MAKING BABIES, MAKING FAMILIES: What Matters Most in an Age of Reproductive Technologies, Surrogacy, Adoption, and Same-Sex and Unwed Parents

Mary Lyndon Shanley, Author . Beacon $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4408-7

In this impressive study of family law's uneasiness with custody rights, Shanley (Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England) explores how dominant notions of family (in which the primary partners are married, heterosexual and of the same race) have contributed to legal rulings on adoption and surrogacy. Shanley critiques our collective fantasy of adopted children as "free standing individuals with no relevant links to either their birth parents or the racial, ethnic, or religious groups [of] their birth parents," arguing that the common practice of joining children and parents who could be biologically related in effect "ratif[ies] a family based on biological ties as the desirable norm." More realistic, she argues, is to conceptualize "family" as something more fluid and complex: "a child may have more than two 'parents': genetic parents (sperm and egg donors), biological parents, stepparents, adoptive parents." This inclusive perception allows adoptees "to construct a coherent story of origin" and also lets birth parents experience their full range of feelings for their offspring. Shanley's discussion of transracial adoptions and the controversial role of race in shaping custody rights is evenhanded and riveting, as is her critique of surrogacy-for-pay and the sale of genetic material. Readers may be surprised to find that the U.S. is the only Western country that doesn't restrict human ova sales, and that France doesn't pay sperm donors. This critically sophisticated yet readily accessible discussion of adoption, reproductive technology and parental responsibility represents a much-needed addition to the growing number of books on new forms of family in the 21st century. (July 11)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
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