Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 13, 2005
Ethicist links new reproductive technologies to rights of children
Society must not create genetic orphans, says Somerville
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Ethicist Margaret Somerville warns that legalizing same-sex marriage could result in cloning or other reproductive technologies to grant gay and lesbian couples the right to have children biologically related to both parents.
Appearing June 2 before the special legislative committee examining same-sex marriage Bill C-38, the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and the Law professor said she sees the same-sex marriage debate as a conflict of rights.
She said she is sympathetic to the gay community in its struggle against stigmatization and discrimination, but her primary concern is the effect of the bill on children.
Approving the bill would "throw away a child's right to a mother and father," she said.
"I believe children have a basic right to a mother and a father, preferably their own biological parents," she said. Unless it's in the best interests of the child to have another arrangement, that child has a right to be raised by those parents, as well.
She pointed to the growing evidence that children born as a result of donated sperm or ova, or "donor conceived adults" are "almost unanimously alleging that their needs, their well-being, their psychological development, even, has been ignored."
Somerville pointed out that the right to marry is a complex right that includes the right to form a family.
"So if it is wrongful discrimination to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, I would argue to you that it's wrongful discrimination to prevent them from having a child in the only ways that would be possible for them," she said.
"You are all aware of cloning, which is a sexual replication not sexual reproduction," Somerville said. "Other possibilities are that you will be able to make a baby probably in the future from two ovum, or two sperm."
She also noted that recent research shows it may be possible to make sperm and ova from adult stem cells. Already a baby born in the United States has three genetic parents, she said.
Somerville said society is ethically bound to a principle of non-malevolence, or of doing no harm when making such sweeping changes.
The burden of proof that same-sex marriage will not harm the rights of children rests with those making the change, not those who oppose it, she said.
She said society has an obligation not to create "genetic orphans."
"Children and their descendants who don't know their genetic origin cannot sense themselves as embedded in a web of people past, present and in the future through whom they can trace the thread of life's passage down the generations to them," she said.
"What we know of the effects of eliminating this experience, which we know through reproductive technologies and adoption, is that doing so is harmful to children, to biological parents, to parents and to society," she said.
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