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What is Special about Genetic Paternity?

with 2 comments

This post is a follow-up to Child Support for Unwanted Children is Wrong.

I am trying to find arguments why it might be morally just to force a genetic father to pay child support, even if he did not wish to conceive a child.

The closest thing to an argument I have come across in support of this proposition is this: What matters is not the rights of the parents, but the best interests of the child. The focus should be on what is best for the child, who after all did not choose to be conceived or born; and it is in the child’s interest to have a legal father responsible for her well-being, at least financially.

This argument has some validity; perhaps the focus should be on what is best for the child, and the rights of adults should come second. But we still have no account of why genetic paternity matters.

If we performed a “best interests of the child” analysis when assigning a child a legal father, we would have to look at many things besides genetic paternity. Perhaps the wealthiest candidate should be chosen, or perhaps the one best equipped to be a father. This would very often be someone other than the genetic father of the child.

If consent to sex is all that is required to forcibly assign paternity, why not inquire into which of the mother’s former sex partners would be the best father for the child, and assign him the burden? This would be better for the child than always assigning this burden to the genetic father. Better yet, we could force all former sex partners of the mother to share in the financial support of the child, which would certainly be better for the child than having just one (potentially deadbeat) father. But why stop there? Unless we have an account of why consent to sex equals consent to birth, we should really expand the circle of potential fathers to include everyone. (And why limit it to males?) Why should genetic fathers pay child support, and not the public in general or a “father” chosen by the best-interests-of-the-child lottery – regardless of whether he had sex with mom?

In forcibly assigning child support to someone against his will, why does genetic paternity matter at all?


Written by Sister Y

June 1, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Child Support for Unwanted Children is Wrong

with 15 comments

See my related essay: What is Special about Genetic Paternity?

Generally, before the government can take a person’s life, liberty, or property, the person must be afforded due process – a neutral, fair process by which the appropriateness of taking the person’s life, freedom, or property can be verified.

Indeed, it is a general moral principle that it is generally wrong to take away someone’s life, or property, or freedom – you have to have a really good reason.

Sometimes, the reason is that the person agreed to forfeit property. This is why we enforce contracts.

Sometimes, it is “fair” to take away someone’s life, or freedom, or property, if the person has done something that society sees as morally reprehensible. This is the principle underlying the criminal justice system.

Governments can even justifiably take property when a person has not done anything wrong, and has not agreed to give it up, as is the case with income taxation. The justification is slipperier here, but at least there are genuine moral justifications for taxation, even if their correctness is debatable.

But there is no moral justification for forcing a person to pay child support for a child he did not wish to conceive.

In most of the world, for most of its history, men have had reproductive rights, and women have not. In modern Western society, women have reproductive rights, and men do not. But “karma is a bitch” is not a moral argument.

It is wrong to force a woman to have a child when she does not want to have it. Simply consenting to sex does not, in our culture, entail consent to reproduction, nor should it. A sexless world is a miserable world; restrictions on reproductive rights are restrictions on one of the most pleasurable activities humans have access to.

Similarly, it is wrong to force a woman to have an abortion if she does not want one. The bodily invasiveness of pregnancy, and of abortion, should indeed mean that birth and abortion are under the exclusive control of the womb-owner.

But it does not follow that a man should have to pay child support for children he does not wish to conceive. In our society, if a man gets unlucky – a condom breaks, his girlfriend was lying to him about using birth control, his girlfriend was lying to him about not trying to get pregnant, etc. – and unwittingly functions as a sperm donor, he is completely at the mercy of his female sex partner.

Having an unwanted child is a personal and financial disaster. Child support laws should not encourage women to inflict this tragedy upon others.

Memento mori, as Chip says.

“Don’t breed or buy while foster kids die”

On an unrelated note, I had a question about what I meant by my “don’t breed or buy while foster kids die” spiel. “Breed” is obvious; by “buy,” I mean utilizing expensive reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy. It is as immoral to participate in such processes as a sperm or egg donor, or as a surrogate, as it is to participate as a prospective parent.

Written by Sister Y

May 26, 2010 at 9:00 pm