The Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics at Trent University

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Carolyn McLeod at Trent University

'Not for the Faint of Heart': Adoption and Licensing 

Monday, February 6, 2012
6:00 to 8:00 pm
SC 115
Prof. McLeod, whose publications include Self-Trust and Reproductive Autonomy, is Associate Professor and Graduate Chair in the Department of Philosophy, an affiliate member of the Department of Women's Studies and Feminist Research, and a member of Rotman Institute of Science and Values.
The process of adopting a child is not for the faint of heart. This is what we were told when we, as a couple, began this process. Part of the challenge lies in fulfilling the licensing requirements for adoption, which, beyond the usual home study and background checks, can include mandatory participation in parenting classes. For many of us who struggle to meet these requirements, the question arises whether they are morally justified. We tackle this question in this paper and argue that some form of licensing for adoption is indeed morally necessary. After clarifying the reasons why this is so, we identify the kind of licensing that the reasons support. We leave open the question whether the licensing of so-called “natural” parents may be justified as well.   
The paper begins with an examination of reasons against licensing adoptive parents. Some of these reasons are general, being identical to those found in the philosophical literature on parental licensing. For example, if we require that parents be licensed then we will inevitably harm some people for whom parenting is an important interest by preventing them from becoming parents, including adoptive parents. This is a general reason not to require parental licensing. Some of the reasons not to license adoptive parents are, however, unique to adoption and include the harm done to children who would otherwise have parents but for a system of licensing that prevents some adoptions from occurring. A failure to be licensed for adoption may also harm adults who have a special interest in becoming adoptive parents, rather than mere parents. We argue that because many of the reasons against licensing are morally significant, any system of licensing must be supported by strong reasons. 
Turning to those reasons, we again note that they, like reasons against licensing adoptive parents, may or may not be unique to the adoption context. For example, worries about child trafficking in this context are part of a larger concern about disastrous parenting, which provides the state with reasons to license all parents. Some contend, however, that disastrous parenting is more likely to occur in adoptive families because of the absence of biological ties within these families. This concern is clearly specific to the adoption context. We consider those arguments in favour of licensing adoptive parents that focus on the absence of biological ties and show that they are unpersuasive.
There is, however, one reason in favour of licensing adoptive parents that we find compelling and that does not apply to natural parents (or at least not to all people who reproduce in order to become parents). The reason highlights the fact that before an adoption occurs there is a child for whom someone—the state or an actual person—is responsible. Surely, the transfer of responsibility for this child to the adoptive parent(s) ought to occur in a morally serious manner. But that can happen only if the party or parties who relinquish responsibility for the child can reasonably expect that the child’s future will be good or at least decent. Licensing serves the role of providing such assurance to the child’s pre-adoptive guardians. We defend licensing for adoption on these grounds and conclude by considering whether our position on licensing adoptive parents commits us to the licensing of parents who reproduce with the assistance of third parties, namely gamete providers or contract pregnant women.

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