Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Kids Are All Right: Heredity, Legality, Morality, and Anthropology

Since I watched the 2010 movie ‘The Kids Are All Right’, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. It is a unusual film with an uncommon theme and a different script but the questions which it left in my mind about family, parenting, genealogy and heredity are ubiquitous, especially with growing single-parent families, homosexual-parents families and increase in number of children born through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs).

The film’s story is fairly straightforward when viewed from a very cursory standpoint. A lesbian couple bears babies from the sperms of the same donor. When the kids grow up, they try to find their sperm-donor-father. Once they meet him, they start building an attachment with him. This bond of affection between the sperm-donor and the children is disliked by one of the mothers and leads to entanglements and later conflicts with the donor. While at one point of the time it looked as if the kinship would crumble because of the presence of this ‘external yet close’ man, relations garnered over the course of over 15 years triumph and the family stays together with this ‘extra-family’ man being shown the exit door.

However this simple-looking story poses many questions, some even on the ethics of the use of science in human lives. While the two children (a girl and a boy) got somewhat close to their biological father, I wonder if it would have been the case had they been raised by a straight couple. Was it the lack of a male parent which led to immediate affection with an ‘outsider’? in the movie, we see that the two mothers were also comfortable with the kids spending ‘quality’ time with their biological dad, could a straight couple ever accept this?

The movie also got me perplexed at how human relations are shaped by the socio-political and legal conditions. Despite the fact that the sperm-donor was indeed the biological and ‘real’ father of the kids, he was completely treated as an outsider, initially by one of the mother and later by the entire family. This might look quite logical to anyone as someone who was not present in the lives of the kids for 18 and 15 years of their lives respectively and has no legal ties with them cannot be their ‘father’. However, this does not change the genealogy and hereditary facts. While society and law might take away the fatherhood or motherhood rights from a person based on particular socio-political constructs, for genealogy and heredity, parenthood is ascribed only to those who egg or sperm was involved in the reproduction of the child. While it is easy for heredity or law to ascribe parenthood to a person, it makes me thinking whether the same ease lies for a child who was adopted by her legal parents from the real ones.

While dealing with these entanglements in the domains of legality, genealogy, heredity, parenting and family, questions about the ethics of ARTs also come into the limelight. During the first ‘extended’ family meetings with the biological father of her kids, one of the mothers asks, “I remember when I was reading your file, back when we were looking for you know, sperm... Anyway, you said that you were studying international relations.” after being told that he worked in the food services industry. While it might look pretty ‘normal’ for a lady to go through the file of the sperm donor, moral questions start arising when the selection is made on the bases of the credentials of the donor. While it might somewhat look like natural selection, the differences are quite stark. And these issues take center stage when parents start selecting particular attribute not to mention the commodification of gametes which is underlying here.

As the movie progresses, relationships grow stronger between the sperm-donor dad and the family. Not only the kids start getting attached to their biological father, one of their mothers gets close to him and ends up having intimate encounters. And when the family becomes aware of these sexual intercourses, tension develops leaving to a situation where it looked that the family would be shattered. But the bonds of love and belonging triumph over the biological kinship and the children unite with their mothers leaving behind their biological father.