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.)