tothesource: What’s the primary mission of the International Children’s Rights Institute?

Jennifer Lahl: The focus of the International Children’s Rights Institute (ICRI) is summarized in their five key beliefs:

1. Every child has a natural right to be born free, neither purchased nor sold. (Included is the right of the child to be born.)

2. Every child has a right to a mother and a father, wherever possible.

3. Every child has a right to bond with the heritage of his or her biological parents as much as possible, unless exigent circumstances require that he or she be placed in an alternative arrangement.

4. Every child has a right to a standard of living that satisfies his or her physical, emotional, social and psychological developmental needs. This includes stable economic conditions.

5. Every child has a right to be protected from sexual abuse and exploitation. This is includes a right to modesty and protection from excessively mature subject matter.

Within these beliefs, the Institute will focus on issues around child slavery and trafficking, the impact of adoption and divorce on children, child poverty and the rights of the child born through assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Of course, these issues are global, so the breadth of their work will involve global efforts to preserve and protect these fives rights.

tts: There are a lot of organizations that have “the rights of the child” in their title and mission statement. What sets this organization apart?

Lahl: Many children’s rights groups are involved in important work. Work seeking to protect children from abuse and violence or groups that focus on justice issues or child slavery, but ICRI is unique in their depth and breadth of issues. I know of no other organization working to protect the rights of the child in the area of assisted reproductive technology. Because of my focus on reproductive technologies, especially what is called “third-party reproduction”, where eggs, sperm and/or wombs come from third parties, it is refreshing that ICRI has added this to their platform. I believe this one distinction sets them apart from many other organizations focused on children’s rights.

tts: What were the primary topics addressed at ICRI’s inaugural conference Bonds That Matter?

Lahl: Their inaugural conference featured a full day of speakers addressing a wide-range of topics supporting their focus on the five rights of children. Alana Newman, founder of the Anonymous Us Project opened the day with her talk, “Birth and the Atomic Bomb – Are All Technologies Good?” Alana challenged the audiences assumptions that assisted reproductive technologies are not without problems and that children have rights that are often ignored when it comes to being born via donor eggs and/or sperm. Like that Atomic Bomb, these technologies are not morally neutral.

I followed Alana, with my talk on “Breeders, Angels, or Mothers?” highlighting my work in documentary filmmaking, telling the stories of women and children harmed by third-party conception arrangements. The marketing of these technologies suggests women are angels. The reality is egg donors and surrogates are often treated as breeders. But in reality, women are mothers. One college student after said she was glad to hear my talk as she never realized there were medical risks to selling your eggs, and she had been considering doing this for the money. Sadly, I hear comments like this all of the time.

Jennifer Roback-Morse followed with her presentation on “The First Round of the Sexual Revolution: Divorce” highlighting the harmful impact divorce, particularly no-fault divorce, has had on families, especially the children. It was truly insightful to hear the impact No-Fault divorce has had on our society and she provocatively suggested that children of divorce should be allowed to remain in one house while the divorced parents have to move between homes. She asked why the children should have to bounce back and forth between their parents’ home since they didn’t have a choice in the divorce decision.

Finally, Claudia D’Arcy and Cathi Swett presented on the rights of the child in the area of adoption. Each of these women brought a unique perspective to their presentations. Claudia, a first-mom, who relinquished her child to adoption as a young mother, and Cathi, an adoptee herself who is a lawyer practicing in family law.

The conference theme, “Bonds That Matter”, was examined in light of third-party assisted reproduction, divorce and adoption with concern for the problems that can arise for children when these essential bonds are broken. These concerns cannot be wished away.

tts: How does your work in bioethics intersect with the aims of the ICRI?

Lahl: As I mentioned, I’m thrilled to have ICRI add ART to their platform. So, I’m happy to have my expertise in this area contribute to ICRI’s mission. With third-party conception arrangements, almost all the focus is on adult desires and adult needs. We have a mentality today that we have a “right to a child” and that these technologies can be used to insure that right. Many people are unwilling to concede that these technologies might be medically or emotionally harmful to the child, and that it might not be in the best interest of children to create them in the laboratory intentionally separated from their genetic mother or father (in the case of donor eggs or sperm), or their birth mother (in surrogacy).

tts: How might the voices brought forth through the work of ICRI benefit the church in addressing pressing cultural issues?

Lahl: The church has a role in protecting the least of these. In this instance, the least of these are our children. The problems facing children, which ICRI will be focused on, are also part of the reality of the modern church. We have children of divorce and adopted children in our pews. Infertility strikes people in our churches as well as people in society. As the debate around same-sex marriage continues, it’s important to consider that only a minority of same-sex couples will choose adoption as a means of family formation. In all other cases, children will typically be cut off from one or more of their biological parents through various forms of reproductive technology. This poses serious issues that include commodification of children and those involved in the processes of conception and gestation. Few people realize the expanded role required by the state in order to define and in some cases assign parentage where biological ties are considered just one part of the equation. As children conceived by surrogacy and/or egg or sperm “donation” mature, they often face identity issues and grief in response to the loss of their biological origins. This subject calls for serious study by clergy and church leaders who will be in ministry with increasing numbers of children and youth, like those who have found solace in the Anonymous Us web community. As always, one crucial role of the church is to bear witness to God’s design for human flourishing lived out in ways that protect and strengthen these bonds that matter. These bonds matter to God, so they should matter to us, as a compassionate offering of hope and guidance for a world ruled increasingly by desire. ICRI will serve as an important resource to the church.