By Jonathan Waits
While some parents like the surprise element, my wife and I wanted to know. I remember the moment with each of our boys. We headed to the doctor for a regular checkup with a bonus: an ultrasound. But at 20 weeks this wasn’t simply a hear-the-heartbeat ultrasound. This was the big one. Our favorite ultrasound tech, Angela, started looking around and three straight times announced: It’s a boy!
Now, I’ll be honest with you: sitting in that dark room waiting to find out what to expect with baby number three, we were at least a little hopeful that he was a she. We had two boys already and were looking forward to adding some balance to the mix. And yet, Angela said the same three words she had said two times before: It’s a boy!
Admittedly there was a flash of disappointment in each of us as reality didn’t cohere neatly with our expectations, but that passed in a moment and we were celebrating when we welcomed boy number three into the world (rather unexpectedly, in the middle of the night no less!). At nine months along in his development he is an absolute delight. We wouldn’t trade him for all the gold in Fort Knox.
Now again — no, he’s not what we were initially hoping and planning for (namely, a girl), but it’s not like we can take him back. And besides, who would we blame for the mix up? God? Theologically that’s the most correct, but it probably won’t get us very far. Me? After all, technically speaking, I contributed the Y chromosome. How about my wife? After all, she was the last one with him (with a nod to Bill Cosby, I like that explanation best).
Give me a break! Of course we didn’t blame anyone for the switch. It’s not like we ordered him from a catalog and the shipping company messed up the order. We accepted the gift God gave us and are adjusting to an increasingly rowdy household. It’s a blast .. mostly.
But what if a couple did essentially order their baby from a catalog and they ended up with something other than they expected? Well, this seemingly dystopian fantasy notion is actually a real case going on right now in Ohio. As the Chicago Tribune reports, a white couple who could not conceive together naturally (both partners are women) contacted a sperm bank in Downers Grove, Ill., because they wanted a child of their own. After looking through a catalog of donor information, the couple selected an anonymous white man with a genetic profile that appealed to them and essentially sent off for their baby.
A few months after their doctor received the vials of sperm and the child’s biological mother was successfully impregnated, she learned that instead of getting sperm from donor 380 whom they had selected, the company goofed and sent the sperm of donor 330 to the doctor. The problem was, donor 330 isn’t a white man. He’s black. And so, a few weeks later, the mother gave birth to a beautiful biracial girl.
But here’s where things get sad. The mix up and birth of the little girl happened two years ago. Now the couple is suing the sperm bank for it. Think about this: They wanted a child when they could not have one on their own. They used ethically questionable methods to get a child in spite of their biological limitations. They now have a beautiful little girl. But she’s not the color they ordered, and so they are suing the company for it. They didn’t get what they ordered — and they’re suing. That’s what you do if Amazon sends you the wrong thing. That should never happen with a child — ever. Now, yes, the couple did pay probably a lot of money in order to have their little girl and, yes, she was not what they ordered. But the fact that this kind of lawsuit is even a possibility suggests that the ethics of the approach they took to having their daughter is still in need of some attention.
The language of the suit itself doesn’t make this sound any better. The couple lives in a small, all-white community, and they are fearful of what the child’s (and their) life might be like growing up in a community in which she doesn’t look like everyone else. I’ll just quote this from the Tribune article because you can’t make up stuff like this:
“Raising a mixed-race daughter has been stressful in [the couple’s] small, all-white community, according to the suit. [The mother] was raised around people with stereotypical attitudes about nonwhites, the lawsuit states, and did not know African-Americans until she attended college. … Because of this background and upbringing, [the mother] acknowledges her limited cultural competency relative to African-Americans and a steep learning curve, particularly in small, homogeneous Uniontown, which she regards as too racially intolerant.”
The couple has to drive to an all-black neighborhood to get their daughter’s hair cut where they are “not overtly welcome.” The birth mother fears her family, which hasn’t been accepting of her homosexual lifestyle, will also not be accepting of her biracial daughter. She worries about sending her to an all-white school someday. They may have to move — for their daughter’s sake, of course. And, $50,000 will make it all easier (not better, but easier).
My question is this: what are they going to tell their daughter? How do you explain to your child that you sued the company that made her life possible because she wasn’t the color you ordered? How do you explain that you were willing for her to grow up without a father active in her life (a circumstance that study after study has shown to be tremendously detrimental for children and sets them behind their peers in pretty much every social category), but her being half-black was a bridge too far? How do you explain that while you love her dearly no matter what color she is, you’ve treated her like she was simply something you picked up from the store?
When as a culture we start treating people like commodities, we’ve got a problem. Whatever happened to children being a gift from God? Now, at least in this case, they are a commodity to be purchased when desired. And, if they don’t conform to our expectations, the subjects of a lawsuit. With other advances in genetic technology coming at a faster pace than ethics can keep up, a brave new world is upon us and not many are stopping to ask if it’s the kind of world we want to have.
As Christians we need to speak up, analyze the myriad of ethical issues at play here, and offer loving and gentle guidance to a culture that is increasingly calling every desire right without thought of the consequences. Let us be prepared to minister to people when their choices don’t lead to the rosy outcomes they were expecting. And let us pray for this little family, because they have some hard conversations ahead of them.