Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Parental Responsibility and Who Qualifies as a Parent

I would like to address an issue I see as rampant in the abortion issue, the question of what a parent is and who qualifies as a parent. This question is an important one because parents have special obligations to their offspring that strangers don't have, including the obligation to provide the basic necessities they need to survive and thrive: food, water, shelter, clothes, etc.

I prefer to give pro-choice people the benefit of the doubt when discussing with them. I don't think pro-choice people are horrible people, or monsters, or anything of that sort, esepcially if their position is reasoned as opposed to based on emotional rhetoric. But there is one pro-choice position I see as especially repugnant: that parents have no special obligation at all to their children, except ones that are consented to.

It seems to me that there are three different ways someone could be considered a parent.

Biological Parenthood

The first and most basic is biological parenthood. Pro-choice people tend to argue that biology doesn't make you a parent, but I think they're wrong. The child of the union of sperm and egg takes on features of their parents, and has a combination of the parent's DNA. The child even grows up to look and act like one or both of his/her parents. He/she may even pursue the interests of one or both parents. And most parents will naturally bond with their child while the child is yet still in the womb. Children come out of the womb recognizing their parents' voices and trusting their own parents like no one else in the world.

I think this holds even in the case of rape. A rapist is often referred to by the detatched term "sperm donor" when referencing the child he sired, the one he forced on a woman. But if a toddler's father ends up raping another woman, that man does not cease to be the child's father. Why would it be the case that if he raped the child's own mother resulting in his own conception, that the father would not be the child's father? In that case, while the father is a father biologically, I think the fact that he conceived the child through an act of violence would mean that the rapist surrenders any and all rights to the child, while maintaining the obligation to provide for him/her through child support.

Biological parents have special obligations to their children. One is the obvious obligation not to kill the child. Some other obligations are to provide the basic necessities the child needs, such as food/water, shelter, clothes, and education. I think this is true just by virtue of being related.

It seems to me that biological parenthood is the most basic form of parenthood there is, and I think the best situation is for a child to be raised by his/her biological parents. This isn't always possible, however, and if the choice is between killing the child through abortion or gifting the child to a loving couple through adoption, then I think the obvious choice is clear. And that brings me to the second form of parenthood.

Assumed Parenthood

Biological parents can sign their rights and obligations away to another person or couple willing to take on those rights and obligations. If this happens, then the adoptive parents would have all the normal rights and obligations that the biological parents would have. There are two ways this is done, through adoption or foster care. The two are commonly conflated, which is why many people are so averse to adoption. But the reality is they're two very different things.

In the case of infant adoption, parents are located through a rigorous process, often while the mother is still pregnant. The adoptive parents usually pay the medical fees of the pregnant woman, which is why it's so expensive to adopt. The adoption procedure can be either open, in which case the biological mother, and the father, can be as involved or as uninvolved as they want in the child's life, or closed, in which case the mother will not seek to continue a relationship with the adopted child.

Second is foster care. This is what most people usually think of when they think of adoption, which is made more confusing by the fact that putting a child in a home from foster care is also called adoption. This is where a child is usually taken out of a broken home and place with a foster parent until a suitable adoptive parent can be found. When someone speaks of a child that is "lost in the system," this is usually the child in mind.

So what if a person is not biologically related to a child, and hasn't assumed parenthood rights and responsibilities to a child? Can we still be held responsible for a child in that case? That brings me to the third type of parental relationship.

De Facto Guardianship

This is a term that Stephen Wagner uses in a paper he wrote to tackle the most challenging pro-choice argument. In effect, this states that if a child is in your care you become temporarily responsible for the child. Think of the boy Russell and the elderly man Carl from the movie Up. Carl become Russell's de facto guardian when he discovered that Russell had found his way onto his porch which was thousands of feet off the ground.

Think also of a real-life case in Japan in which two women were trying to reproduce through IVF, and the doctors, through a mix-up, implanted the wrong embryo into a woman who ended up aborting the child because it wasn't hers. Surprisingly, Salon posted a very well-written article about it, which I'll link to for more information on this case. The situation is made even more tragic because the woman whose child was killed by hospital staff was in her 40's, meaning that this was her last chance at motherhood. The woman became a de facto guardian of the child that wasn't hers and made the wrong choice by having the child aborted.

Carl became Russell's de facto guardian, even though he didn't kidnap Russell and pull him onto his property. He was found with a Boy Scout on his property, through no fault of his own, and did the right thing by taking him in, after a little bit of deliberation, and taking care of him until the house reached the ground again. If you are faced with a situation in which you find yourself with a child who can't fend for himself or generally take care of himself, you have an obligation to care for the child until he is safe. Since the unborn are likewise human beings, a pregnant woman, even one who finds herself pregnant with another woman's child, has an obligation not to have the child killed. Obligations are not chosen, that's why they're called obligations.

The abortion culture has caused us to stop seeing children as people and to start seeing them as burdens. Some, like Eileen McDonagh, see them as no more than parasites, or little rapists who impregnate a woman against her will. It's difficult to convince someone that it's wrong to kill an unborn human child when they've convinced themselves of all manner of bizarre things about the youngest members of our species. But human beings in a needy position, especially a naturally needy position, need our love and care, our support, not our killing them because we're "more important" than they are.


Drew Hymer said...

"Biological parents have special obligations to their children.... I think this is true just by virtue of
being related."

No there's better reason than that. Biological parents have an obligation to care for their child because they caused the child to be in need. See

Mal said...

I dont know about US, but in Australia, foster care refers to finding a safe and suitable home for a child whose parents are abusive or unable to properly care for them. This child is not necessarily then put up for adoption... here, the hope is that the parents will either be rehabilitated, get "better"... adoption after foster care is only really necessary if the parents say die, go to prison long term, or somehow deemed never will be able to care for their child. With carers, first preference is generally given to relatives (grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.) as long as they check out as safe carers.

Clinton said...

Drew, while the responsibility for conceiving a child is certainly a factor in why parents have an obligation, parents also have a prima facie obligation to their children just by virtue of biological relation.

Clinton said...

Hi, Mal:

I'm not too knowledgeable about foster care. But from what I understand of the foster care system in the U.S., if a child is taken from a home and put into foster care, the parents can petition to get the child back, or they can go into rehabilitation and if they get better, I believe they can still get their children back. The U.S. system might be similar to the Australian system.

Coyote said...

I disagree with you that all parents should automatically be held responsible for their offspring/children no matter what. I am with Drew Hymer on this--I think that responsibility for one's willing actions should be the main factor in determining whether or not one is responsible to one's offspring/children and/or to other individuals. Otherwise, it would be a violation of the parents' right not to be held responsible for the decisions of others.

Being a parent does not necessarily obligate you to always help your child out. If you believe that this does, fine, but I think that on morally grey areas such as these, people should avoid forcing their beliefs on others. Frankly, if I had a choice in the matter, I would probably hypothetically prefer to save an extremely close friend of mine whom I knew for decades and who was not biologically related to me than my offspring/children who was conceived when a woman raped me, if I cannot save both of them from a fire or something like that.

Also, just curious:

1. Do you think that people have special obligations and responsibilities to their individual twins/identical triplets, et cetera as well? For instance, if someone's identical twin became disabled or something such as these through no fault of his/her own, should the other twin be forced to pay financial support to the first twin simply due to their identical DNA? Also, hypothetically, what about special obligations and responsibilities to one's clone(s)?

2. Do you think that these special obligations and responsibilities to their offspring/children includes forcing these parents to donate their body parts to save the lives of their children/offspring if there isa shortage of these body parts available to be donated?

Frankly, I am with some of the pro-choicers when it comes to a lack of automatic parental responsibilities to one's children/offspring. As a side note, I did see one pro-choicer argue in favour of forcing parents to always support their offspring/children, except she incorrectly/falsely stated that fetuses are the body parts of women (and that new offspring/children are only created at birth or something like that).

Coyote said...

That's what you believe, but I would be extremely careful about forcing your morals and beliefs on others on such morally grey areas.

Coyote said...

I strongly agree with you.

~E said...

I think you might be missing one of the points of this article. How a biological parent can choose not to be responsible for their child -such as one forced upon them- and instead sign their rights away through adoption. And anyone who adopts a child and becomes a parent certainly should be held responsible for their child's well being (food, water, shelter, education). Yes the biological parent still has to carry the child to term so they can be adopted, but isn't that a better option than killing them?

~E said...

Also, I just gotta say I think it's sad when not wanting a child growing int he womb killed is considered forcing "grey morals" on others? Can you explain how /why you feel this is a grey moral? Abortion certainly is a moral issues, but I never understood how anyone can consider killing a child growing in the womb morally alright? I mean, killing another human being usually gets you arrested, because it is against the law, and I was under the impression laws were based on morals. So, does this mean pro choice people do not support the laws against murder? Or are our laws based on something else? What is your take on this if I may ask? And anyone else feel free to express your take if you read this. I'm not that knowledgeable about how our legal system works I guess. Perhaps I should be.

Coyote said...

I will hopefully respond to you tomorrow, but I want to point out right now that I actually lean politically anti-abortion. In regards to adoption, this isn't an option if, say, a female legally rapes a male (the male is the rape victim here), then gets pregnant as a result of this rape and gives birth, and then is able to get custody of this child. This actually happened before, and the male rape victims have been forced to pay child support, which I strongly detest.

Clinton said...

I'll respond to you further up, but this is not a grey area. Even if it was, the very reality of morals means that obligations exist, even obligations that are not chosen. There's really no such thing as forcing someone's morals on someone else. If an obligation exists, then one exists. My pointing it out to you is not "forcing it on you," it's merely saying that I think you're mistaken if you disagree. And if forsaking the obligation would violate someone else's rights, such as in the case of murder or rape, it should be legally compulsory.

Clinton said...

I agree that if a woman is responsible for creating the child, then that weighs heavily in the area of her responsibility to caring for the child. But biological relatedness obligates us to care for our own offspring if we haven't given the rights and obligations to someone else. For example, if you have a child you don't know about and someone drops him off on your doorstep at three in the morning, I believe that you absolutely do have an obligation to care for the child until you decide to raise her yourself, or to allow someone else to raise her. As ~E stated, you missed a crucial part of the article. Now granted, I think you would have an obligation to care for any child that was dropped off on your doorstep (as per the de facto guardianship), but I think the obligation would be stronger as the child is biologically yours.

That being said, I don't think there really is a prima facie right not to be held responsible for the decisions of other people. I think that needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis and in that case, while it would be wrong to punish someone for the actions of another, I don't think it's a violation of anyone's rights if you do. An example I can think of is if you're a supervisor, you can be held responsible for the actions of those who are under you.

I really don't think there are any morally grey areas, just areas in which we haven't thought things through completely. I'll be the first to say that the abortion issue isn't black and white, but that doesn't mean I think it's full of grey. It just means that there are factors in play that require our full attention and careful thinking before coming to a conclusion.

I'm not sure your analogy works, because even though you would save your friend over your own child you don't know, that doesn't prove that you're doing the right thing. Only that you would save the person you feel closest to.

Regarding your questions:

1: I'm not sure what relevance this has. I don't think you would have any special obligation to your twin. I would think you would have the same obligation you would have toward any of your family members, be they parents or siblings. Again, I'm only arguing that the obligation is the basic necessities of life, not supererogatory things like kidney donations. I do know someone who believes that parents have an obligation to donate blood to their child, but I'm not sure what his reason is for it (we haven't really talked about it), or if I agree with him or not. I'd have to hear him out first.

I would probably give the same response for the clone, although the topic of cloning has a whole separate set of ethical problems so I can't really give you an in-depth response here.

2. No, as I explained in the article. Though as I explained in answer 1, I'm open to changing my position if I feel my friend's reasoning is sound.

Katerina said...

Sperm donors don't have responsibilities to their children.
Responsibilities to your children are limited. You don't have to donate blood/bone marrow/organs to your child. Even if they'll die. So I don't see what this has to do with abortion if you're trying to argue against bodily autonomy. If anything it's a +1 for the pro choice side.
Why does a woman have to donate her uterus to a fetus. But a man(or anyone) doesn't even have to donate blood?

Katerina said...

I just realized that the name I posted that under is different then the name I posted under months ago(Natalia).
I don't use my real name on sites like this. So sometimes I forget the name I was using before.

Coyote said...

"Sperm donors don't have responsibilities to their children."

Neither do egg donors. While I disagree with Clinton about this, in his defence, sperm donors and egg donors found someone else (adoptive parents) to take their place when it comes to their parental responsibilities.

"Responsibilities to your children are limited. You don't have to donate
blood/bone marrow/organs to your child. Even if they'll die. So I don't
see what this has to do with abortion if you're trying to argue against
bodily autonomy. If anything it's a +1 for the pro choice side.
Why does a woman have to donate her uterus to a fetus. But a man(or anyone) doesn't even have to donate blood?"

I strongly disagree with the law in regards to this, and frankly, I am sick and tired of pro-choicers making a "holy cow" out of the right to bodily autonomy. I, for instance, view donating blood to someone as a much lesser sacrifice than being forced to cumulatively pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support over an 18/21 year period. Likewise, I am not sure that a nine-month pregnancy would be a greater sacrifice than being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support--I think that it would depend on what one's priorities are. I generally support forcing anyone (parents or non-parents) to donate their body parts to other individuals in order to save the lives of these other individuals if they (the would-be donors) created a situation with (a) dependent individual(s).

Coyote said...

If you don't mind me asking (and you don't have to answer this if you don't want to), are you (originally) from Eastern Europe or Central Europe? Katerina and Natalia are Eastern European names.

~E said...

Coyote, that is a really interesting scenario you bring up about female rapists. You rarely hear about them but they certainly exist.Perhaps we should have more articles on here discussing this?

I agree a man should not have to pay child support in that situation. I think ideally, in that situation the woman would have her parental rights terminated upon giving birth.( I personally feel being around a rapist -even their own parent is grounds for child endangerment.) Now the question is, who gets the child?

I would say the man if they choose to assert rights. Otherwise, should the woman's family(aunt, uncle, mother/father etc) be considered? As long as they are good people and comply with not letting her(the rapist) near the child? I'm not sure how that would be enforced but that's would have to be addressed by child services.

I apologize if my comments sounded heated. I am very passionate about this. But that wasn't all toward you personally, just the thinking of those who ARE pro choice in general. Though I will admit you came off as being more towards that but I apologize if I offended you and misunderstood what you meant. I really try and keep my cool , and I try not to be a person who jumps at someone just because they disagree with me. Not to push, but what do you mean by "politically anti-abortion"? I've never heard that term before. Or is there a link you can recommend that I can find more information?

It's late again (that probably aided in my over emotional post earlier) so I will probably read your latest post tomorrow. I know it wasn't specfic towards me but I am interested in what you have to say. I think you brought up a really good point how rape can be the other way around and there doesn't seem to be much discussion on that.

~E said...


I really hope Clinton responds to you, but I just wanted to say in
regards to the 'special obligations" part (your scenario 2 ) I agree it could be
considered a tricky area. I think we as people don't have all the
answers yet but hopefully will soon by discussing these situations.

I would WANT to give my child blood or a kidney if I could safely- I
mean any parent who loves their child would. But I'm not sure if we
could/should force someone too.

~E said...

These posts have
forced me to think about scenarios I might not have and try and form my
own opinion. I think I can say as of now..that being Pro Life for me is
about giving my (potential/future ) child the chance at life..and good
things and bad things will happen in life. I would try and help my child
any way I could but again, I'm not sure you can force someone to donate
a body part to their child. Yet, I do feel a person should be legally
obligated to carry a child to term (assuming everything goes right) and give them their chance at and
right to life.