Category Archives: Family

Babies Made to Order

IVF and the Meaning of the Family

LONDON, MAR. 2, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Artificial methods of conceiving children are forcing courts and society to rethink their concepts about the family.

Initially, in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques were thought of as being an aid to help childless couples overcome their impediments to childbearing. But once the link was broken between a couple’s marital relations and the procreation of new life, the result has been a breakdown in relations between parents and children.

An infertile father?

The Guardian newspaper of England reported Feb. 20 on the case of a British man who was unable to father children, as a result of cancer. A couple of years ago “Jon” went to a clinic where he signed the forms to authorize the use of anonymous donor sperm and IVF to enable his girlfriend “Debbie” to have a child.

The first attempts at conceiving were a failure and the two of them split up. Later on, Debbie, by then living with another man, tried again with some of the remaining fertilized ova and this time the IVF was successful, leading to a daughter, “Chloe.” Jon has never seen Chloe and is engaged in a series of legal battles to gain parental rights.

Jon wasn’t present at the moment of conception, nor is his name on Chloe’s birth certificate. However, he is the legal father because of his signature on the consent form for the IVF treatment. Jon went to the high court and the court of appeal in an attempt to gain access to Chloe and to be given parental responsibility for the child he considered his daughter.

He set a precedent as the first man to be confirmed by the courts as the father of an IVF and donor-sperm baby because of his signature on a form. But the courts have ruled that he should not meet Chloe until she is 3 years old, and until then all he can do is send her a present and some cards several times a year.

In one of the rulings, Judge Mark Hedley commented that “at some stage this child has to come to terms with the fact that she has a biological male progenitor of whom she can know nothing, a legal father with whom she has no contact, and quite likely, a male figure who is acting as her father and is the only one she has known as such. What effect this will all have can only be a matter of speculation.”

Fathers stand in for their sons

Another way in which familial relations are being distorted is when fathers take the place of their adult sons in IVF treatments. The Observer reported Nov. 19 on how British women are being impregnated with sperm donated by the father of their infertile partner. The paper quoted “senior medical figures” as confirming that this practice, though unusual, was now regularly performed in British clinics.

The procedure makes a father’s son his biological half brother and a child’s biological father his or her grandfather.

Psychiatrists warned of the impact such treatment might have on a child and its family. “It may change every single relationship within the family,” said Dr. Samantha Gothard, at London’s St. Anne’s Hospital.

This practice is not limited to Britain. A doctor at a maternity hospital in Japan has acknowledged inseminating wives with the sperm of the fathers of their infertile husbands in at least nine cases, five of them successful, the Washington Post reported Nov. 17. Another doctor said he had performed the procedure twice, with one successful pregnancy.

Surrogate mothers

In cases where it is the wife who cannot conceive, the solution proposed by some is surrogate mothers. The Sunday Times of Jan. 28 noted that “rent-a-womb” agencies are increasingly common in the United States. This has enabled British couples to pay for the services of surrogate mothers who simply sign forms in hospital immediately after giving birth to allow the buyers automatically to be recognized as parents without formally having to adopt the baby.

This burgeoning trade came under examination due to the scandal of Judith and Alan Kinshaw, from Wales, who paid £8,000 for 6-month-old twins they had spotted on an American Web site. The babies were later taken into care by government authorities after it was revealed that they had already been sold to another couple by a baby broker.

The Kinshaw case showed the legal perils of adoption, which can be avoided by hiring a surrogate mother. Prices charged by the American women range from £12,000 to £20,000 depending on whether they use their own or a donor egg, the Sunday Times said. The British couples pay around £50,000 for a total package which includes the cost of creating IVF embryos using their sperm and eggs, counseling and legal fees.

They select a surrogate mother from a catalogue. After the pregnancy has been established they return home, then fly back nine months later to pick up the baby, which under the new law, is simply signed over to them as parents.

Another method used by British couples is to buy ova from the United States, in order to get around the ban on trade in human eggs in the United Kingdom. A BBC report Feb. 16 detailed how in the past two years the number of couples willing to make the trip to America and pay up to $5,000 for an egg has tripled.

In the United Kingdom, where the practice of egg buying is illegal, couples can wait several years for a suitable donor to become available.

Information on donors in the United States, including pictures and educational details, is posted on Internet by agencies. Interested couples can search this information and select a donor before flying out to America to have the egg implanted.

The BBC reported that critics of the U.S. system have questioned the ethics of the egg market. They say it encourages couples to try to engineer the perfect baby. Certainly, the agencies themselves are quite open about the desire to give the new child the best genetic start in life.

IVF and Same Sex Families

Another way in which IVF is challenging the concept of a family is its use by lesbians. The Spanish paper El Mundo reported Oct. 8 that some estimate that up to 75% of the single women who undergo IVF in the country are lesbians. Homosexual activists say about 375 children are born to lesbians in Spain each year by means of IVF.

Figures from the Spanish Fertility Society indicate that about 500 single women go through IVF treatments annually. Many of these women come from other countries, wishing to take advantage of liberal laws in Spain. A doctor at one clinic calculated that some 26% of single women patients were foreigners.

In their rush to “produce” children, adults seem to have forgotten about the consequences this will have on the new lives they are bringing into the world. What sort of family structures will all this lead to? We can only guess at the difficulties these kids will have in adapting to their brave new world.

The Fallout of “No-Fault” Divorce

Data Show the Bad Effects on Children

NEW YORK, FEB. 24, 2001 (Zenit.org) – Recent studies confirm the adverse effects of divorce on children. A study released this month by a private center in the United States, the National Bureau of Economic Research, examines the situation of children who grew up in states where divorce is easiest to obtain.

In “Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long-Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce,” Jonathan Gruber observes that most U.S. states now allow for unilateral no-fault divorce, whereby one spouse can obtain a divorce without the consent of his or her partner, solely on the grounds of spousal incompatibility.

In the past, laws allowed divorce only in limited cases, such as infidelity and physical abuse, and when it was mutually agreed upon by both partners. These older laws often were viewed as a financial and emotional burden on divorcing couples, thereby leading to the introduction of “no-fault” divorce in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The NBER research found that no-fault regulations have increased, by 11.6%, the odds of an adult being divorced. Moreover, children were 14.5% more likely than under the old laws to be living with a divorced mother and 11.1% more likely to be living with a divorced father.

Gruber assessed the impact of easier divorce on the well-being of children. He found that children who grew up in states with no-fault divorce are worse off in a number of ways. They are less educated, more likely to drop out of high school, and generally live in families with lower incomes.

The effects on marriage are particularly interesting. Children who grow up in states where divorce is easier are more likely to marry early — and more likely to separate from their spouses.

Gruber concluded that two main factors in no-fault divorce affect children: an increase in the odds that a child grows up in a divorced household; and a change in the bargaining power between spouses, even the ones who don’t split up. With “no-fault,” a partner who wishes to end the marriage can take actions which are more beneficial to himself or herself and less advantageous to the spouse and the children.

1 million children affected each year

The Washington Times, citing data from the National Center for Health Statistics, reported Feb. 20 that in the United States 1 million young people join the ranks of children of divorce every year.

The paper quoted Dr. Michael Katz, a clinical psychologist in Southfield, Michigan, who has worked with children of divorce for 30 years. Katz commented that these children regularly exhibit four classic negative behaviors: excessive lying, low achievement, denial of responsibility for their own behavior, and difficulty in concentrating.

While many children, regardless of background, can exhibit those behaviors, Katz says children of divorce are resistant to many traditional forms of family therapy and discipline.

Some observers, however, contend that it is better for children if their parents divorce, because they can escape from a home environment full of tension and conflict. But another recent study goes against this argument.

In the January issue of the Population Research Bureau’s publication “Population Today,” Paul R. Amato, in an article titled “What Children Learn From Divorce,” observed that researchers had previously failed to explain why those who experience parental divorce are more likely to end up divorced themselves.

To examine this matter, Amato and others started a study in 1980, based on a sample of 2,034 married individuals. A recent analysis was made of 335 of their children who eventually married.

Among the 335, researchers found that 68 had experienced a parental divorce as they grew up. Another 75 had been exposed to high levels of marital discord while growing up, but did not experience a parental divorce. The remaining 192 had experienced neither a parental divorce nor high levels of parental discord.

Of the 335 studied — the children who grew up and married — 66 had divorced before 1997.

The results show that thoughts of divorce among the subjects were elevated when their parents had either a discordant marriage or a marriage that ended in divorce. Actual divorce among the now-grown-up children, however, was heightened only when parents had divorced.

The article said research suggests that it is the actual termination of the marriage — rather than the disturbed family relations that precede marital dissolution — that affects children’s later marital stability, and that this transmission occurs mainly by undermining children’s commitment to marital permanence.

Declaration on marriage

In the face of the mounting evidence showing the harmful effects of divorce, religious leaders issued a joint statement on marriage in November. The document, “A Christian Declaration on Marriage,” was signed by Bishop Anthony O’Connell, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life; Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; and Bishop Kevin Mannoia, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The declaration states, “We believe that marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God’s help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last for a lifetime.” It also affirms, “Couples, churches and the whole of society have a stake in the well being of marriages. Each, therefore, has its own obligations to prepare, strengthen, support and restore marriages.”

The leaders pointed out that three-quarters of marriages in the United States are presided over by clergy. Therefore the churches are in a strong position to call for a stronger commitment to marital union, and also are able to provide “practical ministries and influence for reversing the course of our culture.”

This ecumenical effort to promote marriage was marred, however, when Edgar, of the National Council of Churches, shortly afterward announced he was withdrawing his signature. He said he thought the document could be interpreted as an attack on homosexual couples, the Associated Press reported Nov. 17.

NCC member churches are divided on the issue of same-sex “marriages” and homosexuality, and the council has no official position on it, AP reported. But the council supports civil rights for homosexual, bisexual and transgendered persons.

Secular society’s hostility to the traditional family should not come as a surprise in an age when even Christian churches fail to unite in defense of marriage. But if academic research continues to discover evidence of the ill effects of divorce, then public opinion, and no-fault laws, may yet one day change.

What the Data Show About Marriage and Families

Range of Evidence Lends Credence to Backers of Traditional Lifestyles

NEW YORK, SEPT. 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Supporters of traditional marriage might find comfort in new data that underline the importance of the family and religious values. A lengthy article in the June issue of Population and Development Review gave an overview of the research literature on these themes. The magazine is published by the New York-based Population Council, not normally noted for its support of traditional moral values.

The article, by Linda Waite and Evelyn Lehrer, unambiguously states: “We argue that both marriage and religiosity generally have far-reaching, positive effects.” Among their main points, which they back up with five pages of bibliographical references, are these:

  • Married people are less likely than unmarried people to suffer from long-term illness or disability, and they have better survival rates for some illnesses. A growing body of research also shows an association between religious involvement and improved physical health.
  • Getting married, and staying married to the same person, is associated with better mental health. Marriage is also associated with greater overall happiness. While the connection between mental health and religion is much debated, Waite and Lehrer state that studies are suggestive of a positive association between the two.
  • A large body of literature documents that married men earn higher wages than their single counterparts. Although the relationship between religion and earnings is largely un-researched the article does note that religiosity has a positive effect on educational attainment, a key determinant of success in the labor market.
  • Children raised by their own married parents do better, on average, across a range of outcomes: infant mortality; health; schooling; and avoiding having children as unmarried teen-agers. Studies also document that parenting styles formed by religious affiliation are better for children’s welfare. And kids who are religiously active themselves seem to do better at school and manage to avoid dangerous behavior.
  • Emotional and physical satisfaction with sex are higher for married people.
  • Married couples have notably lower levels of domestic violence.

Trying to explain the causal factors behind these results, Waite and Lehrer observe that both marriage and religion lead to positive outcomes by providing social support and integration. They also encourage healthy behaviors and lifestyles. Notably, the benefits from marriage apply to those who make a lifetime commitment. Both divorce and cohabitation significantly reduce the positive effects.

A Payoff

A recent study by the Heritage Foundation put a figure on just how much marriage is worth in economic terms. Single mothers who married would see an increase of $10,199 to $11,599 in their median family incomes, said Heritage Foundation analyst Patrick Fagan. He wrote a report on the subject with other Heritage researchers. The Washington Times reported on the study May 28.

The Heritage researchers said that new light has been shed on the topic by the ongoing Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. That five-year study, conducted by researchers with Princeton and Columbia universities, involves some 4,700 new parents who are low-income and typically unmarried.

Marriage has a significant impact for single mothers who don’t work, the study found. These welfare mothers who remain single will live in poverty because welfare benefits rarely, if ever, lift a family out of poverty. “By contrast, if the mother marries the child’s father, the poverty rate drops dramatically to 35%,” the researchers said.

And the psychological benefits of family life were highlighted in a study published last month in Denmark. Adults with children are less likely to commit suicide than those without, the Associated Press said in its Aug. 11 report on the study. Likewise, young children were found to add an extra layer guarding against suicide for women. The study involved 18,611 people in Denmark who committed suicide from 1981 to 1997.

“It is widely expected that childbearing is most often a positive life event that may prevent people from ending their life,” Drs. Ping Qin and Preben Bo Mortensen of Aarhus University in Denmark said in the study.

The researchers compared data on suicide victims and a control group. Nearly 47% of suicide victims had no children, and fewer than 23% had two or more children. Only 2% of suicide victims had a child younger than age 2.

The results confirm some previous data but also “fly in the face” of some assumptions about the impact of having children, said psychologist David Clark of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago.

For example, given the prevalence of postpartum depression, which experts think occurs in at least 10% of pregnancies, it might be assumed that suicide would be more common among parents and especially mothers, Dr. Clark said. Also, “people think having a lot of kids is economically stressful” and could lead to mental distress or even suicidal thoughts, he said. On the contrary, the study illustrated the strength of the biological and psychological bonds that occur between parent and child.

Room to Improve

Census data from the United States and England show that much remains to be done to improve family life. The Washington Times on June 17 highlighted some of the findings contained in the U.S. Census Bureau’s report, “Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002.”

The bureau found that in 2002 around 69%, or 49.7 million, of the nation’s 72.3 million children (younger than 18) lived with two parents. That percentage has remained essentially unchanged since the early 1990s. But 19.8 million children are living with single parents. Of these, 83%, or 16.5 million, lived with their mothers.

Data from the 2000 U.S. census showed the number of unmarried couples had surged in the previous decade, to 5.5 million from 3.2 million, the New York Times reported March 13. “There is a very significant increase in the number of unmarried-couple households,” said Martin O’Connell, chief of the branch on fertility and family statistics at the Census Bureau.

In the United Kingdom, the number of households headed by married couples has fallen below 50% for the first time, the Times of London reported Feb. 14. Data from the 2001 census covering England and Wales revealed that the proportion of married households plummeted from 55% to 45% between 1991 and 2001. The proportion in 1981 was 64%. In 1971 it was 68%.

At the same time there has been a steady increase in the number of never-married, single people living on their own, cohabiting couples and lone parents. Some 22% of children under age 16 now live in lone-parent families, with another 11% living with cohabiting couples.

More recently, London’s Sunday Times reported Sept. 7 on a study showing that single mothers are more prevalent in countries where the state provides plenty of benefits. “Increases in public support for single mothers are significantly associated with a higher prevalence of never-married and divorced mothers,” said the author of the study, Libertad Gonzalez of Northwestern University in Illinois.

Gonzalez analyzed the levels of single motherhood in 17 Western countries and compared them with the levels of state benefits. Raising benefits likely lead to more single mothers, she found.

Meanwhile, efforts continue in many countries to undermine marriage and the family. In Chile, the Parliament is considering legislation that could introduce divorce for the first time in that country. Canada is pursuing legislation to recognize same-sex unions as a form of marriage. And in the United States, proponents of same-sex unions are awaiting the outcome of a court case on the issue in Massachusetts. Another case is under way in New Jersey.

If courts and legislatures have doubts about upholding traditional marriage, they might do well to look at what medical and census data are showing.

Vatican Compendium on the Importance of the Family

The newly published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church dedicates one of its first chapters to the institution of the family, described as “the vital cell of society.

The opening number of the section of the family begins with how Sacred Scripture repeatedly underlines the importance and centrality of the family. The book of Genesis narrates the creation of the first man and woman, and the family is portrayed as having a central role in creation. Other Old Testament books speak of the love to be found in the family, which is also where children are taught wisdom and the virtues.

The compendium recalls Paul VI’s words during his visit to Nazareth in 1964, when the Pontiff spoke of Jesus being born and living within a family, “accepting all its characteristic features, and he conferred the highest dignity on the institution of marriage.” (No. 210)

The Church, continues the text, sees in the family “the first natural society, with underived rights that are proper to it, and places it at the center of social life.” (No. 211) The family founded on marriage between a man and a woman is important both for natural reasons, as the principal place of interpersonal relationships, and also for supernatural reasons, as a divine institution.

The compendium then explains the importance of the family for society. For each individual the family is the cradle of life and love where they are born and grow. (No. 212) The climate of affection that unites the family is also where we learn about truth and goodness.

Moreover, the family unit is a community of persons where moral values are taught and the spiritual and cultural heritage of society are passed on.

The family is also essential in ensuring people are strong in their commitments, and promote both social responsibility and solidarity.

Given its vital importance the family has priority over society and the state. “Every social model that intends to serve the good of man must not overlook the centrality and social responsibility of the family.” (No. 214)

Invoking the principle of subsidiarity the text affirms that public authorities must not take away from the family tasks that it can carry out by itself, or in association with other families.

Marriage – Foundation of the Family

With regards to marriage the compendium explains that the family is founded on the free choice of spouses to unite themselves. The institution of marriage, while it is regulated by human institutions and laws, is, even more importantly, a partnership established by God and endowed with its own laws. (No. 215)

Marriage’s divine character, and the natural right to marriage, places limits on what society can legitimately do in regulating marriage. The dignity and specific characteristics of marriage must be safeguarded. The fundamental characteristics of marriage are: totality, in which the spouses give themselves to each other mutually; unity, created by the union of the couple; indissolubility and fidelity, which a definitive mutual self-giving requires; and fruitfulness, to which marriage is open.

An important part of marriage is the transmission of life through the birth and nurturing of children. Nevertheless, number 218 adds that procreation is not the only reason for marriage and that when a couple is unable to have children the value of communion between the spouses remains.

The compendium also deals with the sacrament of marriage, explaining that it unites couples within the Church according to God’s plan. In fact, the sacrament makes the family a sort of “domestic Church” in which the family is called to be a sign to the world. And the love of the married couple is also raised to a new level by the sacramental grace.

Love and the Family

The role of love within marriage and the family is another theme dealt with in the text. The family is a place where communion is brought about, and thanks to love each person is recognized, accepted and respected. (No. 221)

Love, affirms the compendium, is essential for human beings. But marital love is more than just emotions or sexual expression. It is a full and total gift, marked by unity and fidelity. Moreover, the nature of conjugal love requires the marital union to be stable. The introduction of civil divorce “has fueled a relativistic vision of the marriage bond” and can be termed “a plague on society.” (No. 225)

For those couples who have divorced and remarried the compendium adds that the Church does not abandon them. “She prays for them and encourages them in the difficulties that they encounter in the spiritual life, sustaining them in faith and hope.” (No. 226) Nevertheless, they cannot receive the Eucharist until they obtain reconciliation through the sacrament of penance.

The text also rejects attempts to redefine marriage through the introduction of new concepts that see gender as dependent merely on social and cultural factors. “Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” (No. 224) It is therefore incongruous to demand that same-sex unions receive the status of marriage. At the same time the compendium calls for homosexuals to be fully respected in their human dignity, but also encouraged to exercise chastity. (No. 226)

The compendium is also critical of de facto unions as they are based on a false conception of the freedom to choose. Marriage is more than a simple agreement to live together but is a social instrument and the principal means for helping each person to grow in an integral manner. (No. 227)

A Sanctuary of Life

Another section addresses themes related to life matters within the family. “Conjugal love is by its nature open to the acceptance of life.” (No. 230)

This is particularly the case for Christian families, that by virtue of the sacrament should be witnesses of the gospel of life. The compendium acknowledges the weight of this responsibility, but encourages couples to take decisions based on “a generous acceptance of life.” (No. 232)

Excluded, as being morally unacceptable, are anti-life means such as abortion, sterilization and contraceptive methods. Couples, however, may decide to use methods based on periodic abstinence to regulate the number of children, based on a consideration of the personal, family and social factors.

On the other side of the coin the compendium excludes the idea that parents have a right to children. A desire for children at any cost leads to the use of reproductive techniques that are ethically unacceptable.

Nurturing Children

The compendium also explains the family’s function in bringing up children, “a completely original and irreplaceable role.” (No. 239) The parents’ love is placed at the service of their children and animates all educational activity. Parents have both a right and a duty to educate their children, which the state should respect. The text also insists that to carry out this function parents have a right to found educational institutions and that the state should provide economic support to these non-public schools.

The primary role of the parents in education is particularly the case when it comes to religious and moral formation. But it must also be respected in the area of sexual education. The compendium stresses the importance of linking sexual education with an instruction in moral norms and the human values.

Children’s dignity must also be protected, first of all by protecting their right to be born within a real family. As well, the compendium draws attention to problems such as child labor, lack of health care and sexual exploitation.

The concise and complete treatment of the family in the compendium provides a useful resource for pastors and lay people interested in knowing more about the position of the Church regarding many of the fundamental issues touching marriage and family.