One of the more curious lines of criticism that my friend Andrew Walker and I received on our essay on IVF is that it would entail that adoption is morally bad as well. I say ‘curious’ because while it seems manifestly bad to me, it was probably the single most common rejoinder we received from obviously intelligent and careful readers.
As I understand the critique, it goes something like this: IVF brings a child into a family without conception, and is thereby morally wrong. Adoption brings a child into a family without conception—and therefore, it too seems morally wrong. So since we oppose IVF, it seems we ought also oppose adoption.
One way to respond, it seems to me, is to reject the description of our essay: we didn’t argue that IVF is morally wrong because it introduces a child into a family without sex, but because it introduces a child into the world without sex.
Parenting and procreating are distinct—as adoption makes evident. But adoption is a response to the needs of an existing individual, who is already in the world: a parent who procreates for the sake of giving up their child for adoption has done something morally wrong. Procreating generates bonds and responsibilities that we rightly describe as 'parental.’
But IVF has nothing to do with parenting at all: it is a question of the appropriate means of conceiving a human life, not a question of the appropriate means of introducing that human life into a family. The two can clearly come together. So, for instance, a person who undertakes IVF with donor sperm seems to be doing something distinctly wrong, precisely because they are also confusing the generational lines by voluntarily distinguishing the conception and origin of a person from the family into which they are born. But none of that applies to our argument.
At the same time, this rejoinder puts (reasonable!) constraints on adoption. Specifically, adoption needs to be done in a way that is respectful of or honours natural family bonds. Note that this indicates something about the will, something about the kind of value we are indicating in our decision to adopt, about the child’s family of origin. Some of that honour will be attitudinal: we will show respect, love, and care for a child’s origins. But some (and perhaps most!) of it will be practical: those who adopt should do their due diligence to ensure that the child is without members of their natural family who are willing and able to take them in. What such honouring looks like after a child has adopted almost certainly will depend upon the specifics.
Even writing this I can prepare myself for emails from upset readers. It’s remarkable how controversial it has become within evangelicalism to say that adoption as a practice does not efface a person’s natural family—and furthermore, that such a relationship should be honoured.
In that way, the criticism of our essay is instructive—and I dare say proves our point. The impetus to eclipse nature in our adoption practices corresponds to our willingness to sidestep it in conceiving life.