the adoption industry announces new, younger models.

Interesting post at Left2Right on embryo donation. J David Velleman argues that the practise of passing on excess embryos from IVF to other infertile couples is morally problematic. In essence, adoption entails some distressful impact upon life of the child (identity crises and so on) and should the number of kids being adopted should be kept low; creating a new child to be adopted rather than taking one that already needs to be conflicts with this premise. Of course, all sorts of (highbrow) tonguelashing ensues in the comments. Velleman’s later expansion is interesting:

An important piece of background to my argument is what moral philosophers call the “non-identity problem”, which is a problem in the ethics of procreation. Here is how the non-identity problem arises.

Suppose that a woman is taking a medication that is known to cause birth defects: if she becomes pregnant while taking the medication, her child will be born disabled. We ordinarily think that this woman is under an obligation not to become pregnant until she has finished taking the medication and the danger has passed. If she is careless and becomes pregnant with a disabled child, we will think that she is blameworthy. And if the woman positively tries to become pregnant while taking the medication, and does so for the express purpose of bearing a disabled child — why, we would consider her a monster.

Now consider what this latter woman — this supposed monster — might say in her own defense:

Yes, I have purposely conceived a child who will be born disabled. But the vast majority of people who are born disabled go on to live happy and rewarding lives. There are people far more seriously disabled than my child will be, and they are still grateful for having been born. What’s more, my child will not have any grievance against me for conceiving him while I was taking the medication. If I had waited until the following month, when I was no longer taking the medication, I would have conceived a different child — and this child would never have been born at all! There is no way that I could have conceived this same child without conceiving him disabled. So I have done nothing wrong: I am giving the gift of life to a child who will be grateful to have received it, and my child will not wish that I had given that gift to a different, able-bodied child instead. If my child will have no grievance against me, how can you?

Should we be persuaded by this woman’s argument? Of course not.

Read it all y’all.

3 Replies to “the adoption industry announces new, younger models.”

  1. Interesting especially in the light of this – a deaf couple who specifically searched for a deaf father for their IVF treatment.

    They were not deafening an embryo with the potential to hear – so I would totally defend their right to choose to have a deaf baby (as I would defend other’s right to choose it’s gender or whatever). However, I personally would not have done it. I worry that they may just be using their child as a political statement – just as I would worry about people having children (naturally) in an attempt to solve their marital problems. They have chosen to attempt to produce a possible entity that if viable would be deaf as opposed another possible entity who would be hearing. The hearing child would have been able to sign and should have no problems understanding deaf culture (although I have heard that the hearing children of deaf parents are sometimes ostracised from the “big D” Deaf community).

    I did think a bit more about this in relation to liberal principles but I couldn’t find a consistent position. If we should only legislate only against deliberate actions which harm others, do possible future entities count as others? How is this balanced by the woman’s right to have control over what happens to her body? Should children be protected from being forced to go to Church? Or school? By putting a burden on the NHS is that imposing on others?

    I have no answers at the moment. And I have now wasted time when I should be writing my thesis or job hunting. Damn you!

  2. And I have now wasted time when I should be writing my thesis or job hunting. Damn you!


    Yes. Welcome to my world.

    In a nutshell, I am troubled by the case you’ve outlined; I heard of a similar one some years ago. But I can’t really articulate the principles that should guide such cases. You’re quite right in showing the reduction ad absurdum – should we penalise/punish people who lived wild in their lifetime, knowing that it would affect the potential able-bodiedness of their future progeny? And what about people who have kids very late, which increases the risks of complications and disability?

    I think Velleman is on an interesting track, in the way he is unpacking the fact that liberals with a certain perspective towards unborn life and abortion shouldn’t be allowing it to casualise their attitude towards that life when it is intended to come into being as a person. It’s not a position most take or think much about, and to his credit he’s defending some of the seemingly harsh implications (e.g. better to kill a frozen foetus than allow it to be carried by another mother, or that having children when under a certain poverty line might be morally problematic). it’s interesting stuff.

  3. The deaf community’s resistance to having hearing children (I’ve also encountered this in discussion of cochlear implants – some deaf parents refuse to let their deaf children have implants) disturbs me greatly. John is right that the hearing child could still understand deaf culture (it’s pretty well documented that such children grow up ‘bilingual’), so they are choosing to inflict their affliction on another life. I know the Deaf community would generally argue that it’s not an affliction, but if they need support groups and assistive technology and can’t fit in with the rest of society, then surely it is.

    I’m not sure I would defend their right to go out of their way to have a deaf baby. If it were a matter of having their own biological children, then I would certainly defend them because it’s a matter of their right to reproduce, and this is where I think there really is a dangerous slippery slope as Alex describes. But when it’s choosing between gamete donors to ensure that their child has the same disability as them, I feel that this is different because they would be actively choosing to have a disabled child when they have the option of trying to have one who isn’t.

    I think Velleman’s example is also a little different, because there it’s a matter of a woman choosing to conceive while she has a transiently increased risk factor. In that instance, all that society is asking of the mother is that she wait until a better time, not that she doesn’t have children at all. So she’s not being asked to choose between having this happy, grateful child or no child, but between two potential children, one of whom would get a much better start in life.

    It’s certainly good food for thought – thanks for drawing my attention to it.

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