Poly Parenting and the Value of the Family

Nov 3, 2020 by

by Matthew Lee Anderson, Public Discourse:

The emerging discussion about in vitro gametogenesis and other types of multi-parent technologies demands renewed attention to why children do well with only two parents, and why those parents do best to procreate in the ordinary way, even with all its inefficiencies, burdens, and failures.

Our society’s ongoing mainstreaming of “poly” relationships continues apace, if the New York Times is any indication. Two weeks after exploring the difficulties of polyamorous parenting, Debora Spar has penned an op-ed touting new developments in reproductive technologies that promise to dissolve the family as we knew it.

At the center of the revolution is in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), a process in which gametes are created by clinicians from an individual’s stem cells. Though the technology has only so far been employed on mice, if used successfully for humans it might enable a woman to create both a sperm and an egg from her own genetic material, making her the only parent of the child. Or she might use genetic material from two other friends as well, giving the child three parents. “The implications are enormous,” Spar rightly observes. Although Spar is right that this technology could alter how we think about marriage and family, her narrow focus obscures the darker potential of IVG.

Spar’s essay underscores the primacy of technological developments for how we imagine “the family.” If abortion introduced the logic of “choice” into the center of how we imagine children’s relationship to parents, in vitro fertilization extended it, allowing parents to choose children with particular attributes or of a particular sex. As Spar observes, the separation of reproduction from sex helped generate sympathy for the logic of gay marriage among many people.

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