Genetic Lies

 Posted by on 30 August 2005 at 7:35 am  Uncategorized
Aug 302005

Virginia Postrel recent posted an interesting bit on parents concealing their use of donated eggs from their resulting children, including its ramifications for political debates about paying egg donors.

Somewhat to my surprise, I’m fairly sympathetic to such concealment, so long as it doesn’t involve any active deception. In general, I regard the modern concern for “biological parents” as bordering on deterministic obsession. Sure, it’s nice to know the source of your physical characteristics. (Personally, I’m blessed with my mother’s crooked fingers and my father’s bad feet. Paul often informs me that if he had known about these substantial defects earlier, he never would have married me!) And it’s sometimes helpful to know your family’s medical history. Yet those considerations hardly explain all the fuss over genetic parents.

In particular, I’m baffled by adopted children who desperately pursue their genetic parents. They often do so against the explicit wishes of those genetic parents. Or they claim to love and respect the real parents who chose to raise them, yet end up calling their genetic parents “Mom” and “Dad.” Such people often don’t seem to regard the real parents who raised them as their real parents. I even remember one person — someone I barely knew — blurting out that she was adopted when she mentioned her parents in the course of casual conversation. It was unnerving.

Perhaps such people aren’t as happy with the adopted parents as they claim to be, even if not abused or neglected. They wonder whether their life would have been better with their genetic parents. Perhaps they regard themselves as fundamentally deficient due to rejection by the very people who were supposed to love and care for them. They might have been told about the adoption when too young to understand its actual meaning. Perhaps the focus on biological parents is merely a manifestation of general psychological problems like insecurity and self-doubt. Those psychological problems would surely emerge in other ways if the child wasn’t aware of the egg/sperm donation or adoption.

In any case, I don’t wish to trivialize the damage that a parent can do by lying to a child about his genetic parents. If a child notices that he looks different from his family, his parents ought to be willing to tell him why. To conceal it is to undermine a child’s trust in his parents and confidence in his own judgment. However, today’s near-obsession with genetic ancestry is probably less than healthy for all concerned.

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