Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where does adoption fit when marriage is defined by procreation?

Greg Popcak offers this response to my questions about the place of adoption in the procreative institution of marriage:

Adoption has been a wonderful blessing to me and my family, and I couldn’t imagine life without my youngest daughter or my sister. Further, adoption is certainly entirely in keeping with the generative nature of the marital relationship. Social science data shows that even the adopted child fairs best in a home in which they are being raised by a mother and a father in an exclusive, traditional, marital union (as opposed to being raised a single parent or cohabiting parents).  As such, I don’t see an issue focusing on the nature of the procreative act.  Interpersonal neurobiological studies (c.f., The Neuroscience of Human Relationships—Louis Cozolino for a great summary) show the sexual act between a man and woman (in general, but especially in marriage) leads to a series of biochemical and neurological changes in the structures of the brains of the man and woman causing them to be bonded to each other in a way that does not exist in same sex relationships (it also tends to not be as present in co-habiting couples for reasons that are not yet well-understood. Although some bonding does occur here as well, the bond tends not be as deep or stable either socially or biochemically leading to “defensive” or even “reactive” attachment problems in adulthood). Therefore the nature of the procreative act in a committed marriage serves both as the glue that holds together a stable home life AND leads to the rearing of children. And so, the child who is adopted by a married man and woman in a committed, traditional marriage enjoys at least most of the benefits of the nature of the procreative act because of the increased intimacy and stability in the home where mom and dad are intimate partners. Adoption is not so much an “exception to the procreative boundaries of marriage” as it is a logical extension of the procreative boundaries of marriage.

On the other hand, while adoption has been a blessing personally, and is a blessing socially as well, adoption truly is a “concession to a fallen world.”   There are few adopted children—no matter how lovingly they are welcomed and reared by their adoptive parents—who do not, at some point, feel the deep sting of that original rejection by their biological parents.  Most adoptive children long to know where they come from and why they could not have remained with their birth parents.  For many, this is a very difficult pain to resolve and for some, it never gets resolved.  It is an odd notion to our post-modern, neo-gnostic minds, but biology really does matter.  (In fact, as one more example of how important biological connection is, note how many prospective parents use morally questionable , often unsuccessful, prohibitively expensive methods [in vitro, surrogacy, etc.] of “conceiving” “their own” child rather than simply seeking to adopt one of the 60,000-120,000 children who become eligible for adoption each year in the US alone).

Moreover, while adoption is both a blessing and a logical extension of the generative bond, most people don’t realize that every adoptive child is a special needs child.  I don’t mean to sound pessimistic.   I’m not at all, because I have been through the process and help parents through the process every day, but attaching an adopted child  to an adoptive family is like trying to get a body to accept a transplanted organ.  It can be done, but it is not done easily.  There is often rejection and sometimes failure and always difficulties that someone who retains his own heart, or lungs, or liver never has to endure. In the same way, the adopted child and the adoptive family will always experience, at one point or another, hindrances and obstacles to the attachment process that biological families do not experience in the same way or to the same degree.

So, in answer to your question,  adoption is both a logical extension of the procreative nature of marriage and a concession to a fallen world—albeit a miraculous and blessed concession.


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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