Adoption ethics in a world ruled by law and market


Helen Mark
Focus on Adoption magazine

Based on a workshop by Dr. George Annas titled "Ethics in a World Ruled by Law and the Market: Adoption, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, and Parenthood," which was part of the Ethics and Adoption Conference held Nov 3 - 5, ‘99 in Anaheim, CA. Dr. Annas is the Professor and Chair of the Health Law Department, Boston University School of Public Health. This is a summary of that workshop.

Just about anything is for sale in North American society according to Dr. Annas. However, he added, money should not be able to buy parenthood, adoption, reproductive technologies and children. The Internet is emerging as a place where entirely new, and somewhat suspect, ideas for selling commodities are unfolding. Annas cited the case of a website that displayed beautiful models supposedly willing to auction their eggs to infertile couples for between $40,000 and $150,000. Although the display of models was a scam, thousands of people responded to the advertisement.

Laws regulating the purchase of eggs, sperm, and the hiring of surrogate mothers will take time, he said. Meanwhile, he urged us all to discuss ways to do the right thing not just the according to the law, but according to sound ethical and moral guidelines. He quoted Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Russian dissident and author, who said on a visit to the US, "A society without any law is terrible. But, a society with no ethics, other than the law is terrible too. It paralyzes man’s noblest ambition." Law is the floor (not the ceiling), said Annas, for human conduct – what you have to do to avoid being an outlaw. Annas added that we live in a world where infertility is deemed to be a terrible thing (not that it isn’t for people), where having your own genetic child is seen (by society) as being of paramount importance.

In the last few years, reproductive technologies have entered the realm of the truly bizarre, he said. For example, a child can now have three potential mothers – a genetic mother (donor egg), a gestational mother (surrogate), and a rearing mother (adoptive parent). If you add a sperm donor and a rearing father to the equation, a child could have five potential parents. And, who is the real parent if the adoptive parents divorce before the birth of the child, as was the case in one US court battle ?

Every child has a right to his or her genetic information, according to Annas. There is absolutely no reason for secrecy in new reproductive technologies. Thirty years ago, he said, we were asking, "How do we protect sperm donors?" Then, physicians were more concerned about donor anonymity than the child produced through donor sperm. It is critical for children produced through new reproductive technologies to have their genetic information recorded and preserved for life.