Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Of Bastards.

"Tyrion: Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.
Jon: What the hell do you know about being a bastard, Imp?"
A Song of Ice And Fire. George R R Martin.

Bastardy did hurt and there was no armour against the cruelty and disdain. Bastard was epithet with real power to wound and destroy because illegitimacy mattered, socially, legally and financially. A kind and wonderful woman told me of leaving her large-farmer employer at fourteen for better paid work in a local hotel, only for her former employer's wife to came brandishing her social security stamp book bellowing her birth name rather than that of her adopted family. It is impossible now to understand her embarrassment or the effect this had the child's social relationships or why my friend left that job, one of a sequence of bad choices driven by her feeling of shame. Bastard is a brand we cannot understand, we have not lived there, we are neither Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister.


If we ignore the lies, hype and hysteria of the Tuam Babies (and on the basis that eight hundred babies in a septic tank was a complete lie and fabrication, we need to) we are still left with the uncomfortable legacy of the recent past. The past is not just another country, merely a poorer one with other people . For someone of ninteen, 1960 appears an aeon away, but if but for someone of seventy three that was their halcyon nineteenth year. That far past happened to them.


The rush to condemn the practices of adoption in the past is being done from that wonderful hillock of Now's High Moral Ground with no reference to the facts or opinions of the time. Victor McClure was derided for "Gee Ma, you're the best cook in Gaza" but no one is derided for the far worse anachronism of insisting that that adoptions of 1930 resemble the adoptions of 2014. With far more adoptable children than available parents, little money to support care institutions and a world wide horror of single parenthood, adoption past was governed by very different needs.(Sweden, with sterilisation, did it better, if you are a fan of Sweden and that type of thing)


Family was better than institution, institution better than the streets. Given a second chance and a clean break, a woman could make a good life. At all costs her past should not haunt her. From our lofty hillock we can jeer such ideas, hate their provenance and protest at their application but that is to fight with history and history doesn't give a damn.Poverty shaped the choices of individuals and institutions, and poverty, like pain, is neither remembered nor understood in recounting. 


We are used to the idea of the government confiscating wealth to support groups that do not or cannot support themselves. Such confiscation and redistribution would have been regarded as a horrible theft to support immorality for much of the past. Again you may throw up your hands in horror but the past is shaped by the people who lived it. 


There is a case to be made both for the long term uselessness of such payments but also of the harm done both to other groups and society by confiscatory redistribution. Try as we might we cannot piece together a culture once it is broken, the culture of marriage and stable families serves children and society far better than the culture of replacing fathers with welfare checks. We may look with horror on the death rates in Mother and Baby Homes only if we question why the children of single female headed households are doing so badly by comparison to the children of married parents in our time.


That past is immutable, we can learn from the mistakes made there but not change them, while we make our own. Ideally our mistakes should not repeat those made previously. In 1930 the stigma and shame of illegitimacy and single parenthood  (neither a peculiarly Irish nor 20th century horror) far outweighed the natural, human desire to know birth parents and antecedents. Now we can see the wrong done to adopted children who are deprived of access to biological parents and family, cut off from all those real, necessary pleasures of seeing their ancestry in their themselves, or more powerfully, in their child. 


There is much to criticise in the Mother and Baby Homes and care institutions. Lack of basic kindness and Christian charity, too high a death rate and too low educational

outcomes, willingness to accept low standards for the vulnerable people in care all need to be assessed and answered. Catholics might additionally question why the orders founded with such optimism too often strayed far from their charism. (A Catholic who is not outraged by the betrayal of the ideals and work of St Edmund Ignatius and Mother Catherine Aikenhead should worry why not). We should also ask why these children were treated with such disdain and such horrific, legal violence in schools, why ordinary people who dealt with children in care  behaved with such callousness. Why did everyone, religious, political and media figures, reject the extreme criticism of the Industrial schools by the ( by then) internationally famous Fr Edward Flanagan ( http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.ie/2009/05/boys-town-founder-fr-flanagan-warned.html)

The mistake of amputating children from ancestry, done for whatever good reason then, is one that resonates most profoundly. Altering birth certificates, using false names, keeping no useful record make the emotionally difficult search for birth parents utterly heartbreaking.


Why then, when we know the cost, is this Government about to repeat the cruellest, most long term, and most avoidable of mistakes? The Children and Family Relationships Bill 2013 intends to allow two males or two females to be registered as a child's parents on their birth certificate. This horrendous legal fiction, a direct attack on children's rights, is being done so same sex surrogate parents can enjoy the legal right to steal a child's birth right to his or her ancestry. If it was wrong for Orders to do that in 1930 surely it is multiple times worse for the state to do it in 2014 especially when we now know the human cost?


Surrogacy is an ethical minefield, at best it is a form of legalised, long term prostitution that plays with the lives of children as if they were mere farm animals or dogs bred for the pleasure of adults. "This is our labralsatian and this our daughter Fifi Mount Sinai Patty Hearst Piketty Flower." 



Surrogacy is presented as a New Good, compassionate (why is it always compassion they pervert?) and beautiful.  In the documentary "Her Body Our Babies" we saw the ugly face of child commodification when the order was given for "embryo reduction", Ruby and Donal's sibling was aborted from the rented womb. Only Lord Voldemort could regard humans as so disposable ( "A high voice commands, "Kill the spare.") but no thought is been given to the effect on the surviving children of discovering they are survivors of Voldemort Roulette in a rented womb. Still less concern is shown for those women driven by poverty to sell themselves, their fertility and their children. By comparison using first world wealth for whoring is kinder, shorter and more honest.

 In the wake of everything we know about the pain and hurt caused by untraceable adoptions the correct answer to surrogacy is to give primacy to biology. Always the birth parents should be the registered parents on the birth certificate. if we do not insist on correct traceable fully legal adoption process should be in place. Banning any activity between adult humans is never a good idea but deliberately creating a legal fiction which gifts children, with legally created false birth certificates, to couples with the wealth to rent wombs, creates second class humans at birth. Outside of surrogacy an infant goes through a rigorous adoption process, surrogate babies don't. Bring a child into the country from a dodgy adoption, face jail, come back from India having rented a womb, killed the child's sibling  and you can write the biological mother off the birth cert

Individuals may not learn from their mistakes but a state that insists on examining a mistake in the past that it is deliberately repeating today, loses any legitimacy it might have. Shatters (Now Fitzgerald's ) Bill bastardises law, justice and honesty. It must not pass in its current format.

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