I am very happy to welcome Luara Ferracioli as the next featured philosop-her. She is an assistant professor in Political Theory at the University of Amsterdam. She works primarily on questions relating to the ethics of immigration and the ethics of parenting and procreation. Her work is forthcoming in the Journal of Value Inquiry, Review of International Studies and Ethical Theory & Moral Practice.
Her post follows.
On the Value of Intimacy in Procreation
What is wrong with anonymous surrogacy and gamete donation? Many feminists have argued that these practices are inherently exploitative or alienating. Yet, one can easily conceive of a world where donating a sperm or egg, and getting pregnant on behalf of someone else are considered highly valuable professional services, which are highly-paid and part of well regulated industries. In this ideal world, no one becomes a gamete donor or a surrogate out of economic necessity or desperation, but because there is a genuine fit between their conception of the good and the fact that procreation requires collective action. In my forthcoming paper “On the Value of Intimacy in Procreation,” I argue that what makes these practices morally wrong even under ideal conditions is the lack of intimacy between parties in the procreative chain.
Let me start by clearly stating the premises and conclusion of my argument:
P1. An agent contemplating procreation has a moral responsibility to only procreate when the social parent or parents (which may or may not include the agent herself) are willing and capable of discharging their parental responsibility sufficiently well.
P2. Assessment of the relevant capacity requires intimacy.
P3. There is no intimacy between parties in anonymous gamete donation and surrogacy.
C. Anonymous gamete donation and surrogacy are prima facie morally wrong.
While P1 seems to be uncontroversial, let me note that it actually departs from much liberal and conservative writings on the ethics of procreation. Conservatives have argued that the transferal of parental rights are necessarily problematic, either because we lack control over the actions of others or because children have a deep psychological need to associate with their biological relatives. Liberals, on the other hand, have argued that willingness alone is sufficient for the transferal of parental rights either because we can presume good enough parenting from those who are eager to parent, or because gamete donation and surrogacy are necessary to create a world where not only fertile heterosexual couples are capable of engaging in so-called “procreative parenting.” I lack the space to engage with all of these views here but let me say a few worlds in response to the liberal position.
First, if we think that children have a basic right to be parented by good enough parents, then morality requires that capacity and willingness obtain for each prospective social parent, and not for prospective parents in general. Second, everyone, not only homosexuals and infertile individuals are in danger of not finding a suitable partner with whom to procreate with. While it is certainly regrettable that some competent prospective procreators never become parents, morality has more pressing issues to address such as the fact that many children continue to have their basic rights violated because many adults continue to go ahead with procreation even though they are not fit for parenting.
So much for a defense of P1. Let me now defend both P2 and P3. The first question to ask here is this: why does intimacy matter? I take it that intimacy matters because the qualities that make for good enough parenting go beyond financial capacity and the lack of a criminal conviction. So when we ask what makes for a good enough parent, we can say that a good enough parent does not treat children with cruelty or disregard, for instance. We can also say that she or he understands that children need assistance in pursuing the good and is willing to assist them in engaging with meaningful projects and relationships throughout their childhood. And finally, we can claim that good enough parents are disposed to protect children’s basic interests by taking seriously advice from experts on their biological and developmental needs. Because these are the sorts of dispositions that present themselves in the course of intimate relationships with one’s partners, friends and family members, anonymous donors and surrogates are unable to transfer their parental responsibilities under adequate epistemic conditions. They are unable to ensure that those who will raise the resulting child are not only willing but also capable of parenting sufficiently well.
But there is a worry here. Can’t fertility clinics assess the parental skills of social parents via a well-trained psychologist? If anything, psychologists are likely to know more about our mental lives than those we are in intimate relationships with. To see whether or not psychologists in a fertility clinic could assess the parental competency of prospective social parents, let us start by asking what makes it the case that psychologists are more likely to know hidden aspects of our mental lives than other people we interact frequently with. It seems that the privileged epistemic position on the part of the psychologist is a direct result of her training and the sort of environment she can offer her client, where there is a clear focus on discussing the most uncomfortable and reveling aspects of the client’s inner life.
But note that when we imagine a psychologist who has a great degree of knowledge about her client’s dispositions and character traits, we are implicitly presupposing a therapy session that meets some standards of adequacy. We are, for instance, imaging that the client enjoys complete trust in the therapist, feeling safe to share the most unflattering aspects of her personality, embarrassing thoughts and morally problematic dispositions. This is why one would be tempted to assume that psychologists would be better placed than anyone else to assess the parental competency of prospective social parents and that my argument fails to show that intimacy is necessary for the assessment of a person’s capacity to parent sufficiently well.
But my argument would only fail if it were true that fertility clinics could in fact offer clients that kind of safe environment, where prospective parents would feel comfortable to reveal the most intimate aspects of their inner lives. And the worry is that precisely because the fertility clinic would be in the business of assessing the client’s parental competency, the trust required for such privileged epistemic access on the part of the psychologist would not obtain. The client, concerned as she would be with how she is being judged, would have very little incentive to open herself to the psychologist as she would if she was in the pursuit of self-knowledge. Because a successful therapy session requires that the therapist foster the belief that the clinician will always act in the client’s best interest, fertility clinics would not actually be in the position to adequately assess the parental competency of their clients. We are therefore back to the privileged aspect of intimate relationships in the assessment of parental competency.
Let me conclude this discussion by saying that my argument only applies to anonymous gamete donation and surrogacy. Those who donate their gamete or serve as surrogates to close friends and relatives do not do anything wrong if they are reasonably confident that their friends and relatives would be good enough parents. Those who assist strangers in their parenting enterprise, on the other hand, fail to transfer their parental rights under adequate epistemic conditions, and in so doing, violate a stringent moral responsibility to only procreate when reasonably confident that good enough parenting will follow.