IVG and Poly-Parenting vs. Adoption and Step-Parenting

IVG and Poly-Parenting vs. Adoption and Step-Parenting August 22, 2020

“IVG” is in vitro gametogenesis, an emerging technology that allows the creation of babies (baby mice, at the moment) from the genetic material of one, two, three, or more parents.  You can have a baby genetically descended from a lone parent, a baby genetically descended from a half-dozen gene-donors . . . whatever suits.  It is the next-level in designer baby-making.

[False cognate alert: “IVG” in French means interruption voluntaire de grossesse, aka avortement — abortion.  So take note in translating back and forth that you don’t mix-up the two reproduction-related initialisms.]

At Public Discourse Matthew Lee Anderson writes about the importance of considering how poly-parenting and sole-parenting would affect children — both in the present generation and in the future. I’d like to discuss here a single aspect of that question: How does IVG and poly-parenting, as well as lone-parenting, differ from adoption and step-parenting?

We Start with Good People

Many of us can point to people we know who stepped in as an adoptive parent or step-parent and made life so much better for the children in question, often in a heroic manner.

This could be a single person who adopted an orphaned child despite the incredible work involved in rearing any child alone, and the far more daunting reality of rearing a child from a traumatic background.

This could be a group of adults — perhaps a religious order, perhaps a team of foster parents at a group home — who together work to provide a stable, safe, loving environment for children who have no other place to call home.

This could be an adoptive couple who set aside their prospect of a wealthier, more carefree life, in order to provide a home for a child in need.

This could be older parents who make room in the home, and accept as one of their own, a friend or school mate of their teen or adult child who has been disowned by the family of origin.

And finally, it could be a beloved  step-parent or a non-parent family member who took on parental responsibilities after the death or tragic departure of a biological parent.

I cite these examples because in discussing IVG, we don’t want to compare only to the “bad examples”of volunteer-parenting, whether that be the scandal of some self-serving, orphan-collecting adoptive parent on Instagram, an abusive orphanage past or present, the money-raking or child-molesting foster parent on the nightly news, or a couple for whom the divorce and remarriages cast doubt on the virtue of the parents and step-parents.  We know of such cases (or think we do) and they do not make a useful comparison for the purpose of pinning down what is different between a “good” IVG parent and a “good” adoptive or step-parent.

So: Whatever scenario it takes for you to allow that a foster parent, step-parent or adoptive parent is “good,” no matter how strict or expansive your definition, put that set of circumstances in your mind before we continue.

If you can, try to think of a particular foster, step- or adoptive parent you particularly admire.  Think of someone who is truly attentive and responsible as a parent, who is truly a blessing to the entire family, and who has made a notable difference for the better in the life of the child they have reared or helped to rear.  Think of someone who is good in general. Someone who is virtuous. Someone you like.

I can think of many such people, but then I’m particularly blessed in my circle of friends and acquaintances.  I hope you are too.

Good Intentions are Not the Whole Story

The first thing we need to acknowledge is that the people seeking a poly-parenting or lone-parenting situation may well be acting with good intentions.  The desire to love a child, care for a child, and sacrifice for a child are normal, natural, healthy desires.  In another age, that lone- or poly-parent might have been the foster, adoptive, kin- or step-parent who took in an orphaned child, back when early-adulthood mortality rates were so much higher. Given this death-haunted, fallen world, the species needs people with an open heart towards loving and caring for a child who is not theirs by the usual route of marriage and biological parenthood.

The reality is that few, if any, young couples just getting married or just conceiving their first child have any real notion of just how magnificent and all-encompassing their vocation as spouse and parent is going to be.  No amount of second-hand knowledge, no matter how close on the bench you sit, is a replacement for actually being the spouse or the parent.  If the first year of marriage or parenting is eye-opening, a quarter-century is another animal altogether.  I expect none of us truly understand the full scope of our vocations until we are able to digest the whole from the viewpoint of eternity.

So.  On the face it, here we have one person, or a group of persons, whose intention might be to purchase themselves a designer baby, but who just as likely are intending to create a happy, loving family in which to raise a cherished new person.

That said, we must distinguish between good intentions and the objective nature of the way we seek to carry out those intentions.

To Orphan and to Purchase

I wish I could find the meme in order to give it proper credit (if someone has it, post it at the discussion group and I’ll update here), but I wish to share the paraphrase of a quote that captured, for me, the intensity with which laudatory public monuments to slave-owners and slave-traders perpetuates the wounds of slavery.  It went something like this:

If someone kidnapped your child and trafficked it, what kind of statue would you like to erect for that person?

This jarring summation captures two aspects of the debate over public monuments.

Ancestry Matters

The first is the power of descent: We  as human beings naturally feel a deep, personal connection with our forebears.  Such-and-such long-dead person who is not our kin is simply  not as important to us, emotionally, as our own personal forebears. For the descendants of Confederate soldiers and leaders, the personal, biological, and historic connection engenders a natural desire to honor their ancestors’ virtues, no matter how egregious their faults; for the descendants of the victims of slavery and Jim Crow, the crimes of past generations are not dead-and-gone — a profound, living connection with the suffering of one’s forebears, and the way that suffering impacted subsequent generations, is real and powerful.

If this genetic connection were of no importance, there would be no national debate over Confederate monuments and the like.  Those who look up to the virtues of honored-but-sinful ancestors would shrug and say, “The past is the past, let us not cling to the dead.  Go ahead and knock down that memorial, it means nothing to me, I never even met the guy!”  Likewise, if there were no power or importance in genetic or familial descent, the question of such memorials would be strictly academic for those who trace their family history back to persons who were enslaved or otherwise abused by past evildoers.  The question of removing certain monuments and replacing them with memorials to more virtuous persons would have no personal meaning or importance, it would just be a matter of tidying up the public theater.

But we know that this is not so.

We know from our experience that our genetic and familial history is deeply meaningful.

IVG seeks to intentionally, knowingly, deprive a child of their natural right to a profound, intimate genetic and familial connection to a biological mother and father.  If an adopted orphan must work through the intensely emotional question of “Who are my people?” the child of IVG will have to face a starkly more horrifying answer: “My parents chose to deprive me of even the genetic heritage of having a mother and father. I don’t get to have ancestors the way that other people get ancestors.”

This is not a right we can shrug off as being of no consequence, any more than we can consider, say, the legacy of slavery to be of no consequence for the descendants of that system living generations post-abolition.

Children are Not for Manufacture

So the first effect of IVG is to intentionally orphan a child from the outset.  This would be a bit like planning, on your wedding day, to eventually divorce and remarry, just so that your child could experience the unconditional, self-sacrificial love of a growing up with a virtuous step-parent.   It would be like planning to conceive in order to place your child in an orphanage so that someone else could step in and be a foster- or adoptive-parent.

Good foster, adoptive, kin-, and step-parents are heroes!  Lord give us more of them, please.  There are so many children who do not have in their life a loving parental-figure, and who desperately need someone to self-sacrificially fill that gap.  If you are doing that right now? Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

Likewise, mothers who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy and selflessly do whatever it takes to give their child as good of a home as they can manage are heroes!

But all of these are heroic because they take on a duty in the face of disaster.

You would no more be heroic for organizing in advance the orphaning of a child, such as by using IVG to become a lone-parent, or using it to deprive a child of clear ancestry by becoming a poly-parent, than you’d be a hero for setting a forest fire in order to show what a great firefighter you are.

Furthermore, the very nature of IVG is the trafficking of children.  It is the decision to manufacture a human being for the purpose of gratifying the desires of the would-be parents. The intentions of the parents may be entirely good, but the manner of their becoming parents requires self-deception.

This is the same kind of self-deception involved in kidnapping a child in order to raise it as your own  — perhaps even, in times past, purchasing an enslaved child in order to satisfy a parental desire.

This does not mean the would-be IVG parents have evil intentions. We can only assume that they have good intentions. What they want is to give life to a child and rear that child in a loving home.  However, the fact of choosing to create in the laboratory a child with a specified lone-parent or multi-parent genetic design is the act of manufacturing a child for selfish purposes.

We often refer to sexual intercourse as “making babies” but in fact the couple is not manufacturing a child. We know of course that sex confers a biological mother and father (which is a fundamental right and human need, discussed above), but the two parents do not get to decide what genes will be passed on in what combination, nor the gender of the child, nor even how many children, if any, will be conceived.

Sexual intercourse involves lovingly accepting your child as a gift. A surprise.  The gift-nature of the child conceived through intercourse is fundamental to the parents’ unconditional love of that child, and thus to the child’s knowing he or she has intrinsic worth that does not hinge on meeting certain pre-conceived requirements.

IVG is the opposite of a gift: It’s going to the store and purchasing a child, or quantity of children, ordered to set of required specifications. The made-to-order child has to live with the fact that his or her existence and value to the parent(s) depended on being “good enough” at the time of conception to satisfy the buyer.

It is human trafficking and it is evil — no matter how much good the would-be parents are trying to achieve in the process.


Albert Gebhard - Orphan: Painting of a child laying lone in a makeshift bed.

Artwork: Albert Gebhard, Orphan, courtesy of Wikimedia (Public Domain).

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