The detention of U.S. Baptist missionaries who tried to take 33 children out of Haiti after the January 12 earthquake shone a bright light on complex moral questions related to the country's adoption practices. The Wall Street Journal reports that, even before the earthquake, an estimated 400,000 Haitian children lived in some type of orphanage, and only a few thousand were orphans in the traditional sense. One American arrived in Haiti to find that the girl he planned to adopt not only had a living mother, but that her mother actually worked in the girl's orphanage. When the man balked at taking the girl, the mother assured him it was what she wanted for her child. She beamed as her daughter drove away with her adoptive father.
While Haiti's child welfare system seems uniquely overwhelmed, the focus on Haitian adoptions reveals a broader truth: Adoption is not quite the straightforward, ethically superior choice many of us assume it is.
"Why don't you just adopt?" Well-meaning people say this often to those who have used or are considering reproductive technology to conceive because of infertility or a troubling genetic history. The question implies that adoption is the simplest, most loving, and least selfish choice. Wouldn't it be a better use of resources to adopt a child who needs parents rather than paying fertility clinics to help make a baby? If a couple really wants a child, should they really put their desire for a biological child over the needs of living, breathing children who could use a home?
These questions rely on what theologian and ethicist Paul Lauritzen has called the "myth of unwanted children." Lauritzen, in Pursuing Parenthood, writes that "even to talk about 'unwanted children' may be misleading in ...1
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