- Not by Nature but by Grace: Forming Families through Adoption by Gilbert C. Meilaender
Noted ethicist Meilaender thinks through the ethics of adoption by raising questions such as whether (1) adoption is only for the infertile, (2) singles should be permitted to adopt, (3) adoption across racial and national boundaries is permissible, (4) gay couples should serve as adoptive parents, and (4) new reproductive technologies, “embryo adoption,” should bear on adoption. Between chapters Meilaender offers letters he wrote to his own adoptive son validating this relationship as a genuine parent and child bond.
Meilaender notes the two ways of forming families, one through nature via procreation and the other through history via adoption. Christians honor the biological link between parents and children, seeing it as God’s ongoing creative work. But the metaphor establishing Christians’ relationship with the Heavenly Father is adoption. We are God’s children (huiothesia in Greek) not by nature but by grace (2). Both the Jewish and Islamic traditions tend to favor the genetic bond between parents and children. Hence, adoption “becomes simply a second-best, fallback option for couples who experience infertility” (11). For Christians, the “important question is not whether parents are biological or adoptive. The important [End Page 469] question is whether they understand themselves to have covenanted with their children in a way that determines the future course of their life together” (24). God’s grace seeks to draw humans to the ultimate perfection which will be experienced in heaven; humans’ adoptive sonship is precisely to lead towards that telos (31).
Unlike some perspectives, Christianity does not legitimate a “mix and match” approach to the family unit, but instead argues for a “one man, one woman” approach. The former disconnects humans from creation and nature (34), for this reviewer, a veritable Gnostic approach to family. Since the heart of Christian identity is adoption as God’s children, the concept of adoption “can and should shape our understanding of the history of redemption and the meaning of our shared life within the church” (42). Even so, procreation is not to be undermined since procreation affirms “the goodness of God’s creation—namely, the way in which God so often blesses the mutual self-giving of a husband and wife with the gift of a child” (48). Children need both a mother and a father (56); hence, adoption by a single parent is a “second best approach” (57).
For Meilaender, gay couples simply cannot model the masculinity and femininity present in a traditional family and so, in a Christian perspective, should not serve as adoptive parents. Meilaender hopes that religiously based social service agencies will never be forced to choose between “agreeing to place children for adoption with same-sex couples” or “ceasing to provide adoption service altogether” (58). With respect to adopting children of different races and nationalities, Meilaender contends that we must acknowledge that “accidents” of birth, and time and place, “do not carry ultimate moral significance,” even so, “they are still important for shaping personal identity” (61). So, couples should proceed with caution in those circumstances of adoption. Nor should infertile Christian couples become “desperate,” since biological children are “never simply ‘ours’.” “We do not bend the knee before the blood tie” (79).
The tendency in newer reproductive technologies tends to cause us to see the desired child as a “product.” Additionally, the host womb invites “a third party” to be “present in the procreative act.” While Meilaender does not urge forbidding this reproductive technology, he believes that “the donor should remain anonymous and the fact [End Page 470] that donated gametes have been used should be concealed” (83). While some advocate that frozen embryos should be unthawed and allowed to mature for the purposes of adoption, Meilaender notes that eighteen million orphans worldwide should be adopted first. It would be better that frozen embryos be allowed to die, though Meilaender wishes that technology and experimentation would not have gotten people to the place of surfeit of embryos.
As usual, Meilaender analyzes ethical questions...