Genderless: Sex and Children

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Week 4: Interview Paper

Much like the outburst that same-sex marriage caused, we are now seeing the advent of arguments for "genderless parenting"; the idea that all a child needs is love and it's irrelevant whether the loving persons are male or female. Now we have "genderless kids." Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, the parents of Jazz (5), Kio (2) and four-month-old Baby Storm want to rear and love each of their children, not as their daughter or son, not as a girl or a boy, but as just their child. At one level, this concept is not a bad thing. It's a statement of unconditional love for one's child, simply because he or she is one's child, and it stands as a small counter-statement to the abomination of the millions of missing girls in India and China, where daughters are aborted or killed as infants because the parents want a son. But, as the Supreme Court of Canada, citing the United States Supreme Court, once said in distinguishing what parents were free to decide with respect to their own medical treatment, as compared with what they could decide for their children, "Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children." So are Kathy Witterick and David Stocker making martyrs of their children? Is their conduct with respect to their children unethical? And if it is, does society have any obligations? These are difficult questions to answer, but first some definitions and facts. A person's sex is a matter of biology: Women have two X sex chromosomes, and men have XY (there are other combinations, such as XXY or XO, but these are not the norm and the people with them are usually infertile). Gender is the cultural expression of male and female and for most people gender parallels their biological sex. Media reports quote the parents, Witterick and Stocker, as wanting their children to be "gender creative." In trying to further this goal, they allow the two older boys "to make their own choices" with respect to clothing and hair styles (they wear pink feather boas, dresses and braids). As a result the boys are often mistaken for girls and other children do not want to play with "that girl-boy." The sex of the baby, Storm, has not been disclosed to anyone other than the midwife who delivered the baby and his/her father and two siblings, who have been told to keep it secret (which also raises ethical issues). They refer to the baby as "Z," not he or she. Even the grandparents don't know Storm's sex. To analyze this situation, ethically and legally, the basic presumption from which we start is that the parents have a right to make decisions concerning their children and obligations to them in doing so. That right can be displaced, however, when the parents' conduct constitutes neglect or abuse. My guess is that most people would be very reluctant to argue that's the case here, but, at the same time, many believe that these children are going to have a difficult path in life, as a result of the nature of their upbringing. So what do we need to consider trying to gain some insights as to whether the parents' present approach is acceptable? The parents seem to believe that children "can make choices to be whoever they want to be," including regarding their gender, and they are giving them the opportunity to do this. Are the parents, however, conducting a social experiment on their children -as it has been described -a social experiment of nurture? If so, the principles governing experimentation are especially stringent when children are the subjects, because they are classified as "vulnerable persons." Ethics requires that where there is a conflict that prevents honoring everyone's rights or claims, we must decide so as to give a preference to the most vulnerable people. As with all experimentation, we can only find out later what harm may result, but we have obligations, at the least, to avoid reasonably foreseeable harm and...
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