Voluntarism and Adoption: Understanding Parental Obligations
MetadataShow full item record
Given the increasing variety of non-traditional family arrangements, together with reproductive technologies and adoption practices, assumptions about what constitutes a family and what constitutes a parent have been called into question. By using adoption as a paradigm example, my thesis examines different concepts of parenthood, what it means to be a parent, and how parental obligations are incurred. I support a pluralist concept of parenthood, according to which genetics, gestation, or intent to raise a child may each be sufficient to capture who is considered to be a parent in a variety of cases including adoption, contract pregnancy, or gamete donation. Using a pluralist concept of parenthood, I then consider how parental obligations are generated. While some have argued for a causal account of parental obligation (i.e., parents incur obligations by bringing a child into existence), I favor a voluntarist account. A voluntarist account argues that parental obligations are best understood as generated through consensually and voluntarily taking on the role of parent with the intent, rights, and obligations of raising a child. I argue that causal accounts fail to provide an adequate explanation of the source of obligations because a) causation is not sufficient and not always necessary to ground obligation, b) causal accounts lead to troubling restrictions on women’s reproductive autonomy, c) causal accounts cannot justify why other factors such as intent are irrelevant, and d) causal accounts have difficulty non-arbitrarily limiting the number of people involved in a causal chain in the creation of a child. Moreover, I explain why, on the whole, a voluntarist account is preferable. Voluntarism with regard to parental obligations has the following advantages: a) making sense of different meanings of the term “parent”, b) avoiding the pitfalls of causal accounts, and c) explaining the significance of the parent-child relationship. Using a voluntarist framework, I then examine the ethical implications for women and men, and for children who are placed for adoption.