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Poly Parenting and the Value of the Family

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.

These reconfigurations have been animated in large part by the interest in allowing “people to conceive babies they desperately want, and to build families with those they love.” Spar never interrogates whether we should endorse the vision of a society of threesomes or foursomes, “reproducing with whomever they choose and loving as they desire.” Instead, her essay is suffused with a technological determinism that renders ethical objections superfluous. The “history of assisted reproduction is powerful and clear,” she writes: “once we create new technologies for conception, we embrace them.” While we might have qualms or anxieties when new technologies are introduced, we will eventually acclimatize to the foursome next door—as we once did to the single parent next door. Our “howls of bioethical criticism” disappear into the void, while technology “urges” its own use in service of our desires.

Read more at The Public Discourse

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