Charlotte Witt on Baby Boxes

Feminist philosopher Charlotte Witt has an excellent piece in the Boston Review.

There is a hidden political dimension to the debate over children’s right to know. The debate presupposes a bionormative view of the family, which holds that families formed via biological reproduction are the gold standard or Platonic form of the family. The implicit bionormative assumption emerges in the thought experiments above. When we ask about children placed in baby boxes (and subsequently adopted), our intuitions might favor the notion of a right to know. But when we consider families formed by biological reproduction, our intuitions do not line up to support such a right. Rather, we think that the mother who is estranged from her family of origin, or who does not know who or where the father is, has the right, and, indeed, the obligation, to determine what to tell her child about family and ancestry, and what not to tell her. It is a question of the child’s welfare, not the child’s rights. In the case of families that do not meet the bionormative standard, however, we are more likely to favor a child’s right to know. This indicates a tacit priority granted to biological or genetic ties.

3 thoughts on “Charlotte Witt on Baby Boxes

  1. I agree; it says lots that needs to be said. But I think that it is not true that important medical knowledge cannot be revealed by knowing who one’s mother/female biological relative is. I’m thinking of genes and breast cancer.

    If we could do gene sequencing on all young girls, we could spot those with cancer enabling genes, but as things are now, the best sign is that genetically related females have one.

    I *think* that inherited cancer can also be particularly fast growing, so finding it can be life saving. (I’m going by memory here; if the standard line on this has changed, please let us know.)

    It is true, apparently, that a lot of women are having preventative mastectomies that are not necessary, so this is another case when the very possibilities medicines open up can have bad results.

  2. Hi Anne,
    I agree that medical history can be important in prevention and diagnosis. However, the medical history argument is separate from the identity argument that underlies the right to know. Requiring a family medical history form would not satisfy those who believe there is a right to know. I discussed this in the piece but it was cut by an editor.

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