Today’s Irish Times has a revealing feature on the difficulties faced by adopted children try to find their birth parents.
The piece speaks of the “huge emotional turmoil” experienced by both the adoptee and their birth parents.
Underlying the piece is the assumption that adopted children ought to have the right to access information about their adoptive parents, even if there seems to be question marks about whether they have the right to meet the parents themselves.
Certainly, there is a clear understanding of why adopted children would want to trace their genetic heritage.
But in the debate about gay adoption, and donor conception generally, we are constantly told that the sex and identity of a child’s genetic parents is not important. Instead, what is important is that the “social parents” of the child love that child.
No-one denies that what a child needs most is love.
But there is something rather odd about a situation where we can accept the need of a child who is adopted to know more about their birth parents, and where we implicitly understand why that could be important, but deny that this could be an issue for children who are conceived through either surrogacy or donor conception.
Certainly, the experience of Dr Joanna Rose, born as the result of donor-conception, and who has battled tirelessly for the right to access information about her natural father, tells us that such children are every bit as keen to know as much as they can find about their genetic heritage.
It’s also worth pointing out that with adoption, it is usually the case that the separation between birth parent(s) and child is usually due to circumstances; people rarely plan to have a child to give it up for adoption. The separation of a child from its natural mother in such a situation is an unsought for side effect.
In contrast, when it comes to the use of donor conception, the design is to separate the child from at least one of its natural parents.
Yet typically, the media cover adopted children looking for their natural parents sympathetically, while effectively dismissing the situation of children conceived through donor conception.
Likely as not, this is because the story of the latter conflicts with the ethos of maximising adult autonomy and self fulfilment. We talk of creating a “child-centred society”, but we’re a long way off actually doing anything about it.