Nurture: Are you fit to be a parent?
If you decide to adopt a child in the U.S., the adoption agency will first verify that you meet the age and income requirements, and then follow up with a background check. Then you will be put through a licensing process that entails the following:
- A completed Resource Family application
- State, federal, and local criminal history checks for all adult household members
- Child abuse record information background checks for all adult household members
- Comprehensive psychosocial evaluation
- Reference checks (personal, medical, employment, school/child care center) for all members of the household
- Pre-service training for resource family applicants
- Life-safety inspection
- Interviews with household members
- Review of required documentation
- Life-safety inspection
Even the ASPCA requires you to meet certain criteria before you adopt a dog or cat. To be eligible, you must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license, and have permission from your landlord. They also have an extensive application that asks you about your employment history, pet ownership history, landlord’s phone number, your daily work schedule, and more.
If a license is required to become an adoptive parent to a person or animal, why is our society so averse to requiring licenses, or at least some sort of screening, for prospective biological parents? I’m not suggesting that the government should interfere with our reproductive rights; that would surely be a slippery slope. But who hasn’t witnessed a least one example of parenting gone awry that made you cringe and think “they should not have been allowed to have kids?”
There is an ethical dilemma inherent in the choice to produce another human being because a child cannot consent to being brought into existence and the people that already exist in this world can’t either. You have the freedom to reproduce regardless of your resources, qualifications, and fitness to be a parent, and the ripple effect of bringing a person into the world is far-reaching. So the question becomes, do you think you can provide a loving, safe, stable, and supportive environment that can help your child become a contribution to society instead of a menace?
Nature: How are your genes?
Another ethical question arises around procreation when a person knowingly has some less than ideal genes. If you have a disease or mental illness that is hereditary, is it wrong to have children? To begin to answer this question, I think you have to look at the heritability of the disease, and to what extent the disease can lead to suffering in your child’s life.
For an example, most psychiatric disorders are highly heritable, such as bipolar, where up to “72% of bipolar offspring develop a lifetime DSM-IV axis I disorder, 54% a mood disorder, and 13% bipolar spectrum disorders.” If you have a heritable disease like that, you should consider the quality of life your child might have if they inherit that disease. Certainly, if you provide a positive environment for the child that can offset some of the disadvantages of negative genes. But there is increasing research about how influential genes are on a person’s outcome, so it is something to think about.
In the future, we may have the option to manipulate the genetics of our babies in the preimplantation embryonic stage, which will surely raise its own host of ethical questions. But for now, all we can do is weigh our desire to have kids with the quality of our genes and the nurturing we can provide, and hopefully make a decision that is best for our hypothetical child and the people we already share this planet with.