Cloning and Adoption

by Brian on November 26, 2003

One of the central issues in the cloning thread has been whether infertile couples should adopt rather than use new technologies like cloning. So far I’ve been content to run with the line that even if it would socially advantageous for the couple to adopt rather than clone, they should have a legal right to clone, because they should have the legal right to have children from their own genetic stock. But perhaps I was too quick to accept the virtues of adoption. Stephen Coleman, in Should Liberals Ban Reproductive Cloning? argues that adoption may have flaws of its own.

The problem unique to adoption is that these cases involve an existing child, and in most cases, existing parents. In the words of Barbara Katz Rothman “For every pair of welcoming arms, there is a pair of empty arms. For every baby taken in, there is a baby given up”. The vast majority of mothers do not relinquish children for adoption because they want to, but rather because they are forced to through poverty. They are not unwilling to care for the child, they are simply unable. This is especially the case with international adoption. Virtually all the children adopted internationally come from economically or politically oppressed areas. Probably only the orphans from these areas can really be classed as “unwanted”. Even within the USA, one study found that 69% of parents giving children up for adoption cited external pressures, including financial constraints, as the primary reason for surrender.7 Given these problems, adoption hardly looks the glowing alternative to reproductive technology…

I’m not sure this is conclusive. Even if adoption is a faulty system it may still be right for couples to participate in it while it is, hopefully, reformed. (In general I suppose I think too much is made of sins of complicity.) But there’s some reason here to think adoption is not the perfect solution for the infertile couple some have suggested. Coleman’s article contains more reasons, as well as snappy responses to many of the prominent anti-cloning arguments.



anon 11.26.03 at 4:22 pm

There is no right to adopt, and I don’t know that I would ever go so far as to say that there is a “right” to clone, as opposed to saying that cloning should be legal. In general, however, I think that cloning should be legal or illegal independent of whether adoption is a good thing, because I don’t think there can ever be a one-size-fits-all solution to the question of “why not adoption?” People who face obstacles to natural fertility get this question all the time. I encourage you to spend some time reading the internal debate that goes on among women who are really debating this issue –because they are deciding whether to do one or the other or both or none of the above (obviously not cloning, but just about everything else). There are lots of chatboards where you can see this debate in action, and what is really striking is that people ask themselves what is most suitable, what is most ethical, what they feel most emotionally comfortable with, and they come up with totally different answers. For some, adoption is more acceptable than high tech assisted reproductive intervention. For others, a genetic connection is key, and for others, they can give up the genetics but not the biological connection (i.e., they use donor gametes). I have read enough about international adoption, and known enough people who have gone through it, for instance, to have deep moral qualms about using the developing world as a pool for adoptable babies. It seems to me that the issues with cloning are not cloning versus adoption anymore than it should be natural reproduction versus adoption (I mean why doesn’t everybody adopt if that’s the morally superior thing to do?). It’s whether cloning has negative societal consequences, including consequences to the newly created family (I don’t think prospective parents of cloned babies are looking the have seriously disabled children), which to you’re credit you are bringing up for discussion.


Jonathan Ichikawa 11.26.03 at 11:26 pm

I don’t understand what this argument has to do with the issue.

Here’s a loose version of the “adoption argument against cloning”: (1) It is bad for children not to have parents. (2) Every instance of adoption reduces the number of children without parents. (3) Every instance of cloning will replace an instant of adoption. Therefore, (4) Cloning will result in decreased adoption, and increased children without parents. Therefore, (5) Cloning is bad.

How does the quoted argument bear on this argument? “It’s bad when children have to be placed up for adoption.” Ok… yeah, that’s true… but what does it have to do with cloning? Surely we don’t think that since adoption usually comes from bad circumstances, it’s therefore wrong to adopt! (By that reasoning, it would be wrong of me to save children from burning buildings, because it’s bad for children to be stuck in burning buildings.)


Jonathan Ichikawa 11.26.03 at 11:27 pm

I have no idea why part of my comment appeared as a link.

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