As previously pointed out here and here on The Conservative Woman, there is a lot of rather unhealthy money to be made out of the anguish of childlessness, especially by providers of donor sperm. The losers are, of course, the children, deprived as they are of being brought up by a biological father (and indeed until 2005 even to know who their father was). But this is not the only reason to be doubtful about the ethics of bought-in motherhood. If anyone needs confirmation of this, the facts of a recent law case in Germany (noted here, unfortunately in German only) provide it in ample measure.
A lesbian couple in a civil partnership decided that they would love to have a baby. A doctor arranged for anonymous sperm donation, and a healthy girl was duly born to one of them. A year later they decided to give their baby a companion, and went back to the doctor asking for more sperm from the same donor. The doctor obliged, and this time a boy arrived, again entirely healthy. Unfortunately it then turned out that the doctor had blundered. The boy did not have the same blood group as the girl, and therefore they came from different fathers. Litigation ensued, of the usual boringness. Suffice it to say that the mother (who had since split up from her partner) recovered 7,500 euros from the doctor via a court in Hamm, near Münster, on the basis that she had been made ill by the very thought that her two children were only half-siblings rather than full brother and sister.
This case is disconcerting, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, while a mother living with the father of her children generally has the comforting assurance that he sired all of them, this was a mother who had deliberately chosen to have children not knowing who the father was. If she was seeking the joy of motherhood, she got exactly what she wanted: two healthy babies (admittedly they might be less than satisfied when they found out that their mother had decided without consulting them that they didn’t need a father, but that’s another point). Her subsequent complaint is identical to that of the buyer of two antique vases who is later annoyed to discover that they are not in fact a pair. By her very act in making the complaint, she is regarding her children in the same light as a decoration or lifestyle accessory. Further comment is superfluous.
For another, it is worth stopping for a moment to consider the effect on the younger child (i.e. the son) of his mother’s bringing, and the court’s entertaining, this lawsuit. Essentially the mother is telling her son, and the court by compensating her is confirming publicly on her behalf, that he is unwanted. Unwanted, moreover, not because he has done anything wrong: he is being told, in unambiguous terms, that his mother is feeling ill because he was, shall we say, not the goods she ordered.
For a third, this case exemplifies what goes wrong when well-meaning attempts to protect the right to family life get into the wrong hands. Where children were seen, as they were for centuries, as beings that (might) come into existence as a result of genuine love between a man and a woman, relations worked both ways. The joy of parenthood was naturally expressed in, and balanced by, an overwhelming moral duty to the child; they were two sides of the same coin, and supplemented the obvious biological ties. Today, however, parenthood is increasingly seen as a self-standing (human) right in the same sense as a right to free speech or property. Its joys must be available to all; any refusal of them, even on the basis that the normal parental bonds might not apply, is likely to infringe the right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is not hard to see that by doing this, we are in grave danger of severing the right to bring a person into existence from the claim of that person to a naturally loving upbringing. Enthusiasts for children’s rights in all their forms, of whom there are many, might care to express some concern about this. One suspects, however, that they will be far too busy with more fashionable anti-family causes, such as prohibiting physical punishment or promoting the rights of teenagers to abortions on demand without parental consent, to do any such thing. Welcome to the brave new world of selective rights to family life.