Souls made to order

Pattaramon Chanbua, a Thai surrogate mother, was in the news when the couple who hired her to carry what turned out to be twin children refused to take one of the children, who has Down syndrome, or remit the payment they had agreed upon.

Ms. Chanbua’s doctor recommended that she have the disabled twin aborted, but she declined on moral grounds. When the intended parents arrived to claim their made-to-order offspring, they took the healthy twin daughter but left without the defective merchandise.

Now, Ms. Chanbua and her husband plan to raise the son, named Gammy, as their own along with their other children. An Australian charity was able to raise money for Gammy’s needed heart surgery, and it looks as if his story may turn out all right.

But what a terrible story!

Assisted fertility may give rise to a moral misapprehension: the idea that a child you create ‘on purpose’ is under your control or somehow derives its personhood and worth from you through the intentionality of its creation.

Adherents of the theory of traducianism believed that a child inherited its soul from its parents, although most Christian theologians prefer the view that the soul is created directly by God. Modern people may not believe in souls, but many seem to think that a child derives its worth from the will of the parents.

Natural children are often unwilled and quite accidental in their conception, so parents may view them as an unexpected gift, a mistake, or even an upsetting intrusion. For this very reason it is less of a surprise when these children don’t “turn out” like the parents expect, since the parents never intended to create them in the first place.

But if the child one has spent a small fortune to bring into existence has a disability which prevents it from living a “normal life,” or if it fails to measure up to one’s expectations in any other way–is a screamy toddler, refuses to take music lessons, flunks ninth grade, or gets pregnant–what a blow to the parents’ hopes and intentions!

Why not adoption?

People often ask: why don’t parents who can’t naturally conceive simply adopt a child, since there are so many children in need of parents? Adoption is certainly an expensive hassle in our legal system, but fertility treatments and surrogacy are expensive too.

One fact about adoption is that it is clear from the outset that the adopted child does not “belong” to to the adoptive parents. It is already its own individual person, with different genetics and appearance, and may even have memories and trauma from prior life. This fact may upset parents whose hearts are set on a child being in some way “their own,” even if they cannot conceive it naturally.

In reality, neither an adopted child, nor a natural child, nor one conceived through modern fertility medicine is anything less than an authentic human being with a fully distinct personhood. Children are not ever entirely blank slates for parents to write upon. They cannot ultimately be controlled or shaped to the will of their parents. They are able to delight and to disappoint, to provoke both wonder and frustration, because they are full and free human beings.

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THOMAS HOLGRAVE is a conservative but not necessarily a hipster. He is the publisher of The Hipster Conservative. He has never read a comic book he liked. He is an occasional theologian who has been known to become quite exercised over questions of Puritan doctrine and practice. Not much else is known about him.

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