When technology outpaces philosophy

Here’s one for the genealogists to puzzle over: A male, same-sex couple in Nebraska are the proud, brand-new parents of a baby girl conceived from the egg of one of the mens’ sister, the sperm of one of the men, and carried to term and delivered by one of the mens’ mother.

Grandma, 61, gave birth to own granddaughter
so her son and his husband could be dads

[ … ]

Married dads Matthew Eledge and Elliot Dougherty said the birth of their daughter was possible thanks to the women in their life, Eledge’s mother and Dougherty’s sister.

Eledge’s mother carried and delivered their baby. Dougherty’s sister donated eggs to conceive.

His mother said through all the testing, she kept expecting doctors to say she wasn’t fit to be a surrogate.

“But the doctors said there is absolutely no reason you can’t go full term,” she said. “‘Everything is in our favor,’ they said.”

Some thoughts, in no particular order.

  • My very first thought when I heard of this was, “Hoo-boy — the Baptists ain’t gonna like this.”

    What do you know? Albert Mohler, who thinks that marriage is animal husbandry and denies that marriage has anything to do with building satisfying lives together, doesn’t like it at all.

    One final thought on this issue, we have to remind ourselves that the Christian worldview says that every baby is to be welcomed as a gift to humanity. This little girl who is no doubt cute and beautiful is to be welcomed as that gift, and the moral status of the child is never in question given the circumstances of conception, gestation or birth. That is a dignity that is given to us by our creator. this little girl, who like every little baby who has ever been conceived is made in God’s image is to be welcomed and celebrated for herself as God’s gift.

    But the Christian worldview also tells us that the means whereby this gift has been given, they are not all equal, they are not all legitimate, and they are not all to be celebrated. If you see the media coverage and you see a picture of this little girl, you are unlikely to be tempted to smile and you should smile. The birth of any baby is a reason to smile. Christians understand why. But at the same time, Christians understand that we rightly smile at the child, but we cannot rightly smile at the circumstances, the technologies, the relationships and the structures that have brought that child into being. Not every sexual act, not every reproductive act is equally valid. Not every sexual relationship or romantic relationship is equally valid.

  • So far as I can tell, this is the culmination of mature technologies strung together in an unusual way. That is, harvesting, fertilizing, and re-implanting eggs has been going on for a long time, and so has surrogacy. With respect to technology, there’s nothing new here.

  • What does the birth certificate say? Is the same-sex couple listed as the parents from the get-go, or does the surrogate immediately surrender the child in a private-placement adoption? What are the mechanics of transferring the child to the same-sex couple and designating them as the parents?

    I assume that somebody was smart enough to have a lawyer superintending all this. I really don’t know the answer to any of those questions, though, so I’m just curious.

  • Some kill joy is bound to point out that there are tens of thousands of homeless children in the United States, and ask why one of those couldn’t be adopted? As the adoptive father of a child with an extremely rare cardiac dysfunction, and who has earned his bona fides with uncountable hours in hospital waiting rooms, I have to admit I have some sympathy for that point of view. But … no matter. They wanted a child who was in some sense “their own,” or at least a child with a rightful place on the family tree — even if genealogists will spend another decade or so figuring-out where that is — and they have that right. Congratulations, Dads!

  • No harm, no foul; I am not seeing a moral issue here. Who, after all, has been harmed? The odd circumstances of the child’s birth practically guarantee that she will be the target of juvenile teasing — especially from the children of Pious folk — and those poor dads are going to be swarmed by interested busybodies, mom and sis, who second-guess everything they do. But all of that is just the normal wear and tear of life and probably not worth worrying about.

Most important, I think, is that this is a good example of the way that technology has upended norms, with the result that we now live in a world that most of us are unprepared to even think about — and, worse, a great many of us have a theological perspective that is wildly inadequate for, and hostile to, the world in which we actually live.

And we are at just the beginning. Automation, in particular, has already begun to effect permanent structural changes in work, and those changes are going to continue for a long while, with corresponding implications for the organization of society itself.

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