Tommie.  Anne got pregnant.  Tommie suspected the child might be his, but he knew about Jake, too.  Jake didn’t know about Tommie and so assumed that he was the father of the child.

Anne and Jake got married in June 2004 when Anne was 17 weeks pregnant. Continue reading

And then there’s media coverage of studies……

I wrote a recent post about studies–social science studies about parenting, etc.   I sort of feel like I’m in a “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” sort of spot–they frustrate me in many ways, but I’m not prepared to say we don’t need them or shouldn’t consider them.

Perhaps the point I’d make (though you can just go read that post) is that we need to view them critically–all of them, even the ones with conclusions we like.   There are, after all, better and worse studies.  Continue reading

One Recent Example of the Marital Presumption In Action

There has been a lot of discussion of the marital presumption here, even though I actually haven’t posted on it recently.  (It’s part of the discussion in the comments on the last post–one about surrogacy–for example.)   Since this very recent case from Michigan crossed my desk, I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to offer a few thoughts.   (You can find much more discussion under these posts if you like.)

A few explanatory words, first.   (Some of this is quite repetitious if you  have been reading the comments closely, for which I apologize.  But for others this might be useful.)

The marital presumption is an ancient one–quite literally hundreds of years old.  The idea (originally) was that if a married woman gave birth, the husband was presumed to be the father of the child.  Continue reading

What the US Department of State Thinks About Biological Parenthood

There’s been conversation here from time to time about what it means to be a “biological parent.”   I think that the term is at best murky, because I think a woman who gives birth to a child–whether genetically related to the child or not–might be a biological parent.   Others disagree and, I think it is fair to say, view “biological parent” as essentially the same as “genetic parent.”

We’ve also disagreed (very recently) about whether the woman who gives birth has a biological relationship with the child.   I think the division here is pretty much the same split about whether “biology” includes more than “genetics” in this context.

On one level this is just a debate about language and one might say that everyone is free to use the language they prefer, so long as they make its meaning clear.  Continue reading

Genetic Testing and Ethics

Just a brief post here on a particularly interesting article prominently featured in today’s NYT.   It’s about preimplantation genetic diagnosis–also called PIGD.  This is a topic I have written about before.

The idea with PIGD is simple, though the issues raised are anything but.  When one does IVF the pre-embryos grow to something around an 8-cell stage in a petri dish.   Without causing any harm to the developing embryo you can take one of those cells and do all kinds of genetic testing on it.   It is that ability to do genetic testing that presents ethical quandaries.

Of course, some people will say that all IVF is bad/immoral Continue reading

A Return to the Larger Project–How Do We Find Parents At Birth? Part I

I’m going to turn away from the current discussion (which might have run its course or gotten out of hand) and return to something I’ve thought about for a long time. I’ve also written about it here and elsewhere–with something less than totally satisfactory results.

This is rather a large topic to tackle–perhaps not so well suited to the blog format (where believe it or not I try to keep things in manageable bites). The best I can do is to put it in parts, I think, and to try to make each part enough of a whole to serve. But I have taken the liberty of calling this one “Part I” because of my firm conviction there will need to be a “Part II” and very likely more parts beyond that. (And no, the Roman numerals are not an homage to the Superbowl, but since I’ve brought it up–Go Hawks!).

Okay–so here we are. As I trust everyone knows, the main topic of this blog is how we do and should determine legal parentage. And as most/all of you also know, I have a pretty firm view on this: I’m inclined towards using something at least akin to a functional or de facto parent test. In other words, if you have acted like a parent–if you have in fact created a parent/child relationship (defined psychologically and socially) with a child, then the law should recognize and protect that relationship. It should do so primarily because this will generally serve to advance the well-being of children who must be able to rely on those relationships which sustain them. You can see some cases discussing this if you look back to a couple of posts about new cases from WA that I put up in late December. (It’s hard for me to link to them just now. I’ll do that later today when I’m on a different machine.).

Now this approach–the functional or de facto approach–works fine with kids who have been around for a while. If you’ve got a ten-year-old you can see who her/his psychological/social parents are. You can do that for a three-year-old, too. And even a six-month-old. But what about a new-born? Who are the legal parent(s) of a newborn?

Let me start by noting that I do see that we want newborns to have legal parents. Maybe I should examine this proposition more closely than I am right now–I could always come back to it. But given that legal parents are those charged with both responsibility and decision making for the child, it seems to me we want someone in the goal from the get go.

Now it’s easy for me with my functional test to get to 1 legal parent for the newborn–the woman who was pregnant/gave birth. I won’t say there is a child before birth (note there’s a big issue I’m skipping over–when is it a child–but I want to go forward here). During the course of the pregnancy the woman who is pregnant bears enormous responsibility for future well-being of the child-to-be. She stands in a unique relationship to it. And I’d bet that if you took a newborn and put her/him in a room with four women, one of whom was the woman who gave birth to him, you’d find some signs that the newborn distinguished her from the other women. (Anyone know if this is actually true? I haven’t seen a study, but I’m still convinced it’s likely so.).

I do understand that even this point–which for me is a simple starting point–is controversial. It means that pregnancy matters. It is not the position taken by most (all?) of those who advocate for the use of surrogacy. But I find it impossible to say that pregnancy doesn’t matter. Indeed, consider what women go through to be pregnant/give birth–sometimes to children they will have no genetic connection to.

Anyway, let me move off of that starting point (with the understanding that anyone can drag me back there to discuss further.). The question for me is whether there can be a second legal parent at birth and, if so, how is that person identified.

I see the appeal of having two legal parents at birth. Partly this is about meeting people’s expectations–lots of time pairs of people want to be parents together. Partly it may just be copying the traditional (and generally biological/genetically based) model. But I’ve had trouble getting there. One obvious way–to count the genetic father as the second legal parent because he is the genetic father–is entirely unacceptable to me. (I don’t mean that a genetic father cannot be the second legal parent. I just wouldn’t award him that status based on his genetic connection alone.). So I wrote an article that is called “Counting from One” that actually suggests that maybe we should just start with one.

But I’ve never found this wholly satisfactory. And so I’ve been trying to work out a different approach. Again, there’s an obvious candidate–the intentional parent. Suppose there is a second person who had intended to be a parent to the child and that intention was shared by the women who just gave birth. A doctrine recognizing intentional parents could give that person legal status at the birth of a child.

But I have problems with intention alone (and “alone” is a key word here) being a marker for parenthood. And that’s where I’ll take up next time.

Thanks for bearing with me.