Reproduction and Parenting

Theorists of the right to reproduce have argued that the claim that people must be allowed to reproduce, or to have assistance in their reproductive projects, has a biological component:42 people have a right to reproduce biologically. For those who hold this view, the possibility of becoming a genetic parent strengthens the claim to be allowed access to fertility treatments. This is further encouraged by an intuition that fertility treatments should only be offered to those who should, in the natural course of events, reproduce, but for some reason cannot. Same-sex couples, for example, cannot reproduce together. Postmenopausal women can no longer reproduce. Heterosexual couples ‘of reproductive age’ should, in principle, be able to reproduce together; they are (presumably) doing, together, what it takes to reproduce but reproduction does not take place. They, therefore, should receive support in their endeavours, even if they will not both thereby become genetic parents.

In other words, even if there are or there could be the means for someone to reproduce, the fact that the person, in her current circumstances (same-sex relationship, single, or postmenopausal), cannot reproduce, is a reason to withhold these means from her. This rationale would amount to a naturalistic fallacy, inferring from a person’s inability to reproduce in a certain setting that she should not reproduce. This would be unfair because the fact that she cannot reproduce due to her choice of partner, relationship status, or age is used against her when she asks for help in her reproductive endeavour. Members of heterosexual couples of reproductive age might also be capable of reproducing with other partners, and yet this is not held against them when they want to access fertility treatments.

Should there be a way for same-sex couples, postmenopausal women, or single men and women to reproduce in their current situation, this might help strengthen their case to be allowed access to technologies that make it possible.

If there is a positive right to reproduce - that is, a right not only to not be prevented but also to be supported in our reproductive endeavours - then perhaps this also means that we should work towards actualizing that possibility. This would necessitate the allocation of resources towards those research endeavours aimed at helping such people to reproduce. This is, after all, the rationale behind fertility treatments having been developed in the first place.

However, questions such as whether there is a right to reproduce, who has it and why, what it demands, of whom, and who bears which correlative duties, do not have clear-cut or uncontroversial answers, and their clarification is an ongoing endeavour.43 In its most basic, negative form, of not being prevented from reproducing (for example, through sterilization or enforced abortion), the right to reproduce naturally garners wide agreement and support. It becomes more controversial the more we move towards a positive interpretation of the right, the facilitation of reproduction. Access to fertility treatments is also about allowing people to reproduce, and allowing others to assist them in that process. However, a positive right to reproduce which entails the expenditure of public funds towards fertility treatment is a much more demanding claim. If one’s reproductive plans are to be supported in such a way, there must be good criteria for selecting who is entitled to it, and there must be good reasons behind these criteria. Whether or not funding of fertility treatment is provided, selection criteria for access to fertility treatments also require a clear rationale.

An important motive for upholding the right to reproduce is enabling people to have children to rear. Without the intention and the capacity to rear children, some have argued,44 there is no right to reproduce. Both reproduction and parenting can be strongly valued by many. We have seen above that whether there is a genetic link between parents and children does not determine family outcomes. However, this need not invalidate people’s case for assistance to reproduce. There are many reasons why one could legitimately prefer to become a parent by having reproduced, if at all possible. For example, some difficulties associated with the child having other genetic parents would be avoided; there is no need to have difficult conversations with the child about these other parties, no need to cope with her wishing to identify, contact, and have a relationship with these other parties, and so on. Being one’s own child’s genetic parent is easier from these perspectives. Furthermore, it may be that other ways of becoming a parent are more difficult or inaccessible. One may live in a society in which there are no (or not enough) children available for adoption. One may be ineligible for adoption (regulations on adoption do not always share the same criteria as those on fertility treatment). One may object to gamete donation on ethical grounds, because it amounts to instrumentalization of other people, or because of the burden that gamete donation imposes on the female donors. One might desire to experience pregnancy and birth, which are strongly valued experiences in many cultures. All of these support the case for allowing people to try to become parents via reproduction, regardless of whether it is possible to successfully argue for their right to reproduce biologically.

The fact that women who cannot experience pregnancy are permitted to access technologies aimed at allowing them to acquire that capacity may motivate some men to also claim access. On what grounds could this be denied to them if it is allowed to women? Like women born without a uterus, men are typically born without uteri. Once uterus transplants are a treatment option, people of whatever gender who lack uteri have an equal claim to it, in principle, though there may be medical reasons that justify barring men from it. Lacking such medical reasons, then perhaps once the treatment is available, people regardless of gender ought to be allowed access to it.

Because one’s genetic parents and one’s social or legal parents are not necessarily the same, solo reproduction or three-parent reproduction need not determine how many people might eventually parent a child. The solo parent might find someone with whom to share parenting; three parents can devise decision-making strategies to help them exercise their parenting. How the children were conceived need not have a significant impact on their lives; indeed, many who are conceived naturally are not aware of, nor are they seeking information about, details of their conception.

 
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