Many Western nations are forming the opinion that the gender and the category of “father and mother” should no longer be judged based on biological criteria, but rather on how the person identifies oneself. While this is leading to a gradual change in the view of the family, some psychologists, including Czech ones, are raising the alarm that society is standing on thin ice in terms of the psychological well-being of children with such an approach.
A case from the United Kingdom, which in Europe is one of the countries with more liberal laws in this area, has recently unleashed a new round of debate. Authorities have officially recognized a biological female to be a man known as Freddy McConnel, who underwent hormonal therapy and the entire transformation into a man. However, at some point, McConnel interrupted the process, got artificially inseminated with the sperm of an anonymous donor, and gave birth to a son.
So what gender is the mother? A male? The authorities registered McConnel as a woman on the child’s birth certificate. Even in the UK, the person who gives birth to a child is still the mother before the law.
McConnel, a freelance journalist working for The Guardian, appealed against the decision. He wanted to be registered either as a “father” or simply as a “parent”. That is because McConnel feels like a man and has already officially confirmed his change of identity, and believes he cannot be a mother to his child.
The court acknowledged that this was a very sensitive issue that infringed on the complainant’s rights, but stated that current laws did not allow for a “father’s birth”. According to the court, motherhood is clearly defined by British law and the one who gave birth is a mother, regardless of whether she feels like a man and whether she is so officially recognized.
Do we need a change in the law?
However, the story is probably not over, and similar requests will certainly follow, setting the stage for new battles in the courts. McConnel’s efforts to change the legislation were supported by the British LGBT community and several other supporters. According to them, the current legislation is “ossified” and does not react to the latest developments. Critics of the current legislation also claim that it is not possible to cling to values which have long since been “surpassed” and do not correspond to today’s possibilities when it comes to starting a family and parenthood.
Already today, based on changes in legislation in many countries, there are very diverse partnerships, which are very far from the traditional model of the family. For example, modern reproductive techniques allow a child to be conceived from a donated egg and donor sperm, born by a surrogate mother and raised with parents (sometimes of the same sex) who have their parental rights confirmed by law.
However, Hana Konečná from the Faculty of Health and Social Studies of the University of South Bohemia, who is also the Czech representative in the Bioethics Commission of the Council of Europe, pointed out the pitfalls of the liberal efforts.
“Despite the enormous progress of reproductive medicine, the requirements for the birth of a child still include the egg, sperm, and uterus, i.e. a biological male and female,” said Konečná.
What about the children?
In families with a so-called broader form of parenthood, the situation is solved by introducing the child, usually after reaching adulthood, to all the individuals who have a share in its birth.
“But we should consider what impact it will have on the creation of the child’s own identity,” stressed Konečná.
Those who argue that people can deal with these new scenarios the same way adoptive families and children from foster care do are contradicted by the research.
“While in adoptions and foster care the state usually deals with the consequences of an individual’s failure or a tragic event, in this case, the state purposefully co-creates such a situation,” stated Konečná.
According to her, surveys and studies show that the more complicated parental structures are, meaning the more people play such a role in a child’s life, the more such families seek professional psychological help. Transgender people themselves have astronomically high rates of attempted suicide, with up to 40 percent of transgender people attempting to kill themselves during their lifetimes.
Although technological progress, including advances in medicine, cannot be stopped, according to Konečná, the responsible institutions have to keep examining whether the fulfillment of the wishes of some does not intervene in the lives of others.
According to Konečná, a recent seminar of the European Society for Human Reproduction — attended by psychologists from around the world — found that the children of those who needed assisted reproduction needed many years of psychological aid. Also, the existing children of applicants for the procedure, future grandparents, sperm and egg donors, and their (future) families are psychologically affected.