When the mother of the child an unmarried father co-created with her decides that she doesn’t want to/ can’t raise the child and doesn’t trust the father to raise her, is it ethical to put said child up for adoption without notifying or consulting the father?
That is the ethical issue the “Baby Emma” incident, first discussed here in an earlier post, ultimately raises. It is a question that I did not discuss in that post, focusing instead on the father’s conduct and his current plight, as self-described on his “Baby Emma” website. I made three ethical assessments, each of which are self-evident:
1. The whole situation would have probably not occurred if John Wyatt and Baby Emma’s mother had been married before conceiving a child.
2. Both of them were irresponsible to plan on having a child together without formalizing a mutual commitment to form a family and raise the child together…that apparently archaic institution known as “marriage.”
3. The mother betrayed John’s trust, deceived him, and treated him unfairly.
I also suggested that, absent a marriage, it is fair and reasonable that the mother of a newborn be able to put the child up for adoption if she deems that course better for the child than being raised by the child’s father. I did not say that was the law, or even that I would vigorously oppose a law that directed otherwise, as Virginia’s law does. I only stated that my own belief is that incentives for irresponsible parenthood are unwise. I have been asked why I focused on the issue I did, rather than the other ethical issues raised by the controversy. It was because the issue was brought to me with the presumption that John Wyatt, the father, was a blameless and unequivocal victim in the matter. My ethics alarms sounded: he has significant ethical accountability for the mess, and I explained why.
As to the answer to question above, I can only say this: it depends. The conduct of Baby Emma’s mother is mysterious and extreme. Did she panic? Did she have a mental break? Why would a lifetime friend and partner of a man conceive a child, pretend to plan to raise her with him, and then secretly negotiate to have the baby adopted and taken out of state?
I see many scenarios that could be behind her decision, which fall into three distinct categories: ethical, unethical, and too close to call:
It would be unethical to put the child up for adoption without notifying the father if….
- ….the mother knew she was violating the father’s legal rights, and there were no other factors outweighing them.
- …the mother had always intended to give up the child, and had been leading the father along to believe otherwise without any justification, such as fear of violence.
- …the mother changed her mind during the pregnancy, didn’t want to disappoint the father and was averse to conflict.
- …the mother gave up the child for financial gain or other personal benefits.
- …the mother gave up the child without considering the best interests of the child or the fitness of the adoptive parents.
- …the mother gave up the child for revenge, in anger, out of hatred for the father, or for the purpose of intentionally hurting the father in any way.
- ….adoption is inherently unethical and un-natural.
It would be ethical to put the child up for adoption without notifying the father if this could be accomplished without violating state law and….
- …the mother had reason to believe that the father would become violent and harm her.
- …the mother had been abused during the relationship.
- …the mother had been coerced or intimidated by the father into conceiving the child or having the child against her will.
- …the mother had knowledge that the father would be an unfit parent due to addiction, emotional problems, untrustworthiness or a violent nature.
The ethics of giving the child up for adoption are too close to call if…
- …the adoption was illegal under state law and she believed that her and/or the child’s health and safety would be at risk if the father were informed.
I have no idea which of these scenarios, if any, are correct. Reports that the mother now regrets her decision and is back together with the father are not helpful, for they could indicate an abusive relationship as well as a legitimate change of heart, and definitely indicate that the mother is prone to rash behavior.