Like the old cliche about fire goes, infertility treatments, too, can constitute one of mankind’s greatest blessings – or one of its most pernicious curses. Technological advances have permitted loving couples who would otherwise have remained childless to bring well-loved and well-cared-for babies into the world. At the same time, it’s created a “brave new world” where the real purpose for having a child is too often forgotten.
Two recent stories in The New York Times illustrate the potential misuse of fertility technologies. In Rhode Island, as part of legislation requiring health insurers to cover infertility treatments, a Democratic state representative attempted to impose the mandate even when the beneficiaries of such treatments were unmarried. In Pennsylvania, a state Superior Court ruled that a child could have three legal parents – two lesbians and the male friend who had served as their sperm donor.
What with the flurry of last minute legislation before Congressional recess, the war and other dramatic news, these developments have passed largely unremarked upon. They are nonetheless momentous because they define the nature of the society for which, presumably, our soldiers are fighting. After Rhode Island’s governor vetoed the requirement that infertility treatment for out-of-wedlock births be provided by health insurance, the legislation’s proponent argued, “I think we get into a very potentially dangerous situation when we decide who should have children and who shouldn’t.”
Setting aside the fact that no law was being passed to “decide” who could obtain infertility treatment – the issue was, rather, whether insurers should be forced by the government to cover out-of-wedlock births – the argument raises a fair question. Isn't a culture, in fact, entitled to prefer some childrearing arrangements over others? After all, to the extent that a society has an interest in securing the rights and assuring the well-being of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens, it has a right – an obligation, even – to promote the arrangements most likely to do so. Contrary to the decision reached by the Pennsylvania court, an arrangement that involves a parade of parental figures – which requires children to adapt to shifting and even conflicting lifestyles – is hardly conducive to a child’s wellbeing.
And that’s properly where the debate should be centered – on the child’s well-being. In the end, it isn’t about whose “parenting needs” are or aren’t being met. It isn’t about who planned to pay child support and who didn’t. It isn’t even about who wants to have a child – as normal and wonderful as that desire can be.
As King Solomon realized, the truest essence of parenthood is the willingness to put one’s own needs, wishes and prerogatives aside in service to the happiness and welfare of a child. The downside to the “brave new world” approach to procreation is the easy discounting of this truth both by those blinded by their own desires and those eager to erode the traditional family structure that has served children, the United States, and Western culture itself remarkably well.
These days, expectant mothers are deluged with advice about child safety, breast-feeding, nutrition and a whole panoply of information designed to give their babies “the best start” possible. Wouldn’t it be even better if there were a formal social consensus that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, “the best start” for any child is in a home with loving parents whose union is cemented by the bond of marriage?