Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Should She Adopt?


In Kwame Anthony Appiah’s most recent New York Times Ethicist column, the issue is not the issue. Or the issue.

A woman who has having trouble conceiving wonders whether she and her husband should adopt.  She has not finished trying to conceive and she still wants to conceive, but asks whether she and her husband have a duty to adopt a child. Would she not thereby be doing a good deed and making the world a better place?

As I said, such is not the issue, but I will share the letter anyway:

My husband and I are struggling to conceive. We’ve been seeing a fertility specialist and going through cycles of treatment. We started with oral medications, to which unfortunately I stopped responding. We have since moved on to injectable medications. If this doesn’t work, we’ll at some point have to start thinking about IVF.

Though I desperately want to have a baby of our own, I’m struggling with whether it is ethical to go through the rather incredible lengths to get pregnant that IVF requires when there are children who urgently need homes. I know that the cost of adoption, and the difficulty of actually successfully adopting a baby, make it likely as emotionally grueling (and more expensive than) as an IVF cycle. Still, the effort would go to providing a home for a baby who needs one.

More pressing is the number of children in the foster-care system. We’ve talked about fostering children in the future, but in our minds that would occur after we’d had some experience parenting. I do not feel that right now we could take on the enormous responsibility of foster care. I do feel we are ready for a baby of our own; children in foster care generally need a great deal more than a new baby does.

The bottom line is this: Though I want to have a biological child, and my husband definitely does want to go to IVF if it comes to that, I am struggling to wrap my head around going through so much intervention when we could instead take in a child who needs a home.

Am I off base here, or do we have a duty to give homes to children who need them when we can’t easily have children of our own? 

The real issue is the moral principle at work here. Appiah states it clearly and it deserves emphasis:

Taking on a child who already exists and needs a home is an enormously worthy thing to do, if you’re confident that you can bond with him or her and create a loving environment. But you don’t have a duty to adopt one. There are many things we each could do — such as being a parent to one of the hundred thousand or so foster children in this country who need a new family — that would improve the world. But morality doesn’t demand that we do all the good we can. 

Think about it: morality does not require us to do every good deed that we possibly can do. We are not obliged to save the world, to save the planet or to adopt as many foster children as we can. Appiah is offering an important moral principle… one that ought not to be glanced over.

As for the letter writer’s reasoning, it is askew. Unless she believes that adopting a child would allow her to conceive. By that reasoning she is saying that she cannot conceive easily because she is not a sufficiently good person. Thus, adopting or fostering would show her to be unselfish and that God might reward her with her own child.

3 comments:

Derek Ramsey said...

"morality does not require us to do every good deed that we possibly can do"

This is true, but some hold themselves to higher standards. To wit:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27 [NIV]

I'll note that this moral command isn't a requirement per se, but it does strike me as a duty in order to show genuine—instead of empty—religion.

"But you don’t have a duty to adopt one."

No one is required (to adopt or foster) in the strictest absolute sense, but those who have much have a duty to those that don't, in at minimum in a partial, corporate sense. Going back to the Torah:

"At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that...the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. Deuteronomy 14:29 [NIV]"

We are not morally bound to do every good deed, but at the same time I think we are morally bound to do our own part, our own fair share, our tithe.

Anonymous said...

"Think about it: morality does not require us to do every good deed that we possibly can do. We are not obliged to save the world, to save the planet or to adopt as many foster children as we can. Appiah is offering an important moral principle… one that ought not to be glanced over."

Well said.

Paul McLellan said...

Ignoring the religious aspect, that last sentence might be true. When I was younger and we and our friends were having babies, I knew two couples who had huge difficulty conceiving (years). Then finally they had babies. Within a year they were both pregnant again, having not bothered with contraception, and assuming it would take years again. It's quite possible that removing all the stress (by having their first children) was key...or it could be coincidence, true.