Tuesday, June 24, 2008

John Howard's challenge

John Howard over at Egg and Sperm has challenged me and several others to respond to his ideas about defining marriage around procreation rights. Before I respond directly to him, let me link interested readers to an article I did on a related subject for Touchstone magazine, back in January 2006. In that article, I argued that
1. NO ONE has a right to a child
2. conception rights reside in the couple, not the individual, and
3. the right to procreate is a natural right for every married couple that flows organically from their marriage.
Allow me to quote myself. On point #1:
Let me be blunt: There is no right to a child, because a child is not an object to which other people have rights. If that were true, then parents would be owners of their children, rather than their stewards or guardians. The well being of the child could be, and would be, sacrificed to the “rights” of the parents. If we are born as objects to which other people have rights, when do we become persons with rights of our own, and why does the woman’s “right” to have a child trump the child’s right to have a father?

On Point #2:
Every individual is sterile. No one can have a baby by himself. Each human infant has two parents, one male and one female. Therefore, any right to have a child should be held by a couple, not by an individual who wishes to be a parent.

On Point #3:
This right of procreation a married couple holds is, quite literally, a natural right. No one has to help the couple produce the child: They can do that all by themselves. In fact, one of the great problems every society has to solve is discouraging reproduction in certain circumstances, precisely because producing babies is all too easy and natural to do.

Every known society has developed some social institution for defining the appropriate types of reproductive couplings. Whatever the specific rules, formal and informal, all societies limit the appropriate context for both sexual activity and childbearing. As long as a couple meets a society’s criteria, as the natural parents of the child they obtain the rights to exercise the full complement of parental rights it grants.

This universal social institution is, of course, marriage. Nobody grants a married couple the right to make babies; it is inherent in their marriage.

It does not follow that the natural right of a married couple to have babies extends to random couplings of individuals. Nor does the entitlement of married couples to procreate naturally generate a right for anyone to be artificially inseminated. No one, married or otherwise, is entitled to the assistance of others in becoming a parent.

The virtue of recognizing the natural right of a married couple to procreate is that this arrangement best protects the rights of the most vulnerable, namely, the child. What is owed to the child? The child’s most basic entitlement is the right to be born into a home with both a mother and a father who love him and each other. This gives the child at least the possibility of a relationship with both parents.

I believe I have addressed every significant point raised by Howard's post, which he claimed I would never do, since he counts me among the "fraudulent marriage defenders." Let me address the tone issue:
John, I know perfectly well that not everyone agrees with me on every issue. In fact, many, many people disagree with me on virtually every belief and opinion I hold dear. My goal is to make myself and my views as palatable as possible to people whom I know are inclined to disagree with me. I agree that the bioethics issues are serious and deep. They happen not to be my main focus, at this particular time. I am trying to make the best, broadest case I can for marriage as a fundamental gender-based social institution. If we lose on marriage, we will certainly lose on the assisted reproductive technology issue. The opposite is not necessarily the case: that is, if we lose ground on ART, we may still be able to make progress on man-woman marriage.

As a matter of tactics, I don't think starting with reproduction is going to be particularly effective as a launching point for persuasion. The rights of the children to a relationship with both parents is much more appealing. People can understand and relate to it. That formulation of the problem, I believe, carries all the water you need it to carry, both on ART and on marriage.

My policy on the marriage issue is simply this: people can agree with me and vote with me, for any reason they want. I am about building as broad a coalition as possible, not making it impossible for anyone to agree with me on anything unless they agree on everything.
Now you behaver yourself. If you do, I'll post your comments. But no more attacks on people's motives, please.

1 comment:

John Howard said...

Thanks Dr J. I'll respond in both places:

But surely you can see that you have not "addressed every significant point raised by Howard's post" because you completely ignored the main objection: "The thing they all have in common that makes them utterly fraudulent and dangerous is that they all believe that same-sex conception should be legal."

Are we to infer from your non-denial that indeed, you believe same-sex conception should be legal?

Another non-addressed point was, how you can not see that it harms marriage to say that a couple should be allowed to conceive together but not allowed to marry. That message is what leads to teenagers in Gloucester thinking that you don't need to be married to have babies.

Why not just say that Congress should make a law prohibiting cloning and genetic engineering? Your explanation about tactics just doesn't make much sense: It's one thing to disagree about what arguments to stress right now, but you do more than that, you disagree about the end goal, apparently. You are unwilling to say that same-sex conception should be illegal, ever.

You say: "If we lose on marriage, we will certainly lose on the assisted reproductive technology issue. The opposite is not necessarily the case: that is, if we lose ground on ART, we may still be able to make progress on man-woman marriage."

We are losing on marriage in some places and winning in others, so I'm not sure when that game will ever be over. And I sense lots of confidence on the LGBT side of the debate that they will push SSM through everywhere eventually, no matter what. I think we need a better argument, and I have tested my argument on the street with real people: they think SSP is "crazy", "too far", "too much".

Meanwhile, as the marriage debate drags on, what if same-sex conception produces a smiling baby? As you note, "the rights of the children to a relationship with both parents is much more appealing. People can understand and relate to it." Are you just gambling that same-sex conception won't work? You must be more of an expert than you let on, because other experts are pretty certain that it will work, and we'll see babies from same-sex parents in just a few years. Why let them waste so much money on the research and why let them try it on humans, why not just say they should not be allowed to even try it?

You don't have to change your whole approach or your tone, but I don't get why you can't also agree with me in saying that same-sex conception is unethical and should not be allowed. I mean, it is true, right?