May 22, 2008

In Virgo Fertilization

A recent report on the British vote on a number of reproductive matters has this:
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, who led a campaign against the new law, told Britain's Channel 4 TV: "It is strange that a government should pass a law denying a child the right to a named father. The cement of society is the family, and the presence of a father and mother."

It continues to amaze me that a church whose solemn teaching insists that Jesus Christ was not born into his "biological family" -- by divine intent -- and who honors Joseph as a foster father, should seem so intent on the myth that the presence of a father and mother -- preferably the biological father and mother -- is substantively better for a child than having one or more loving parents, regardless of their sex. And what about grandparents and the uncles and aunts of extended family? The "nuclear family" is not, and has not been the cement of social life for the bulk of human history. And what about the ancient institution of godparenthood? And dare I mention nurses, nannies, and governesses, and boarding and convent schools? I mean, really! I continue to be bemused by this reaction, which only undercuts any credibility such figures may have on the other (and to my mind more important) aspects of this legislation.

But then again, what the Cardinal is really upset about is the idea of lesbian moms. That, and not any specious theory about parenthood, is the real issue, and anyone with eyes to see knows it.

Tobias Haller BSG


Fran said...

Deep and depressed sigh.

Stiff necked people. And I should know.


Mark Diebel said...

Yes, I think your conclusion is true, that his concern is really about lesbian moms.

But, it is still important to stress the reality of that child's origin... which includes the donation of sperm. That small piece is his connection to the biological realities of existence and as such, if not a father in one sense, a father in another.

The element in the bill on human fertilization and embryology that concerned me was that bit about what the child (adult) is entitled to know about his origins. It appears that society is about to embark on creating a class of human beings who will not have the right to know their biological histories... and all their descendants.

This class of people already exists, by the way. They are adopted people who live in states like NY which is a closed records state. Society ignores the child, again. Frankly, in my opinion, the crux of it isn't the moms who want children (or dad's)... it is the children themselves and what we give them and what we withhold from them.

rick allen said...

Seems to me that the presence of the biologically-superfluous Joseph in the Nativity stories suggests the importance of fathers rather than the opposite.

In any case, at this point the logic of the larger argument becomes somewhat clearer. Since procreation obviously has nothing to do with marriage, insisting on its biological possibility as a condition for marriage is mere bigotry.

Once that point is gained, procreation has everything to do with marriage, and it becomes a violation of equality to question procreation through technology for same-sex couples. The suggestion that fatherhood has any essential importance for children is dismissed on the basis that many lousy fathers abandon their children, and it goes without saying that any advocacy for the importance of fathers (or, for that matter, mothers) in the lives of children is merely a mask for hostility to gays and lesbians.

Fr Craig said...

Thanks, Tobias - I am also amazed at how/why marriage became a sacrament for the RC's... near as I can tell, the church wasn't involved in marriage at all until the late middle-ages. I suspect it was because of inheritance and property issues -

I am of the belief that the church needs to get out of the marriage business - other than conferring a blessing after the fact. It is a contract, pure and simple, and I am not even sure the state should be involved...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments.

Mark, you raise an interesting point. I wonder if there is an inherent right to know one's parentage. I know that it was the norm for many places for adopted children not to be able to find out the identity of biological parents. And I can understand as well the desire to do so. I suppose there is tension here between the child's right to know and a biological parent's right to privacy. Clearly this is a complicated issue, and I'd welcome seeing it argued out somewhere -- though I don't have a firm opinion on one side or the other at this point. I can certainly understand the emotional pressures on both sides, both the desire to know one's past and the desire to keep it private.

Rick, you appear to have grasped the issue. Though I am not suggesting there is a necessary disconnect between marriage and procreation; in fact, I hope that soon throughout the world, not just in a few scattered spots, lesbians and gay men may be married in fact as well as in principle, so that their children (biological or adopted) may gain from being raised by people who actually want and love them. So I rejoice that you are able to grasp the issue as it actually is. You may not like it, but that is precisely the issue: bigotry and an ill-informed bowing at the altar of the false God of "nature." Does that sound too strong? I am not sure it is strong enough. We are warned that idolatry consists essentially in paying more attention to the creature than the creator. God is not "biology." God is Love.

The issue with Joseph is not that "fathers are needed" but the suggestion that the "biological" father is needed. As you appear to have forgotten, the official RC position, upon which the Cardinal is, I'm sure, basing his opinion, as enunciated in Donum Vitae, is: "The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development." Apart from any notion of a "right to be conceived" being unreasonable (how does something that doesn't exist have a right --- and what does it mean to say "have a right to have been conceived...?") the issue for Rome was the integrity of the biological family unit. It is upon this requirement that all of the oppositions to IVF rest. And, as I have shown, there is no necessary -- or even always desirable -- theological impetus to support such a claim; and it casts practical doubt on the "proper" humanity of adopted children! If there were such a theological principle at work, imagery of foster-fatherhood and adoption would not form such an intrinsic part of the faith.

This is the disconnect to which I am attempting to draw attention: between the theological grasp of human nature and what appears to be a politically motivated and almost entirely secular approach that is at odds with the deepest imagery of the human condition as children of God by adoption, through Christ -- and which, even setting aside this theological datum, does not make a great deal of sense or meet the evidence of actual social reality.

Mark Diebel said...

Thank you for your reply. I hope that you do think about the tension between privacy and the right to know, and that you finally settle on the right to know, especially since that it is so often cited as something desirable in scripture and the Church Fathers. The theoretical ability to know anything at all about oneself is also a fundamental in one's human life, I suppose. Having some statute standing between you and something as basic as your hardwiring should be wrong. Anyway, that isn't why I'm writing.

I wonder if your position on parents... which in a practical sense makes perfect sense... is seeming rather anti-incarnational? The fleshing process itself of the human being occurring as it does through names... specific beings, each with specific histories. Whoever has charge of the names has charge of something indeed very powerful.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the further thoughts. I suppose that the "knowledge" issue is an important one, and yet, all knowledge is ultimately limited. I don't know my ancestors by name back beyond those who came to these shores in the 18th and 19th centuries. I did do that National Geographic genetic survey on my own Y-chromosome, and so know that my lineal male ancestors passed through the steppes of Asia and on through northern Europe and into France -- I'm Cro Magnon, it seems.

Of course, the whole matter revolves around identity in relationship to heritage, and gets into the debates of nature vs. nurture. Our biological heritage is clearly the substance of our fleshly reality -- but is it the constraining import of our total reality? I don't at all want to diminish the importance of biology and inheritance, and culture as part of who I am -- but I'm seeing this as the substrate or tablet on which life is to be written, rather than as the end in itself. My history is not my destiny, though it shapes, informs, and limits it. I come to be, and grow, and live, at all times in a specific time and place, in a specific body -- yet what I do is formed not just by this past and present, but by all of the future choices available to me in each instant. I cannot be "anything I want to be" -- certain possibilities are ruled out merely by past choices and present realities. And yet, the possibilities before me are so wide and broad, and depend on my capacity to choose a path amongst them.

I am reminded of a wonderful line from Marjorie Suchocki: "God works with what is to bring about the best that can be." Our choices in the present actually add to the shape of "what is" and form the possibilities of what "can be." So we participate with God in this process of reality unfolding. This seems to me to be one way of grasping the continuing Incarnation.

Erika Baker said...

knowledge is also important in the context of health. A simple example is that my ex husband and I were both questioned about our medical histories when our daughter showed particular side effects to chemotherapy, which could also have had genetic origins. Of course, analysing her own DNA would have also supplied that information in this particular case, but her treatment was much quicker and alleviated her pain much sooner, because her father could supply relevant information.

It's been the one issue that has always bothered me about sperm/egg donation, and I would have wished for society to travel towards more openness not less.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Erika,

You and Mark are certainly tipping me in the direction of provision for openness and information availability. I can well understand the sense of disconnection that not knowing one's parents can create. And the health issue you raise is also crucial -- though, of course, that could be done with full anonymous medical records required for all sperm/egg donors.

Part of my ambivalence on this issue stems from my sensitivity in making broad decisions about issues that do not directly touch me: as a person who knew his parents, I can only place myself imaginatively in someone else's shoes, though I can have empathy for one in that position. And I admit, I have greater empathy for the adopted or IVF child than I do for the absent parent or donor. It seems to me the emotional impact lies on the side of the child's rights over against the parents' in this case. However, I am reluctant to let my empathy be a determining factor; though I'm also persuaded by the logic towards that side.

I am tempted to suggest that somewhere in between is perhaps where things will settle out: in other words, for instance, where a parent or donor wanted to remain anonymous, if some information might not be made available, short of the specific identity? I don't know if that would satisfy all concerned. What if there were a folder with a photograph, a short biography, and essential facts -- short of the actual name? Or is there a strong desire to meet face to face? Again, I'm reluctant to make rules for situations that don't apply to me (I wish more people took that as a guideline!)

Country Parson said...

As this conversation continues to develop I would simply ask that fatherhood, heterosexual marriage, and the joy of families who are raised in them not be denigrated in order to make a point in favor of gay and lesbian rights.

Mark Diebel said...

Thank you for you reflections! I hope that you more than tip in this direction... but fall headlong!

Let your empathy run wild, I say. Don't leash it in on this subject... because the whole matter rests with things that depend on personal life, especially on what we as human beings are given and with-held.

The question is whether the state as a matter of policy should withhold identifying information when it comes to descendants. Arguments offered to withhold it are proportionalist. In New York, regarding the matter of closed records for adoptees, the courts rule in favor of confidentiality because that is "in the best interest of adoption."

The case that I want to make is towards the importance of the name. Without a name there is no concreteness or specificity. Does the state have a right to deny a human being the names of his or her parents? Do parents have a right to deny that information to the children that they, one way or another, bring into the world? That denial is also a denial to every subsequent generation.

Thanks for the space to write. You've got a great place here and I feel safe writing here because of its tone and the quality of thinking.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

CP, I certainly have no interest in "dissing" either fatherhood or heterosexual marriage. I'm concerned that you even raise the issue, as it seems to indicate the kind of cultural phobia that sees any critique of failures by individuals in an institution as a full frontal assault upon the institution itself. My argument has always been that as an institution marriage is morally neutral. There are good marriages and bad ones. The same goes for parenting. It is the absolutizing of the institution that I find troubling. I am concerned with looking to the fruits to determine the relative goodness of actual lives, not institutions. To me it is meaningless to say "it is better for a child to be brought up by hir birth parents" as an abstract virtue. There are no abstract virtues, are there? Isn't the whole point, addressed to some extent above, that it is the enfleshment and life that is important? Virtue lives in action, not substances.

Mark, you are convincing me more and more. At this point I'm willing to say that anonymity should not be enforced by law. I do see the point that some people might not put their children up for adoption if they were forced to reveal their identity. I would suggest some reasonable time constraints would be appropriate, and help bridge that gap, but that people having the freedom to know their parents probably does outweigh the need for anonymity, particularly after the passage of some time. Do you think an age limit is appropriate? For instance, to say that an adopted child need be at least 16 before being able to gain the information? Part of my concern is what the child might do with the information, and how well it is handled. Perhaps some required counselling would also be important. (I'm thinking along the analogies of HIV testing, where there is pressure to only reveal the results in a setting in which counseling is available.) This is obviously a very emotional issue, and my sense is that just getting a letter in the mail or a phone call is not the best way to handle such a matter.

By the way, I enjoyed visiting your blog, through your profile. As I say, I've not had to walk in your shoes, but you are always welcome to stroll through my virtual living room, and sit a spell. It is in conversation that we come to better understanding.

rick allen said...

"How does something that doesn't exist have a right?"

I see no problem with that, so long as the being in question has some reasonable expectation of appearing. After all, we talk all the time, and rightly, about our obligation to "generations unborn" to have clean water and air, and a livable environment. The mere fact that they don't yet exist doesn't mean we don't have a real obligation to make a better world for them.

Similarly, here it is only 61 years After Our Ford, and already the notion that children have a right to be born to their own parents is considered "incoherent." Surely their present non-existence doesn't give us the right to manipulate them or provide them with what we think due to all humans.

"...the issue for Rome was the integrity of the biological family unit. It is upon this requirement that all of the oppositions to IVF rest."

I think the greater objection to IVF is that it intentionally creates excess human embryos that are then flushed down the drain or frozen for experimentation.

"that is precisely the issue: bigotry and an ill-informed bowing at the altar of the false God of "nature.""

Whereas I think it perfectly appropriate and necessary that we include in all consideration of human issues that we are not pure spirit, that we subsist in nature, that biology is a part of our existence in a way it's not of God's. What philosophy and theology call "nature" is of course considerably broader than the subject matter of the physical sciences. But how we come physically into existence is surely an appropriate consideration in ordering our society.

I am not so sure that, in that respect, our Lord's incarnation and nativity are quite the place to look for the integration of our biological and spiritual nature, insofar as that event has always been understood as præter rerum seriem.* But it has always seemed significant to me that the strictly unnecessary Joseph was not only entrusted with the care and upbringing of Jesus, but was himself in the role that Jesus himself used to characterize the divine source of all things: the Father.

It should also be of some comfort, I suppose, that we benighted "RC's" are not alone in expressing some concern about these policy choices. Your CofEers, I think, put it very well:

"A Church of England spokesman said: “The Church holds that a child’s right not to be deliberately deprived of having a father is greater than any ‘right’ to a child through IVF. There is a huge difference between a child who finds themselves in a single parent family through bereavement or breakdown of parental relationship, and those who find themselves in this situation by design, for which this Bill allows." (lifted from the very useful "Thinking Anglicans" site).

I think you do well in identifying some sources of these difference. But I also think you too much the return to the temptation of tracing everything back to "homophobia."

*I thought I might as well add the beautiful hymn beginning with those words:

Præter rerum seriem
parit deum hominem
virgo mater.
Nec vir tangit virginem
nec prolis originem
novit pater.

Virtus sancti spiritus
opus illud cœlitus
Initus et exitus
partus tui penitus
quis scrutatur?

Dei providentia
quæ disponit omnia
tam suave.
Tua puerperia
transfer in mysteria,
mater ave.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

(corrected -- I said "object" when I meant "subject")


The problem with "rights" language is that it requires a subject. So I would deny that "future generations" have rights. They will have rights once they arrive, but it seems illogical to me to use "rights" language when "responsibility" language actually describes the situation adequately and puts the pressure where it needs to be. So I affirm that people have a responsibility to exercise reproductive care -- and not bring unwanted children into the world, rather than asserting some purported "right" of a sperm to unite with a given ovum to create a new zygote, which, if it implants properly, may grow to become an embryo. This leads to quite opposite positions on moral action, too: the RC church denies birth control in any and all circumstances, as you know. I on the contrary follow the older tradition (ensconced in Jewish law, though unmentioned in Scripture) that conceives circumstances in which conception is not desirable, and allows contraception.

I also find it more helpful to say that parents have a responsibility to the proper care and upbringing of their children, than to allege a purported "right" to be properly raised by ones own parents. I would suggest that if there is a "right" it lies in the right to a life free of abuse -- and that it is therefore better for a child to be raised by loving foster parents than abusive biological ones. The "right" to raise one's own children or the "right" to be raised by ones parents seems to be a "right" too easily, and reasonably, taken away rightly to be called a right, least of all a "natural right."

Then again, I tend towards an ethics of responsibility rather than of rights, so I suppose this is partly my way of seeing things. Ethics is about things we do, how we treat each other, rather than of abstract substance or conformity with nature.

But surely, if one wants to talk about rights, it is as conceivable that a same-sex couple have a right to enjoy a peaceful and committed life together than to conceive "rights" for entities who do not yet exist. And yet let me add that I share many of the common concerns for the unborn, even while I find it hard to have much concern for the unconceived. At least the unborn embryo or fetus is an entity, a subject, rather than only a possibility.

It is true that Donum Vitae also bases its position on the fate of discarded embryos, but if you read with care you will see this is a side issue. The primary rubric for the whole document is the purported unity of procreation with the sexual act in the context of marriage, into which a child has a right not only to be conceived and born, but raised. This is why the document condemns artificial insemination as well, even by a husband of his wife, unless the insemination is merely "assisting" an otherwise "normal" sexual act. So, under this understanding, a married couple who have not had a child prior to the husband suffering an accident rendering him paraplegic or otherwise incapable of "the sexual act in humano modo" could not have some of his semen withdrawn to inseminate his wife, even if he was the one to do the insemination by mechanical means. I fail to see the rational morality of this position, and it seems to make a bit of a fetish out of the sexual act itself.

I think you miss the point about Joseph. He is not the biological father of Jesus, but is a foster father. I've already noted that this is the distinction between the biblical account and the concern in Donum Vitae as also raised by that C of E spokesman -- and I don't think it's any more rational coming from an Anglican than a Roman. We make mistakes, too. The Holy Family do not meet the demands of Donum Vitae.

As to Præter rerum seriem -- well, it makes better music than theology. The Incarnation is indeed a miracle, an eschatological sign -- like celibacy: but it is a sign that the old world of marriage and giving in marriage is passing away, and so the church has taught until recently. I have suggested elsewhere that it is possible to see same-sex relationships as a similar eschatological sign, in which love transcends biology, as it will in the life to come. And yes, I think the RCC's recent revision of its teachings on marriage (placing it as equal with, rather than inferior to, celibacy) is a retrograde motion, made in part in response to perceived assaults on the institution of marriage, and towards what is at base a pagan notion (hieros gamos) that the union of male and female has some divine quality; rather than being, as Jesus tells us, a thing of this age, which has no place in the life of the world to come.

PseudoPiskie said...

Some 45 years ago I gave birth to a boy in Phoenix and put him up for adoption because I could not have given him an adequate home. I would have no problem with his contacting me.

At the same time another woman did likewise tho we did not know each other. 20 years ago her child called her. She did not want to dredge all that up but the offspring not only insisted but showed up at her Pennsylvania home uninvited. As nobody in the woman's family knew about this person, all sorts of anger and hurt ensued eventually wrecking a previously healthy family.

As in most of life, there are two sides to every story. IMO the best path is to be honest, however painfully, about one's past. But not everybody seems able to do that unfortunately.

Mark Diebel said...

Honesty is good... but the matter here really is aiming at the human fertilization and embryology discussion which will deal with disclosure questions for children who will be born using IVF or other techniques. In these cases there is no question of clear intentionality on the part of the donor.

As a society we are deciding more often than not for concealment of identities regarding a child's origins. Why is this? Why do we place the burden on the generation of the descendants. When society makes the decision to close access to identifying information it disempowers the children who we hope will grow into adults and who then have by law less access to their history as they themselves might choose to define it.

In the bill at question many (who knows how many?) will be legally precluded from writing their own stories -- in the sense that they themselves will not have access to information that society otherwise takes for granted: who, biologically, do we come from?

The social right to this information outweighs the right of the party most affected by the information: what is that really saying?

My comments are not in regard to reunion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Pseudop., and Mark, for further thoughts.

Mark, I'm tipped at this point based on your comments, and further late night reflection on my own ethics of responsibility. I see the desire for donor anonymity as a kind of evasion, or at the very least, shifting of responsibility. It appears to me that a sperm donor has a degree of responsibility for what becomes of his sperm.

While I shy away from all of the language about childbearing as a form of creativity, it is important in itself as the bringing forth of a human life -- it need not involve a theistic view at all; human life is quite important enough apart from any religious sensibilities or beliefs.

So, to get back to the language I was exploring earlier, I would suggest that while there may not be a "right" to know one's biological parents, biological parents do have a responsibility to their offspring, at a minimum to be identifiable, even if they do not provide any further support or nuture. They may choose not to have any specific involvement with the child -- but that choice does not automatically cancel all responsibilities. There are circumstances where it would be irresponsible for a couple to attempt to raise their own child; and the greater exercise of responsibility might be made in finding a good foster home; but it appears from Mark's testimony (and I know he is not alone) that the wound of not knowing one's parents, at least in terms of identity, is deeply felt; and it seems to me that at a minimum it is the least that could be asked.

One need not have a living relationship with a person to be comforted in the knowledge of their existence. I did not know either of my grandfathers: my father's father died when he was a child; my mother's father was divorced from my grandmother and I never met him due to this estrangement. But at least I knew who they were.

Thanks to all for an eye-opening discussion...

June Butler said...

"...The cement of society is the family, and the presence of a father and mother."

Why didn't the good cardinal do his part to form "the cement of society"? Why didn't Jesus? Just asking.

Fran Wingate O'Gorman said...

As a former RC member recently received into TEC I am not surprised a bit by the Cardinal's remarks. I am sure as churches finally come to accept gay couples and allow their marriages (which is long overdue) you won't see RC churches doing it. They (the RC church hierarchy) have become so much more condemning than ever in recent years, the chance of them trying to understand and accept gays is totally beyond them. But the sad thing is how any of this exclusion will impact the children of these couples. As Mark pointed out these families already exist and the children in these families should be of the greatest concern. Working in a very large elementary school with an enrollment of over 1000 children we have had a number of such families and the children of these families deserve the same benefits that the rest of the children have. But from a spiritual point of view wouldn't it seem natural to want to affirm the parents' commitment to each other and desire to have their family become fully part of a worshiping community? To do less seems so un-Christian- certainly unkind. I realize the Episcopal Church isn't there yet but I'm hopeful that they will be, whereas I don't see that happening (in my lifetime at least) in the RC Church.
The other question as to whether the children should have access to their biological fathers' info, I feel again, whatever would be best in the interest of the child, should be the first concern.

Mark Diebel said...

We should say out loud that identifying information does not just concern fathers. There are both male and female contributors to artificial reproductive techniques. Eggs are often donated as well. Sometimes both as in the case of embryo adoptions; and then there are the odd situations involving surrogate parenting.

Did I say this already? The first donor insemination recorded is 1884. This year somewhere between 60 to 80 thousand children will be born in the US alone using a variety of these techniques.

The horse is way out of the barn on this.

Christopher said...

I see the desire for donor anonymity as a kind of evasion, or at the very least, shifting of responsibility. It appears to me that a sperm donor has a degree of responsibility for what becomes of his sperm.

This is precisely why I have not and advise others against becoming sperm donors. I have been approached on more than one occassion by lesbian couples who desired my sperm. I simply could not do so because I would feel some sense of responsibility to any child resulting, and would be troubled about questions such as the child's welfare (if he or she grew up in a bad home), etc.

Fran Wingate O'Gorman said...

Christopher, I think your saying no to sperm donation is the morally correct thing for you to do for the reasons you expressed and it's so great that you see the bigger picture in all of this.. at some point that could even change- but it's so good that you're thinking of that child first instead of yourself.
Ironically the RC church (since the words of the Cardinal started this discussion) couldn't even see that there are times when saying no to producing life was/is the morally correct thing to do..
I made a New Year's resolution to get over the failings of the RC church and just rejoice with where I am - but sometimes I just can't help myself! :-)

Christopher said...


I would add to Fr. Haller's understanding of ethics, that Christian ethics is how we work out how we should treat one another in light of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Haller can correct me, but it seems to me that a responsibility ethic or a duty/obedience ethic (as Benedictine's might say) must place consideration of the most vulnerable at the forefront when making such a decision. This seems quite in keeping with God's revelation in Christ. When the possibility of a child or a child is at stake, the welfare of that possible child or child must be placed before my own needs or wants or even rights per se. For ourselves, we should maintain a primary focus on our responsibility, but often in relation to others, we may find ourselves having to defend rights. Rights pertain when we fail to be responsible, one might say when we fail to "go out of ourselves for others". Rights are a bounds placed on us due to the reality of Sin.

Adrian Thatcher, a fine Anglican practical theologian and ethicist has recently written a book on family that I think quite fine. He notes a similar point. In matters of reproduction, I tend to have a high regard for the possible child as the central locus for ethical consideration. That has consequences for my thinking.

Without being doctrinaire, and thinking the Episcopal statement on abortion quite solid via media, I, as you can imagine, do not encourage abortion, and do not think of abortion as a right, but as a grave choice--which means one to be made responsibly, carefully, and with consultation. I also am not a fan of high end and high cost fertility treatments (so many children need a good home already). And because my partner and I cannot provide the legal stability for a child, at least currently, we choose not to adopt or otherwise seek to have a child.

Fran Wingate O'Gorman said...

You make some really good points..
In my rush to sympathy for the infertile couple and distain for the RC's rush to condemn, I forget that true, there are other alternatives that could represent a nobler choice..and while I am not advocating abortion I wouldn't want to condemn the person who has one. Yet if I were carrying a handicapped child I'd like to think I could have the courage to bring him/her to term and raise him/her as I would the non-hanicapped child.. I'd like to think of it in layers. There are choices which are bad and could be discouraged, others that are acceptable and then finally ones that are noble. Your realization that you're not in a position to raise a child is a noble one. You're thinking of what's best for the child. But the fact you cite legal instability is due probably to the social/legal restrictions you and your partner have to endure which should not be imposed on you in the first place and at some point could change (and should) but that's part of a whole other discussion. Anyway you make some very good points and ones that certainly point the way to a higher form of ethics.

Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

The same patriarchal attitude underlying the bankrupt and homophobic Vatican position is present in the unbelievably offensive statement that the Church solemnly teaches that Jesus was not born into his biological family. As you stated while dismantling of the specious arguments against womens' ordination last July:

"Christ assumed the totality of human nature when he became incarnate, and as the Chalcedonian Definition affirms, he received that totality of human nature solely from his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The way that Jesus was incarnate from Mary and received the totality of human nature from her is through her biological motherhood-- conceiving him from her ovum, carrying him in her uterus for nine months, birthing him through her cervix and vagina, and feeding him on the milk of her breasts. Since there was no male sperm present, she is his biological mother more than every other woman on the planet, not less. And the essential feature of a biological family is a biological mother and the child she has birthed.

This is true even in the case that the biological mother, then better named the first mother, immediately releases the child releases the child for adoption by a second family. (Unless you agree with the Vatican that the mother and child do not deserve the name of family unless she is married to the father).

I am the mother of a traditional biological family. Our relative biological contributions to the existence of Rachel, Nicholas, Katie Rose, and Julian are as follows:

Matt: four sperm

Laura: 4 eggs, 30 months of pregnancy, 12 days of labor, one C-section, 2 VBACs, one miscarriage, one D and C, and six years of nursing.

If Joseph's missing sperm annihilates Mary's gestation, birth, and lactation, then my husband's present sperm rather than my phenomenal physical labor and sacrifice are the constitutive element of our biological family, and the primary means of our children's reception of human nature.

Heaven knows I appreciate Matt's contribution--especially because his sperm were donated in the traditional fashion. But what I love about him far more is my trust he would be as insulted by this denigration of my motherhood.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Mother Laura,

I fear you have taken a meaning of what I wrote contrary to my intent. Hence the "scare quotes" around "biological family." It is the church's limited understanding of what constitutes biology that I am concerned to point out; which you have done with perhaps even more clarity.

I never meant to suggest anything other than what I said about the full humanity of Jesus stemming entirely from Mary. And that via biology! That is why it is absurd of the RCC to limit "biological family" to a father and mother engaging in intercourse "in humano modo" as the only proper family. I do not agree with such limits and did not intend to suggest so. God bless us all with the diversity of families in which we live -- and from which we live.

Mark Diebel said...

Mother Laura said, "This is true even in the case that the biological mother, then better named the first mother, immediately releases the child releases the child for adoption by a second family."

Indeed... and the first father too! But I want to say you, mothers (fathers), give more than those biological elements... but also your names. Your children have your names. There is still something very powerful in the name.

What if a parent gives everything necessary biologically for a child, but withholds his / her name?

I ask this in relation to the Human Embryology and Fertilization Bill which is at the headline of this article.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

It seems to me we've strayed a bit in this conversation, which is not to say that the side trips haven't been helpful and interesting.

But the Cardinal's concern, reflecting the Vatican position I cited, is about the desire to see children raised by their biological parents (plural) -- their objection to IVF with an anonymous donor is that the biological father takes no part in the rearing of the child. My suggestion is that this not only devalues foster-parenthood (as in the Holy Family) but also single-parenthood, and adopted parenthood. It places a premium on the role of the biological father -- which to a large extent devalues both the biological mother and the foster father (or second mother in a lesbian couple).

Mother Laura's related concern (about the devaluation of the role of the biological mother) seems to me to be in part about the disproportional weight of investment of personal value by the mother, as opposed to the father; and that is clearly true, whether the father is present or absent. This is a literal "value theory of labor"! It is a good point, but not, I think, directly related to the one the Cardinal is raising and I am addressing, except to the extent that the Cardinal's position downplays the role of the mother via its emphasis on the biological "parents" (plural).

Mark is raising yet another concern, identity -- also important, but not in itself related directly to the issue of parenting and child-rearing.

Again thanks to all for a fascinating discussion.