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Assisted Reproduction

Surrogacy vs. Adoption: A Distinction With A Difference

Professor Julie Shapiro has a very informative post considering the differences between surrogacy, adoption and baby selling:

In the discussion about surrogacy and adoption that evolved from the posts about baby-selling, Alana S. raised an interesting point. There’s a difference between surrogacy and adoption that I didn’t mention: People who become parents via adoption are screened for suitability as parents. People who become parents via ART (which includes those using surrogacy aren’t.

Assuming the screening of prospective parents is done well, we have reasons for confidence that qualifying adoptive parents are indeed suited for the job. There’s no equivalent reason for confidence with those who use ART. Their qualification is having the overall wherewithal (which includes the money) to use ART. This, then, might be a reason to treat surrogacy (and ART generally) quite differently from adoption.

All this is true, but there’s another piece of the picture which must be considered. People who become parents via intercourse (which is undoubtedly the majority of all people who become parents) aren’t screened either. The only thing we know about them is that they had the capacity to engage in sex. This does not seem to me to shed any light on their suitability as parents.

I’ve written about this before in a slightly different context, but I cannot help but think about it here. I can see why adoptive parents are screened. We, as a society, are going to hand them a baby–a real, living human being. Maybe we need to check and make sure that they are going to be able to care for that. Maybe we owe that much to a person who has no ability to protect themselves.

There’s no similar line of reasoning (in my view–I suspect others will differ) for those who are going to have children via ART or intercourse. They are not being handed a baby. They are at most being allowed to obtain sperm and eggs (or perhaps a frozen embryo). None of these items are entitled (again–in my view–others can speak for themselves) to the same degree of care and concern that a child is. Which means I can see that there is a rational for treating adoptive parents differently from people who will become parents by either ART or intercourse.

That said, there may well be a societal interest in ensuring that parents (generally) are up to the job. After all, we as a society may be responsible for the well-being of our collective young. And perhaps we’ll be the ones who pay for it (one how or another) if this go very badly for a child. So maybe we should pre-screen all potential parents. And here I would emphasize the word “all.”

I cannot see any reason why we would (in theory) be justified in screening those who would become parents via ART and not those who would become parents via intercourse. The only issue I can see is one of practicality. Practically, it may be easier to screen those who will use ART (because they often (but perhaps not always) will be engaging with some professional bureaucracy) than those who will use intercourse. But if the only objection is to screening those who would conceive via sex is practical, then it isn’t hard to imagine technological advances that might fit the bill. (I’m just sure I’ve read a science fiction story or two that covers this point.)

My suspicion is that there are other objections–but I’d actually like to see them carefully articulated. There is something about conceiving naturally that might seem like it is just the way things are supposed to be. But I don’t think that explanation really does hold up. There are many things that are natural that aren’t optimal. (I find myself thinking here of birth control–not natural, but to my mind a substantial advance as it does allow people (at least some of the time) to make their own decisions about when they are up to parenthood.)


5 comments for “Surrogacy vs. Adoption: A Distinction With A Difference”

  • Jon

    I think ART versus intercourse (forget adoption for a minute) is really a matter of technique used, if you want to look at this in terms of mechanics and physics. We can’t halt the spread of technology; I suspect in 50 years from now most children in the First World will be conceived via ART due to genetic screening issues, sex selection, specific features that a prospetive parent(s) wants, the shift in the number of non-traditional families (currently over 50% of children born in the US today are NOT born to married, heterosexual couples – factoid from US Census). In the not too far future intercourse will be merely a form of physical gratification, an activity mind you, for many that will be considered separate from the function of procreation or perhaps human reproduction is more accurate; and quite possibly the pharmaceutical industry might create a solution that will eliminate the need for all that strenous activity! I know sounds a bit far-fetched but how many of us had imagined something like a smartphone even 20 years ago. Progress moves very fast, often in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. As we learn more about the human genome and ways to manipulate it, our world will change in ways we possibly can’t imagine today. Ultimately I theorize that procreation will become a function of design and careful planning, not some lucky “prize” that results from a mating function known and utilized since the cavemen roamed the earth.

  • In my mind, (that being public perception rather than speaking as an attorney or expert in either topic) whether or not there are screening processes for ART vs Adoption, here and around the world, has more to do with liability and lack of govt involvement than any particular interest in society as a whole. Here, we have a free country where no one is denied the right, among other things, to procreate (and yes for some it is because they can afford it). When using this argument against ART and citing that screening ip’s is done in other countries, the agenda is still the agenda and we must recognize that for what it is. Sure, it would be nice to become more qualified to become parents if we could, but hopefully that will never be the way it works, and reproductive freedom will remain part of what it means to be an American.

  • Marilynn Dawn Cameron Huff

    ART is just technique I agree. Infertile women and sterile men are not the ones reproducing or conceiving children here and to be honest infertile women and sterile men who intend to be parents or are called recipients of donor gametes are not really recipients at all as the donated genes are not transplanted into their bodies to sustain their reproductive function. Its not like without a donated egg this woman will never reproduce or without donated sperm this guy will not reproduce. Unlike all other transplanted tissue that stops working to support the donors life and starts working to support the recipients life, donated gametes continue supporting the reproductive function of the donor. It’s the donor who is the patient of the doctor receiving assistance in reproducing the intended parents are just paying for the donors reproductive therapy so they can get and keep the donors child. I mean that is the truth of what is going on. In a lab a tech is helping a man fertilize a woman’s egg because those two individuals want that help creating their embryos. They have to want to make embryos they have to agree to be treated. The people being treated might be donors. So knowing that these people are signing contracts agreeing to give up any children born from reproductive service agreements absolutely warrants the same kind of background checks as adoption. The issue is not parental suitability necessarily. Its to document point of origin and chain of custody to avoid child trafficking and people loosing their parents without their parents consent. If you land in a house with unrelated people as your parents an injustice has been done you if you did not have the benefit of a court approved adoption

  • Rachel

    While there are some who will do whatever it takes to avoid having to bear and look after children. There are others who desperately want children but for one reason or another seemingly cannot. In the past adoption was the simple answer, but these days it is very rare for an unwanted child to get to the point of being available for adoption. I have friends who have gone through the heartache. One couple managed to adopt. Others eventually succeeded through the difficult IVF system abroad in Ukrainian clinic. They traveled so far because reproductive medicine is fully allowed there. He even claims about lines in that clinic. Building was crowded by foreigners. To me it’s can be easily explained by lower prices and normal service. So, who am I to say that surrogacy is wrong when it seems to be the only way for some people to achieve their dream of parenthood? Yet it concerns me. We have tragic situations like that described in this article, but there is more than that. Something feels somehow wrong. The further we go with extraordinary measures to produce children for the desperate the more it seems something is not quite right. Before opening any Pandora’s Box we need to be sure we are doing the right thing.

  • Ruby

    The do-gooders make it near impossible for people to adopt a child. The choice should be open to all. Sometimes IVF is just medical intervention. A couple may be physically capable of having a child but they need the technology to assist in this process. Would you not receive medical intervention for heart disease, cancer, kidney problems? I cannot have children but I have been told by men “to get over it”. I still keep thanks to God that paths diverged. That was over a decade ago. My second husband helped me to get over it and create a family. His mother used to work in reproductive center Biotexcom. So we used IVF procedure there. We were completely satisfied with work of their doctors. We were served with all what foreigner patient may need. I mean food, transfer and accommodation so on. I’m glad and grateful that modern world may offer you solution for such problem.

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