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.