On the Genetic Modification of Children

It occurs to me as I read in a local paper news of yet another adopted child churning her guts into public knots that the advocates of cloning and genetic improvement of children are not historians.

In 1964, I began teaching in a small country town in New Zealand, and stayed at the Manse, the minister being an old family and personal friend.  Through the guest room passed a series of pregnant single women en route from parishes down south to finish their by now visible pregnancies as housekeepers to local farmers.  In their local parishes, the word was they had gone overseas for a trip, or gone north to look after a sick relation. Local girls went to parishes down south.

The babies were adopted at birth to couples who were unable to conceive their own children.  The stigma of unmarried motherhood was avoided - there was no social welfare covering that piece of misfortune in those days - and the Salvation Army special maternity hospital for unmarried mothers was understood to be where traffic cops were born.  Babies who were barred from inheriting from unmarried parents now had adopted parents within whose last will and testament they had an honourable place.

So, everything was solved neatly.  Or so we as a society thought until identity crises began surfacing all over the place, and grown up adopted children began writing letters to and knocking on the doors of birth mothers whose husbands did not necessarily know about the first child.  And the shit hit the fan in no small way as one generation dealt somewhat brutally with the values of its predecessors.

If we, as a society, begin tinkering with identity, even in something as apparently innocuous - beneficial, even - as adoption, our history shows us we are sowing a minefield, and if we sow that minefield inside our own family, it has the capacity to explode in our faces, and we have the historical precedent to show us that it will do so.



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