Between adoption and advancing reproductive technologies, there are ever-increasing options for individuals and families who wish to have a baby. Recent reports indicate that the high costs associated with these processes have resulted in some using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.com and GoFundMe.com to raise money for fees associated with adoption, surrogacy, and assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Indeed, certain forms of assisted reproduction raise ethical questions in and of themselves, but in this case, our concern is whether it matters how funds for these processes are raised, and who provides the funding. In other words, is utilizing a crowdfunding website an ethically acceptable way to raise funds for adoption, IVF, and surrogacy? If so, is it significant who pays for these processes? Is anything owed to the people who contribute?
Like most ethical issues, this is a question of where to draw the line. Is receiving contributions from family members, from strangers via a church raffle, or from strangers via the Internet morally distinct? Prospective parents may presume, for example, that in situations where funds are being raised from family or members of their own community or church, that the financial supporters are likely to share our values about an issue as important as creating a family. Should they feel discomfort in not knowing the values of strangers on the Internet who will play such an important role in bringing a child into their life?
It is also important to consider the extent to which prospective parents should consider the privacy rights of the child being adopted or conceived. Parents regulate the information provided to children regarding these issues in ways that are sensitive to age differences, and their ability to understand the facts of their conception. However, when data such as the details of someone’s conception, adoption, or genetic origins are available on crowdfunding website, the parents, and more importantly the child, have no control over who can access this extremely private information for years to come, and may continue to have implications for the child as she or he enters adulthood.
Even if the answers to the above questions raise doubts about the wisdom of crowdfunding for adoption, IVF, or surrogacy, the ethical principle of autonomy raises the question of whether we have the right to tell people how they can or should obtain money for the costs associated with bringing a child into their lives. Is it paternalistic to question whether parents who cannot afford adoption fees or IVF procedures “deserve” to have their own children? Should their infertility or desire to adopt automatically disqualify them from parenthood if they cannot afford the costs when the same level of scrutiny is not applied to people who can conceive or adopt without such assistance?
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist at the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University, editor of Ethics & Society, and coordinates the HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute.