The morality of adoption

By on February 19, 2013

The principle of benevolence as an organizing moral paradigm compels each one of us to act kindly towards each other. In applying this compass to the problem of global orphanhood–natural though shortsighted–conclusions can be drawn.

Everyone having an obligation to adopt is the preliminary moral conclusion that is drawn from this analysis. The reasoning is that everyone should act benevolently, especially to those who are vulnerable and in need of help. An impoverished, African baby with a swollen stomach perfectly fits this description. Compounded with the magnitude of this kind of suffering, one could say we have an individual responsibility to end this kind of orphanhood before permitting self-aggrandizing, genetically-related families.

However, this argument has flaws as it does not take into account the generally shortsighted nature of human interaction. As humans, we have a capacity to mainly empathize with individuals closest to us. Therefore, family comes before friends, friends before strangers. To paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” Consequently, the suffering of all those orphaned children holds little psychological foothold on an individual.

When individuals from first worlds do adopt, they often do so not only out of benevolence, but also out of the need to “atone” for the environmental damage and unresolved suffering that results from only having children of one’s own. The act becomes a salve for the burning conscience and also a badge of honor. The individual who adopts can rest easy, knowing they aren’t contributing to the world’s ills because they saved an adoring African, Indian, Chinese or Eastern European child whom they just kissed goodnight. The adopted child essentially serves as a badge on one’s chest, essentially screaming, “See, look in my stroller; what have you done for the planet?”

Rather, benevolence must be applied in a manner analogous to the nature of the problem. The trouble with global environmental devastation and orphanhood is that they are systematic problems that require complex solutions. Rather than attempting to resolve the superficial symptoms of this problem on an individual level, applying the principle of benevolence on a systematic level will yield better results. In this approach, one sees that the moral imperative should be to address the underlying structures that allow for rapacious consumption of the natural resources and for children to grow up without parents. This necessitates that governments take the initiative and mobilizing this broad reaching change, rather than depending on the individual to address them.

Humans apply benevolence best on an individual level, while governments apply the principle on a broad reaching and systematic way. One’s individual moral responsibility, therefore, should be to demand this kind of change from one’s government.

Majaliwa Mzombwe
Science Editor

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