Comment Of The Day (2): “The Strange Case Of The Unwanted Triplet”


Beth’s  thoughtful Comment of the Day is only tangentially a comment on the Ethics Alarms post about the surrogate mother who balked at aborting one third of the triplets she was carrying. It was really a comment on a comment made to the author of the previous Comment of the Day on the same post, as J. Jonah Jameson described his own experience as a father who employed a surrogate. JJJ was asked why he chose the expensive and risky surrogate route rather than adoption. That question inspired Beth’s Comment of the Day.

Here it is; I’ll be back at the end.

“Why didn’t you adopt a child that needed a family?”

As a woman who battled infertility in the past, and have many friends who did the same, along with others who intentionally became single parents, used surrogates, or have or are trying to adopt a baby, let me say that this is the absolute worst question you can ever ask somebody going through this process. As you pointed out, you are not trying to be judgmental, but you should never ask this.

Some people just want a baby. Why don’t heterosexual married couples adopt unwanted children instead of making their own? We don’t ask them that question — people who are facing challenges similarly shouldn’t be asked that. Especially when their emotions are already running high or even may be fighting depression.

There are many reasons that people go through this process. Infertility is a main one, but you also may be a same sex (male) couple, or a male individual, or other medical problems (I have a cousin with a serious back injury from an old car accident who can’t carry children). Some people just want a biologically related child. This can be especially important to men. Others just want the experience of raising a baby. Mothers giving up infants often get to choose the adoptive parents. Adoptive parents who are single, same sex, or are older don’t always get picked — religion, attractiveness, and other subjective factors also influence this result.

Even for people who are willing to adopt older children, those children often come with physical and emotional problems that are not easily overcome. Separation from their biological parents can be hard and often those biological parents remain in the picture. Also, because the legal system (rightly) favors keeping children with their biological parents, adopting out of the foster care system can be emotionally devastating when parental rights have not been formally terminated and the biological parents re-enter the picture and are reunited with the child.

As for the $160,000 price tag — you should know that adoption fees also can be extraordinarily high unless adopting out of foster care (where babies are few and far between). Foreign adoptions for a single child can easily exceed $60,000, and there are often some irregular fees (or even bribes) that come into play with certain countries that can make an adoptive parent(s) uncomfortable. Domestic adoptions also can exceed $100,000 — as was the case with one of my friends. Going to infertility doctors also can get you over the $100,000 mark, depending on how many cycles need to be done.

Not that raising children isn’t ridiculously expensive anyway. In the DC area, daycare for a single child can easily be between $2000 and $3000 a month. And many people have more than one child. And those fees don’t go away once they become school age. Even if you are utilizing public school, you will still have after school fees and child care in the summer (assuming both parents work, which is typical here because of cost of living). And private school? Holy cow, our private school fees exceed our mortgage payments and we are saving for college as well.

So, when I see someone willing to spend $160,000 to have a child, I say “congratulations,” while, at the same time, thinking that these parents are putting more thought into this decision than most. They really want to be parents, it is important to them, they are sacrificing to do it, and I bet they are going to be great at it.

All of this is to say — don’t ask. Just like you don’t ask the married couple why they are choosing to have their own.

I’m back, only to say that I disagree with the central premise of Beth’s post, especially as it involves a question posed on Ethics Alarms, which is an ethics colloquy. One of the crucial tools of ethical growth is self-examination, and sometimes it takes the pointed question of an objective observer, even a stranger, to shove one’s mind into serious reflection. That does not mean this was necessarily the case with JJJ, but the question was still a valid and provocative one. Beth argues there are some questions one never should ask. I’m not sure there is such a question. I have a friend who changed his entire view of homosexuality after getting a sincere answer to his question to a near-stranger: “Why are you gay?” My mother, late in life, began moving away from the attitudes she had been raised with because of her own answer to my question, “Do you think you’re a bigot?” (“Why yes, I suppose I am. Oh-oh.”)

The question of why someone is choosing the expensive and chancy  method of in vitro fertilization over adopting an already existing child (or one that would otherwise be aborted) should be asked, or considered, which can only happen if it is brought to mind, before the decision is final. Beth’s conclusion is ultimately the right one: anyone who is determined to take on the awesome responsibility of parenthood is to be respected  and praised, however they choose to do it. From an ethicist’s perspective, however, the question of whether adoption accomplishes more ethical ends than extreme medical procedures to create a baby with one or both parent’s genetic material is an easy one. Of course it does.

None of us, however, should be criticized for not making the most ethical choice; it’s difficult enough going through life avoiding unethical choices. Becoming a parent by kidnapping a child or buying a baby would be examples of unethical choices. Surrogacy isn’t unethical; it opens the door to a lot of ethics dilemmas, as the triplets mess amply demonstrates, but the method itself can’t be called wrong. It’s just strange, an example of the Ick Factor. (News comes today of a grandmother who gave birth to her own grandchild. Ick.)

I also have a bias. My wife and I settled on a foreign adoption. As Beth points out, it was expensive; it was also scary and not without risks. Still, we rescued my son from a shabby, over-crowded, under-funded orphanage in a gray, depressing, poor community where his prospects for a happy or productive existence would have been minimal. In Russia, my son’s birthplace, native adoptions are rare. As I think I have written here before, the beautiful two-year olds who were paraded before us upset me so much that I told my wife that I was either going to quit the adoption tour on the spot or adopt all of them. The thought of making a choice that would have left my then-infant son to grow up in the hell-hole known as Sammara, being warehoused in various institutions until he was released to the streets at 18, is the stuff of nightmares.

Yes, the question should be asked. It’s an important question.


25 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day (2): “The Strange Case Of The Unwanted Triplet”

  1. 1. If adoption is always the most ethical option, then that should hold true for all families, including those that can have children naturally. We do not have a population crisis here in the United States – under your line of reasoning, all parents-to-be should adopt a child in need rather than selfishly creating their own. But no one thinks that way. Rather, we only discuss the ethics of adoption for those who are facing infertility or other challenges. This is inconsistent and wrong.
    2. I stand by my comment about never asking these types of questions. In a forum like this, it is slightly more acceptable because this is a virtual community, but these types of questions can do considerable damage in real life. I am the natural child of my parents, but I looked nothing like them growing up. They were both dark and I was blonde – and both of my siblings were dark too. My parentage was questioned well into early adulthood by friends and family – my father almost got into a fight at my sister’s wedding because our new in-law drunkenly proclaimed that there was no way that I was my father’s child. I’ve had my own children’s parentage openly questioned to my face (including by a former good friend) because they favor me strongly and have little of my husband in them. That hurts me, my husband, and my children. Children who are adopted get questions all the time, especially if they are a different race than their parents. And parents get questions too. That well-meaning stranger at the supermarket who approaches the adopted mother and wants to know intimate details: where is your child from, was it expensive, does he/she know how “lucky” they are to be raised by you. The single mother (I know more than one) who decided to have a child naturally. She gets questions too: who is the father, will the child ever meet his father, how does your family feel, why didn’t you adopt? Nine times out of ten, I see these questions handled gracefully – but rude questions (in my opinion) do not deserve civil answers. It is nobody’s business how and why I created a family. I don’t question other’s decisions – why are you only having one child, why are you having so many children, why would you ever agree to have children with your lousy husband (or wife), why did you have them so young (so old), etc. And, most importantly, I never ask, “Isn’t it selfish and wrong for you to create more children in this world when you could have adopted?” Not only is it none of my business, it is not my judgment call to make.

    • 1. The leap from a choice by people who cannot have their own children without elaborate intervention to those who can—who were not involved in the discussion at any point—is many things: cheap, unfair, unwarranted. From an ethics point of view, you are factually wrong: the rule that all couple unable to conceive on their own should adopt—which I did not propose—passes Kant’s Rule of Universality. A rule that all couples should adopt rather than have children of their own does not pass: the end result would be no children TO adopt, or children at all. Obviously a couple conceiving their own offspring and THEN adopting as many children as they can is the exemplary approach, and I know of couples who have done just that. Your reductio ad absurdum is a dodge, and not a vert deft one.

      2. Similarly, my response was solely about questions like the one under discussion, about motives, reasons and attitudes. Naturally rude questions like “What is she, retarded?” and “Did you find that kid in a alley?” are never justified.

      3. My addendum was clear that questions that lead to self-assessment and serious reflection on complex issues are to be encouraged. Since nothing in the post applied that argument to intentionally hurtful, rude or cruel questions asked by idiots, your rebuttal is purest straw.

      As you would say. “Sheesh.”

  2. Beth said, “…under your line of reasoning, all parents-to-be should adopt a child in need rather than selfishly creating their own. But no one thinks that way.”

    It is unethical to put words in others mouths!

    As for your blanket statement that “no one thinks that way”; that was a blindly stated fallacy! I personally know multiple families that have their own biological children, they can still have more of their own biological children and they have chosen to adopt and some of them have adopted children from other countries. I’m close friends with a family that chose to adopt instead of having their own biological children, it was their choice! I also personally know someone that had her own biological children and chose to be a foster parent to more than 200 children over 30+ years instead of having any more biological children – she earned a Jefferson Award for her selflessness.

    Beth said, “I stand by my comment about never asking these types of questions.”

    You were wrong before, your are wrong now, and if you continue to think the way are, you’ll be wrong again tomorrow. It’s your choice not to learn; sobeit!

    • People may decide to adopt rather than conceive naturally, but my comment of “no one thinks this way” is about the lack of judgment attributed to them. If they decide to do so, great, if they don’t, that’s fine too by the majority of people.

      And Jack’s logic is wrong. Rich people in the US could just stop having children and adopt from countries where there are thousands of children in need. Until those children find homes, there’s no need to reproduce here.

      • Beth said, “…my comment of “no one thinks this way” is about the lack of judgment attributed to them.”

        I don’t think that’s what you said or meant at all; I’m not buying your justification. Your comment “no one thinks that way” was a blanket statement and a fallacy just like I said it was, regardless of what you now claim you meant.

        Benefit of the doubt point; if that was truly what you were trying to say then you really need to work on your writing/communication skills because what you wrote came across in an entirely different way and I still can’t read it the way you are trying to justify it now. Now if my comprehension is out of whack on this one, I’d appreciate someone else vouching for Beth on this to support that what she originally wrote could be read as meaning what she wrote in her justification? I’m willing to be corrected when I’m wrong but I just don’t see it; I’m certainly not too old to learn.

        Side point: I plugged the paragraph in question from your comment above containing “no one thinks that way” into the online readability score program and the average grade level readability of your comment was at a 9.2 grade level (which is pretty easy to read and comprehend) and your overall readability score was 63.1 (which seems like a decent readability score) but yet you didn’t actually communicate (at least not to me) what you now are claiming was your intent. Knowing that you’re a lawyer, your communication skills are a bit confusing me.

          • Beth,
            You can make all kinds of claims that I’m all kinds of people that may share an opinion or two, but the manner in which you chose to do it is just a petty deflection from real arguments; is it SOP for you to start “attacking” the messenger when you run out of relevant things to say?

            FYI: It was Rick M. that turned me on to the readability score site back in early December shortly after I was referred to this site by Paul W. Schlecht, I’d never seen that readability site before that. I can assure you that I have absolutely no connection to texagg04.

            • It was a joke. And I did not feel your comment was worthy of an intellectual rebuttal, so I didn’t make one.

              I told you what I meant. You (shockingly) told me that I was lying. The fact that you think my comments are an attack on you is mind-boggling frankly.

              What I will do is chew on your comment about writing more carefully. Typically, I have just a few minutes to check this site each day — I work full time and I have a young family that keeps me busy. To the extent that my comments will get dissected as if I were submitting them for a press release, then perhaps it’s not worth my time to comment here at all, as semantic arguments and “readability score” discussions are boring and ignore the larger ethical issue.

  3. “…anyone who is determined to take on the awesome responsibility of parenthood is to be respected and praised ….”

    hmmmm. deliberate teen pregnancies, by-the-Book Catholics, others who don’t believe in using anything to block sperm from entering the vagina, people you wouldn’t allow near your own children, and more… uh uh. That it is an awesome responsibility I agree (I helped raise four until the youngest was in first grade), but it’s too bad there’s no “pre-counseling” at the very least for determined, would-be parents.

  4. I think asking why people have biological children when there are so many kids that need to be adopted is a perfectly legitimate and worthwhile question. I think if someone asks it, the answer should be, “Damned good question.”

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