Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

Nonexistent Kids Need Fathers!

November 27th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Kerry Howley writes about handwringing in the UK over proposals to allow lesbian couples to more easily avail themselves of IVF technology, the putative objection being to the creation of kids who are “fatherless by design.” As Kerry points out, this sloppily conflates the situation of kids growing up in single parent homes (which are typically former double-parent homes where something went amiss) with that of children born to stable lesbian couples.

But as I’ve noted before, this line of argument seems even more perverse when we consider the alternative: Lesbian couples denied access to IVF are not likely to split up and find nice men to raise children with, after all. The presumption, then, appears to be that if a child would grow up without a father, it would be better for the child not to exist at all. If that is what IVF opponents think, they should be pressed to say so outright.

Tags: Sexual Politics



4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Julian Elson // Nov 29, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    For what it’s worth, I think that it’s a fairly defensible and widely held position that having kids in the “wrong circumstances” (for some definition of “wrong circumstances”) is morally wrong while not having kids at all is morally neutral. (This is speaking strictly from a moral perspective without respect to whether state coercion is involved.)

    It seems to me that insofar as the position of the anti-IVF-for-dykes MPs is weak, it is in 1) claiming that being raised by a lesbian couple falls under the category of “wrong circumstances,” and/or 2) claiming that the state should have a role in determining the right or wrong circumstances for a child to come into existence, not in some sort of “but if you don’t let them use IVF, those kids won’t exist in the first place, so surely it can’t be wrong for allowing the existence of otherwise non-existent kids” counterargument, which seems not to be very persuasive to me.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Nov 29, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Well, this gets a bit complicated (see Derek Parfit’s work if you don’t believe me…) but I think the “wrong circumstances” are fairly constrained. The easiest case is when, perhaps because a child would suffer from a congenital illness that would consign it to a short life of suffering, it really does look as though a child’s life is likely to be “worse than nothing.” Slightly fuzzier, but still compelling, is when we’re really talking about the TIMING of children. The idea here would be that it’s bad to (say) have a child while you’re in a bad position to provide for it, when you could wait and have a (different) child later instead. That’s a case where the identities of the children are different, but we’re at least presumptively talking about which of two possible children to add to the world.

    But I do think the alternative is relevant to determining “the wrong circumstances.” For instance, I think we can say it’s irresponsible for a young couple who we expect to be financially better off in a few years to have a kid now, rather than waiting until they’re in a better position to provide for the child, without concluding that it’s generally irresponsible for poor people to reproduce. The judgment has to do with whether parents are doing as well as they can by their children, not (as in the congenital defect case) with whether they’re creating a child in such a bad situation that it would be better for the child not to exist.

  • 3 Julian Elson // Dec 1, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Well, maybe you’re right. Perhaps I haven’t read the requisite Parfit to have an informed opinion on this matter. I still think that the weakest part of the argument is in the claim that being raised by a lesbian couple is a bad circumstance for a child. The argument of “all but the most dire of circumstances, existence is at least as good as nonexistence (or some variant of that statement that’s more comprehensible and meaningful), so we should approve — or at least not disapprove — any childbearing except that of children with the most excruciating illnesses, like perhaps infantile Tay-Sachs,” seems to me to be a fuzzier point in the argument to make one’s stand.

    Argh… I used to be able to write simple sentences without a bunch of dependent clauses and parenthetical statements. Why can’t I anymore? I swear, sometimes I think I’ve been in mental decline since about age 13.

  • 4 southpaw // Dec 11, 2007 at 7:26 am

    I haven’t read the Parfit, but I’d score this one for Julian Elson.

    Once you admit that an intractable trait within the child could create the “wrong circumstances” referred to in J.E.’s first post, you kinda have to admit that intractable traits outside the child might have the same effect.

    Circumstance: Our child would definitely have Tay-Sachs
    Conclusion: It would be better for us not to have a child.

    Circumstance: We are Paranoid Schizophrenics with a history of violence
    Conclusion: ?

    Circumstance: We live in a brutal totalitarian state with no prospect of liberation and no chance of escape
    Conclusion: ?