Custody Cases — How Important Are Genes?


dnaThere is far more to being a parent than genetics.  Sure, there are animals where the male drops by, makes a deposit, and leaves the female to bear and raise the young on her own, but they’re, well, animals.  Most of us, I think, see ourselves as being evolved past that.  For humans, being a parent means caring for the child more than it means being genetically related.  For that matter, other than in cases of medical issues, does genetics really matter?

Consider the case of Isabella Miller-Jenkins, whose biological mother has kidnapped her after the courts awarded full custody to her other mother.  Isabella’s moms were in a relationship when she was conceived and born, but that didn’t last.  When the one mother refused to allow the other visitation — she had become an evangelical Christian and no longer approved of her former partner’s lifestyle — the courts rightly awarded custody to the other mom.

Then there’s the case of the Irish sperm donor who is considered the father by the courts simply because the outdated and discriminatory laws the Emerald Isle still has on the books do not recognize two women as parents.  Or the most recent case, in Canada, where a sperm donor tried to renege on his agreement to relinquish his rights as a father.  The child’s two moms took him to court and the case is bound to set precedent.

In all of these situations, there is the question of biology versus relationship — do genetics trump love and care?  Reason magazine has an interesting article examining this issue.  The author concludes that “courts should look beyond genetics to the reproductive contracts to which the parties actually agreed.  In general the best public policy for looking out for the interests of children will be to enforce the contracts under whose terms they were brought into being.”

I would simplify that even more — genetics don’t matter.  If you’ve loved and raised a child then that child is yours regardless of where his genes come from.

Image: National Human Genome Research Institute