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Decline of Mom-and-Pop Families

Kids Left Behind as Parenthood Is Redefined

NEW YORK, OCT. 1, 2006 (Zenit) - Family structures and parenthood roles are being redefined without sufficient consideration for the needs of children. This is the warning of a report just published that describes worldwide trends in family law and reproductive technology.

"The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children's Needs" is published by the Commission on Parenthood's Future. The commission "is an independent, nonpartisan group of scholars and leaders," active in the area of the family, according to a press release on the Web site of the Institute for American Values. The New York-based institute is one of the organizations behind the commission.

The author of the report is Elizabeth Marquardt, a member of the commission and author of the book, "Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."

The report finds that worldwide trends in law and reproductive technologies are redefining parenthood in ways that put the interests of adults before the needs of children. "The two-person mother-father model of parenthood," it states, "is being changed to meet adults' rights to children rather than children's needs to know and be raised, whenever possible, by their mother and father."

The revolution in parenthood described in the publication comprises a variety of issues: high divorce rates; single-parent childbearing; the growing use of egg and sperm donors; support for same-sex marriage; and proposals to allow children conceived with the use of sperm and egg donors to have three legal parents.

A legal revolution

The report gives a number of examples of far-reaching legal changes in families, often introduced with a minimum of debate.

-- In Canada the law allowing same-sex marriage also included a provision that eliminated the term "natural parent" in federal law, replacing it with "legal parent." With that law, the locus of power in defining who a child's parents are shifts precipitously from civil society to the state, with the consequences as yet unknown.

-- In Spain, shortly after the legalization of same-sex marriage, the government changed the format of birth certificates for all children. In the future they will read "Progenitor A" and "Progenitor B," instead of "mother" and "father."

-- In India guidelines on assisted reproductive technology issued in June 2005 state that a child born through the use of donated sperm or eggs will not have any right to know the identity of the genetic parents.

Pressure for other, more radical, changes is also under way.

-- In New Zealand and Australia, law commissions have proposed allowing children conceived with use of sperm or egg donors to have three legal parents. The proposals fail to address what would happen if the three parents break up and feud over the child.

-- There is increasing support from influential legal commissions and legal scholars in Canada and the United States for the legalization of group marriage arrangements such as polygamy and polyamory, which involves intimate relationships of three or more people.

-- In Ireland a commission on human reproduction proposed that couples who commission a child through a surrogate mother should automatically be the legal parents of the child, leaving the woman who delivers the baby with no legal standing or protection should she change her mind.

France is one of the few countries resisting the rush to change family law. A parliamentary report on the family and the rights of children, issued last January, stated that "the desire for a child seems to have become a right to a child."

The French report also recommended not legalizing same-sex marriage. Among the reasons it gave was concern about the identity and development of children when the law creates a situation in which there are "two fathers, or two mothers -- which is biologically neither real nor plausible." The parliamentary report insisted on the need for a medical justification for assisted procreation, and that the ban on surrogacy should stand.

Adults first

In "Revolution in Parenthood" author Marquardt explains that the changes in parenthood and family structures are leading to clash between children's and parent's interests. "This redefinition," she warns, "increasingly emphasizes adults' rights to children rather than children's needs to know and be raised, whenever possible, by their mother and father."

"A good society protects the interests of its most vulnerable citizens, especially children," Marquardt's report contends. But the core institution of parenthood is being fundamentally redefined, often in a way that orients it primarily around adults' rights.

A common thread in many of the changes is an alleged "right to a child." The desire for a child is indeed "a powerful force felt deep in the soul," admits Marquardt, and the inability to bear a child of one's own is often felt as an enormous loss. "But," she adds, "the rights and needs of adults who wish to bear children are not the only part of the story."

Adoption has long been available for parents unable to bear children. But the use of assisted reproduction methods has transformed the situation, leading to the deliberate separation of children from their biological mothers and fathers. Biology is obviously not everything, the report notes, but at the same time it does matter.

Family structures are also crucial for children. Studies on the lives of children of divorce show enormous negative consequences for them, not sufficiently considered when no-fault divorce was introduced.

The first generation of donor-conceived children are now reaching adulthood. They were mainly conceived by married heterosexual couples using donor sperm. Marquardt cites a number of cases where the children are now speaking out about the powerful impact on their identity when adults purposefully conceive a child with the clear intention of separating that child from a biological parent. The young people often say they were denied the birthright of being raised by or at least knowing about their biological fathers.

In fact, many of these teen-agers and adults are now forming organizations and are using the Internet to try to contact their sperm donors and find half siblings conceived with the same sperm.


One issue raised by the offspring of donor children is that the informed consent of the most vulnerable party, the child, is not obtained in reproductive technology procedures that intentionally separate children from one or both of their biological parents.

"Revolution in Parenthood" observes that in recent decades a powerful consensus among social scientists has emerged about the benefits of marriage for children. The current redefinition of parenthood, the report says, is reshaping culture and legal systems "in ways that contribute to further deep uncertainties in the meanings of fatherhood and motherhood."

For example, in the United States at least 10 states allow someone with no biological or adoptive relationship to a child, and no marital relationship to a child's parent, to be assigned parental rights and responsibilities as a psychological or de facto parent.

"In law and culture, the two-natural-parent, mother-father model is falling away, replaced with the idea that children are fine with any one or more adults being called their parents, so long as the appointed parents are nice people," the report comments.

These changes will have far-reaching consequences for the family, children and society. "Those of us who are concerned," concludes the report, "can and should take up and lead a debate about the lives of children and the future of parenthood."


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