Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Centrist Solutions to the "Know Your Father" Problem

Continuing the discussion of biology and identity, the same helpful reader presses to the hard question:

In principle, under what circumstances is it "OK" or even "preferable" that a child be deprived of his biological father's identity? And going forward, should we compel the sharing of his identity in those circumstances anyway? Or perhaps we should just do our best to end those kinds of circumstances in the first place.

I think about half of who we are comes from our biological heritage. That is important for a person to know. And I am impressed with how very much adopted kids and donor kids want to know who their natural parents are. So, I would incline to have open adoption and donation.

But requiring it by law in all cases? That seems to be too much.

Perhaps a market solution -- you pay extra for secrecy? Or a judicial bypass -- you can keep it secret if you can convince a judge that you have a good reason? Let each state make its own rules democratically, knowing they would differ from one another?

If the law had a presumption of openness, with some rational possibility of an exception, seems to me to be a centrist solution.

Addendum: I was chided on the above answer as inadequate and not really principled (see the first comment below). I thus add this explication.

The principle that I am applying is that principles establish a general rule, to which there might, in principle, be exceptions. The principle that applies is that law should support the presumption that children should know who their parents are. But in a wild and varied world, situations might arise that no one, myself included, can predict that would produce a good reason for secrecy. Hard cases make bad law, so we should tailor the law to the general principle, not the hard case.

Thus I believe the best we can do is to provide a general structure of openness, with known, open, and legitimate means to create exceptions.

As I said at the outset of this discussion I don't think identity comes from any one or absolute source, including biology. Biology is always important to our bodies, of course, and is almost always important to our identities, but it is not of overriding importance; it is one factor among other, and the mix of factors differs from culture to culture and person to person.

Moreover, however you conceive of identity, I don't think you have a legal and universal "right" to identity.

5 comments:

Marty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marty said...

You didn't answer the question.

Or if you did, your answer was "it's OK to deprive a child of the identity of his father when the legal parent really Really REALLY wants to, bad enough that they will pay extra for it, or hire a good attorney."

That's a cop out, not a centrist solution.

Anyway I wasn't asking for a centrist solution -- I was asking for your personal opinion, based on principle. When is it OK?

Try again please ?

Marty said...

Thanks for the addendum. It helps, somewhat. May I continue?

"But in a wild and varied world, situations might arise that no one, myself included, can predict that would produce a good reason for secrecy. "

Are you admitting that you cannot, at least on 11/20/2008, imagine any circumstance that would qualify as a "good reason"?

I can't either. Readers, can you?

Marty said...

The principle that I am applying is that principles establish a general rule, to which there might, in principle, be exceptions.

You know in principle, I agree with this :) But I would suggest that those exceptions are of the type that "prove the rule", as the saying goes.

Hard cases make bad law, so we should tailor the law to the general principle, not the hard case.

Agreed again. I can imagine that difficult situations may arise where a judge should decide to grant an exception to the general rule. The problem is, that these granted exceptions are then used as legal precedent to overturn the general principle itself. Rather than "proving the rule", they eventually negate it.

The result is bad law, based on a few hard cases.

Chairm said...

No, Marty, I can not think of a good reason to enable this practice with legislation.

I say do the opposite. Let's discourage it. One proven way (see the UK) is to ban anonymity f the so-called "donor".

Maintain legal ties for the purposes of inheritence, marriage, and incest, at the very least.

Any "donor" whose gametes are used for creating more than three children, both the lab, the "donor", and the consumer to be fined. The money to be set aside to fund a registery for a child-"donor" registery.

Or something like that.

Also, no government funding for the use of "donor" gametes. Likewise, a law against insurance companies treating this practice as a "fertility treatment".

Just some ideas of how to make the general rule a bright and strong rule.

As Gruntled suggested, the hard cases might require some room for leniency. But labs should not be in this business and perhaps more stringent regulation of licenses may be brought into line. Certainly no one should profit from it.

-- Chairm