In recent years, governments have sought to radically redefine the family, to the detriment of the child
Five Canadian provinces celebrate “family day” this month. Whether this recently created holiday is meaningful or a mere political gimmick is up to you. But this year, as we also recognize the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let’s remember that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
As the ‘fundamental group unit of society,’ the family is the foundation of civilization. Families are the pre-political and ‘natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members, and particularly children,’ as stated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The emphasis on the ‘natural’ family assumes that the biological relationships that children have with their parents matter deeply, particularly for the well-being of children. Further, the language included in these international documents was meant to clarify that the family is a separate institution from government, which, in turn, would prevent government interference in the family. The clarification could also help prevent governments from simply making families whatever they want them to be.
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However, in recent years, governments have sought to radically redefine the family, leaving it open to any number of interpretations.
In Ontario, for example, up to five people can be the legal parents of a child at a given time, none of whom need any biological connection to that child or any familial relationship with the other “parents.” Public policy is seeing a shift to ‘intended parents.’ Someone who intends to be a parent can easily become a legal parent simply by entering a contract with other ‘intended parents’ and acquiring a child via assisted reproduction and surrogacy.
This shift in the definition of family is harmful to the entire family unit, particularly to children. When we disconnect legal parenting from biology, we disconnect from reality. Biologically, it takes a man and a woman to create a child. Our legislators speak of the ‘best interests of the child’ which should take precedence when making decisions about families. This should imply that we ought to give children access to their biological parents as much as possible.
Of course, there are times when children lose one or both biological parents due to tragedy, abuse, or neglect. Adoption is a solution to such tragic situations because it focuses on providing a child with a safe family environment – an environment modelled on the natural family, to take the place of the natural family that the child has lost.
Governments have carefully developed a system to ensure that adoption is safe for a child. Children are at greater risk of abuse and neglect by adults who are not biologically related to them, and the adoption system recognizes that by ensuring intensive studies of potential adoptive families and their ability to provide an adequate environment for the child’s well-being.
However, no such care is taken when ‘intended parents’ create children through surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, or simply sign a ‘pre-conception parentage agreement,’ essentially becoming a parent by contract. The ‘intent’ to parent is deemed enough for the child’s safety. Instead of focusing on the well-being of children, this approach focuses solely on ease of legal parentage for adults.
Although the adoption process can be improved, the child’s best interests are primary in that process. Alternatively, the use of contracts and assisted reproductive technologies subjects the interests of children to those of adults who wish to parent a child at any cost.
The most stable home environment for children is when they live with their biological parents who are in a committed relationship. Sadly, that is not always possible, but redefining the family does not help. We must not separate a child from their biological mother and/or father at birth by design. Policies encouraging this separation undermine the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society.”
Daniel Zekveld is a Policy Analyst with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada.
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