Friday, January 30, 2009

On Reproduction

Let me preface this by stating that, despite having very strong feelings on the subject, I am against legislative limitation of reproductive rights in almost all cases, simply because I don't trust the government, or even the voting majority, to decide when and how people reproduce.

Among reproductive topics, this is the most talked about, the most controversial, and therefore the least interesting. My thoughts on abortion are pretty unoriginal. I support free choice for first trimester abortion, and am against any later abortions excepting cases of extreme danger to the mother or nonviable fetuses (yes, I realize this leaves a gray area).

Adoption is and will always be a tedious and potentially painful process for those involved. But it's also a process that provides an alternative to abortion, and a process that places unwanted, orphaned and rescued children into homes where they will be loved. Adoptive parents prove their desire to be parents by going through the expense and effort of the process. Their chances of being good parents must be at least as good, and let's face it, better, than those that become parents easily, or accidentally. Adoptive parents, after all, are thoroughly evaluated before being allowed the priviledge of parenthood. Occasionally...often, I wish biological parenthood could be preceeded by the same sort of scrutiny.

My problem with adoption policies today (to the extent that I understand adoption policy) is that some of the criteria for denying adoption seem silly and insufficiently relevant; particularly, sexuality and race. Homosexuality is not contagious (although it may be genetic) and there are plenty of gays and lesbians with everything it takes to be good parents. I am not completely immune to the argument that children should have parents of both sexes. But I am far from believing lack thereof is sufficient reason to leave a child in foster care.

And race... I won't pretend that we are all completely color-blind and that race is, therefore, irrelevant. But the more we pretend that race is irrelevant, the more that will be true. If a white couple wants to adopt a black baby, let them! There are more minority orphans than there are minority couples seeking adoption. I heard a story on the radio about a couple who applied for an open adoption of a baby about to be born to a woman who was unemployed, had drug problems, and already had a few children which had been taken from her and placed in foster care. The couple was granted the initial status of foster parents to the newborn and began the arduous process of completing their adoption application. At one point, they worried that a law, stating that infants of Native American descent must be preferentially placed with Native American families, might hamper their efforts. However, a lawyer assured them that because the baby was only 1/16 Native American (Amerindian?), that the law wouldn't apply. When the baby was 6 months old and the adoption was nearing completion, the birth mother began to have misgivings about giving the baby up. However, given her inability to care for her children, the adoption would have gone forward so the mother decided to appeal to the Indian tribe from which she was 1/8th descended. The tribe fought the adoption and it turned out that there was no minimum amount of blood to be declared a member of the tribe, that legally Indian Tribes may claim membership on any grounds they choose. The baby was removed from it's would-be adoptive parents who had raised it from birth and placed in foster care despite the fact that there were no prospective adoptive parents within the tribe. How does that make sense?

Infertility Treatment:
It's funny, I started this entry a couple of weeks ago, before the birth of octuplets to an unemployed mother of six. That story has been plastered quite liberally across the headlines and editorial columns and there's probably not much left to be said. Clearly, the octomom illustrates a problem with infertility treatment, particularly with IVF. In her case, a wreckless 6 embryos were placed, all of which resulted in viable pregnancy, and two of which divided into twins. At present, there don't seem to be strict regulations or laws about the number of embryos that can be placed but doctors seem to agree that six, particularly in a woman who has had numerous prior successful pregnancies, is absurd. I think it was wrong of the doctor to implant so many embryos, wrong of the mother to request/allow it, and wrong of the mother not to selectively abort in order to reduce the "litter" to a more viable number. The one upside to this whole octomom debacle is that it seems to be perceived by the public with a more appropriate level of disapproval than the septuplets of so many years ago seemed to be, as far as I can remember. The septuplets were adored and the family met with sympathy rather than scorn. Octomom is receiving some positive attention, sure, but mostly she is regarded as the questionably sane welfare leach that she is.

Although I object to IVF being used to birth litters of babies, mostly on the grounds that the chances of said litters being healthy and sustainable is slim, I am otherwise pro-IVF. People who go to great lengths to have their own biological children in lieu of adoption are often accused of narcisissism. However, since I imagine myself to be just such a narcissist, I am somewhat sympathetic. With limits. I don't think taxpayers should have to pay for infertility treatment. Having biological children despite natural infertility is a luxury. No, it's not fair. Life isn't fair. However, if you have the money (or amazing health insurance) to throw at the problem, I have no objections. I think the risk of obscene multiples should be minimized, and that selective abortion should be strongly considered and discussed beforehand. I don't think a woman unwilling to practice selective abortion should have more than three embryos transferred. I don't think the desire to have one's own biological offspring is an excuse to bring a pack of chronically ill premies into the world.

Certainly one could question the wisdom of subjecting oneself to the expense, stress, pitfalls and heartbreak of infertility treatment but I think that must always be the choice of couple in question. It's not a decision anyone else can make for them.

Maternal Age:
Allow me to recycle a post here. Although the following has a focus on political figures, the arguments apply to the broader population:

Sarah Palin is a pro-lifer. The fact that she recently gave birth to a son with Down's Syndrome, even knowing early in the pregnancy, thanks to an amnio test, that he would have Down's Syndrome, is cited as evidence of the strength of her convictions. In my opinion, her giving birth to a child with Down's Syndrome, her 5th child, at the age of 44, is a sign of her selfishness and irresponsibiity. At age 44, a woman's chances of having a child with Down's is 1 in 35, and the chance of having some other chromosomal abnormality is 1:24. I have some sympathy for women who, having arrived at an "advanced maternal age" without having had a chance to have children, choose to take the risk in order to have natural children. However, a woman who already has 4 healthy children should not continue to have children after 40. If she and her husband wanted to raise another baby, they could have adopted. Goodness knows there are many children who need it. I'm not arguing that she should have terminated the pregnancy, although I would certainly respect that choice. I am arguing that she and her husband should have avoided getting pregnant in the first place, given the probability of creating a child who is doomed to a shortened life span and reduced qualtity of life. Sarah Palin is not the only public figure to get my goat for this same reason. When I discovered just how young the youngest Edwards child (of Elizabeth and John) was and just how old Elizabeth was, I was pretty disgusted. The Edwardses had two adult children, Wade And Catharine. Sadly, Wade was killed in a car crash. So, the Edwardses, down to just one child, felt they needed to start over. Elizabeth had a baby at 48 and another at 50! The chances of having a child with Down's at that age is 1 in 12. Although I believe they dodged the bullet, so to speak, and seem to have had two healthy children, I really disapprove of the risk they took. Adoption would have been well within their means. It's not a cut and dry issue. Some women have good reasons for waiting to have children and start to push into the "advanced maternal age" zone. Additionally, adoption is expensive and often more complicated than having children naturally. But in both Palin and Edward's cases, the choice to have children so late in life was a luxury.