How much does a mom or a dad owe his or her a child?
Of course, parents should provide food, clothing, safety and love. But must a parent give up more of him or herself?
Last week, “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross looked at the personhood movement. If you don’t know much about it, you should: like the movement to make divorce harder, it is very real, very scary and growing. She asked, should a pregnant woman whose behavior has been deemed dangerous to her fetus — like excessive drinking or using illegal drugs — be legally punished or forced into medical procedures against her will? A study this year found that that has already happened to some 413 pregnant women across the U.S.
Among the people Gross talks with is the head of Personhood USA, which is seeking constitutional rights for fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses — basically giving states the power over pregnant women from the second they conceive. Which raises the question, is there a point in a pregnancy where a woman loses her civil rights so her fetus can have rights?
But what happens if things are out of a woman’s control? What if a pregnant woman has an emotionally abusive partner, which cause stress that impacts and harms the fetus? What if her partner is a chain smoker, subjecting her and her fetus to second-hand smoke? What if they live in an area with high levels of toxins? What if they can’t afford healthy food? What if she works two stressful jobs just to make ends meet? What if her partner gets HIV and passes it on to her? What if the couple gets pregnant with a known history of deadly diseases, thus increasing the likelihood their child will suffer from it, too?
What if states were able to intervene?
As I said, scary.
And, of course, there’s little concern about support systems after the birth; as long as a parent isn’t physically abusing or neglecting a child, anything goes (and sadly some 1,570 children died from abuse and neglect in 2011 alone, mostly at the hands of one or both of their parents). People have raised the idea of licensing parents, but that has its own problems. All of which brings me to my next question; what if a child’s parent chooses risky occupations or recreational activities, which may leave the child mother- or fatherless, or perhaps orphaned? Should parents have fewer rights than their child in what they can or can’t do so they can properly raise and care for their child? Should parents be required to limit their own happiness for the sake of their child’s (and the nature of parenting requires that that happens to a certain extent).
This weekend, I saw “McConkey,” a documentary on the life and death of Shane McConkey, who was revered as a pioneer of freeskiing and ski-BASE jumping. I knew nothing about him — I don’t usually follow extreme sports — but I’m pretty sure he was in the YouTube videos I saw of people in winged suits jumping off ridiculously high cliffs in Norway. Exhilarating for sure, and slightly insane!
McConkey and his fellow BASE and ski-BASE jumpers defy death each and every time they pursue their passion. Until the time he didn’t; McConkey died when something went wrong from a jump in Italy’s Dolomites in 2009. Just 39, he left behind a wife and a 3-year-old daughter, whom he adored.
Was it irresponsible for McConkey to continue his dangerous passion and profession once he became a father?
In interviews promoting the movie, his widow, Sherry — who is seen in the documentary rock climbing with a huge pregnant belly, certainly far enough along that the personhood movement would say her fetus had more rights than she did — says no:
In the beginning a lot of people criticized Shane, saying things like, “how could he love his wife and daughter and do the things that he did?” So for me, a huge part of this movie was to prove that he wasn’t that “adrenaline junky (sic)” that people were saying he was. He was an amazing husband and an amazing father and just a normal human being as well as an innovator of various sports.
His risky sport was how he supported his family, and there are many other careers that are equally as dangerous, from firefighting to police work to the military. And let’s not forget the randomness of life; accidents happen.
But if more and more people are willing to limit what a pregnant woman can do — and what Personhood USA says is an expectation for “parents to use their bodies to care for their children” — it seems as if an argument could be made that it’s OK to limit what women and men can do for fun and for their livelihood once they become parents. And that is what Personhood USA’s description of parental obligation seems to imply:
The facts that the child cannot fend for herself and the parents are the cause of her lack of self-sufficiency are the basis for parental obligation. Parents cause the child to be in need, therefore they’re on the hook to fulfill that need.
Are parents responsible for caring for their child as best they can, considering they brought that child into the world or adopted the child? Yes, that’s the role a parent must accept, embrace and fulfill. Does that mean a parent or parent-to-be must curtail or avoid certain unsafe activities and occupations to fulfill his or her parental obligation?
What do you think?
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