I’ve decided to address the falsehood “An adopted baby is not the biological offspring of the mother” next. That was not my original intention, but for various reasons this is appropriate.
Before I give the very straight forward reason for this, which I attribute, by the way, to Sarah Hrdy, I want to make note of a few different variants of mother/baby relationships.
- A woman becomes pregnant, carries the fetus full term, gives birth to it, and raises it up, together with her husband who is the father of the child.
- A woman has an offspring with artificial insemination.
- A woman has a fertilized egg implanted, and has an offspring which she raises up.
- A woman has a fertilized egg implanted, gives birth to the offspring, which is then taken by the sperm and ovum donor as their own child.
- A woman is inseminated by a man but then taken by that man and his wife (not the woman who was inseminated) to be raised. (That’s from a book/movie.)
If we fully insert the male into this set of scenarios, and add a couple of more variables, the list gets longer and more complex, but you get the point. A baby sitting there in the car seat and two adults of some gender or another sitting in the front seats on the way home from a Target Shopping run could represent any of a number of different scenarios. In some scenarios, both parental units are the genetic parents of said baby, in others, neither.
Now, let me lay out a brief description of the life history of a human.
- Insemination (sperm is allowed into the egg and the DNA gets its act together)
- Implantation, facilitated by various cell surface proteins, hormones, etc.
- Cell division and ontogenetic development of an embryo/fetus/etc.
- Birth of the baby, which is utterly dependent on others for survival even over any period of a few hours.
- The transfer of 100% of the energy the baby requires for survival via milk, either from a woman’s breast or artificially, but usually via breast milk, for months.
- The transfer of increasing amounts of energy from other sources (veggies, etc.) by adults to the offspring, and continued period of total dependence for day to day survival, for several years.
- High school, college, graduate school, etc. etc.
All of the above life history phases except the last couple are biological phenomena to a very large degree, if not 100%. And, they are all parenting related, including carrying the fetus, feeding the offspring, etc. The parents who do these things are biologically essential to that child’s survival.
Integrating these two lists, it is obvious that adults may provide this biological care to offspring whether or not there is a direct genetic link.
This is what is meant by delinking “genetic mother” and “biological mother” and a similar thing can be said of the father. This is an idea suggested by Sarah Hrdy in her book Mother Nature, and I happen to agree with it.
To insist that “biological parent” means “genetic parent” and the obverse, that a non-genetic parent can not be considered a biological parent literally equates “genetic” and “biological” as perfectly corresponding ideas. This equation is simply wrong, and can only be sustained in the absence of any understanding of what biology is, and the relationship between genetics and all the rest of biology. The conflation of genes and biology probably arises, as well, from the rise of genetics as the holy grail of biology (which it is to only some extent), but mostly, I think, it comes from failure to really think about the terms and their implications.
Moreover, it is interesting to consider the legal issues across some of the variants of childbirth and raising listed in the first list (with adoption being an obvious subset of these categories, as well as surrogate motherhood, etc.). Traditionally, we equate parenthood with a special set of rights and responsibilities, and we transfer those rights and responsibilities to adoptive parents. Those parents become the biological parents as well. Interestingly, the law seems to follow the broader biological concept better than it follows the purely genetic concept. Similarly, fatherhood does the same thing. In many states/countries, the name of the man on the birth certificate is the legal father of the child regardless of any subsequently adduced countervailing evidence.
Check out Sarah Hrdy’s book: Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species
More Falsehoods !!!
This post is one of a series on the topic of falsehoods. The following is a list of falsehoods posts in order:
- The Falsehoods
- “False Pearls before Real Swine”
- Falsehood: A baby is not the biological offspring of its adoptive mother
- Falsehoods: Has evolution stopped for humans?
- Natural Selection is Survival Of the Fittest (A Falsehood)
- Falsehood: Nature maintains balance.
- Is it a Falsehood that Humans Evolve from Apes?
- The poor and the dark skinned have more babies than the rich and the light skinned
- Acting for the survival of the species (a falsehood)
- Culture Overrides Biology (Another falsehood)
- What is the Placebo Effect, and it it getting stronger?