Thomas Hawk / flickr
The death toll in Syria continues to rise. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights about 231,000 people have died since war broke out in 2011. Of these, 69,500 were civilians, including 11,500 children and 7,500 women. It must be one of the first wars in which children are suffering more than adults.
The children of Western countries are infinitely better off, but can we afford to be complacent? Some of them are also in danger of becoming a lost generation, as adults battle to secure their own reproductive and sexual rights. They, too, face the possibility of a broken future.
By their nature, children are powerless and they are the forgotten party when adults declare war on the traditional nuclear family. For 50 years now, they have been in the crossfire. Their war began with abortion and evolved to surrogacy markets and transgender children. As in the war in Syria, the question is: where will it all end?
Let’s review the chronology.
1973. The American case of Roe v. Wade is a good starting point, although the British had liberalized their own abortion law in 1967. Abortion is the destruction of an unborn child in its mother’s womb. However great the pain of the woman, one thing about the procedure is clear. The child is not consulted; it has no rights.
1977. The world’s first commercial sperm bank, California Cryobank, opened its doors. Now it was possible for women to bear children without the slightest acquaintance with the father. Forty years on, there are hundreds of thousands of children in the US who are genetic orphans, the children of anonymous sperm donors. Research shows that in later life these kids are much more likely to struggle with issues like delinquency, substance abuse, and depression. But who cared about that in 1977? Who cares now? As long as adult clients are happy.
1978. The world’s first “test-tube baby”, Louise Brown, was born on July 25. IVF has become so common that we have forgotten the risks for children. Edwards and Steptoe, the biologist and the obstetrician who “created” Louise, hardly cared if she turned out to be disabled. They just threw the dice – and won.
This blithe indifference to the welfare of children has always characterised IVF. Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) is a specialized form of IVF which was introduced in 1991 without clinical trials on animals. Even though ICSI has an elevated risk of very serious birth defects, it has become the leading method in European IVF. The doctors care far more about satisfying the longing of adults for a child than they do about the welfare of children.
1988. The Baby M case marked the beginning of a market for surrogate mothers in the United States. A New Jersey surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, bore a child, called Baby M in the court documents, for William and Elizabeth Stern. A legal battle erupted when she wanted to keep the child. In the end the judge awarded it to the Sterns. Thereafter surrogacy was increasingly regarded as a legitimate way of bringing children into the world.
But surrogate children are deprived of the mother who brought them into world, and often from one or both of their biological parents. Male homosexual couples are already a big market for the services of surrogate mothers in countries with lots of poor women, like Ukraine or Guatemala. With legalization, demand will soar. IVF made it possible to commoditise children; surrogacy turned them into commodities.
2011. Britain’s National Research Ethics Service approved prescriptions for puberty-blocking drugs for 12-year-olds so that they could begin transitioning to the opposite sex. This gave the stamp of government approval to a procedure which had been going on for a long time. But it stretches the notion of informed consent to the breaking point.
“Given that close to 80% of [transgender] children would abandon their confusion and grow naturally into adult life if untreated, these medical interventions come close to child abuse,” says a world expert on transgender issues, Dr Paul McHugh. A Swedish study has reported that the suicide rate among people with sex-reassignment surgery is 20 times higher than a comparable population of nontransgender people. Youngsters cannot give informed consent to a procedure with such dire consequences in later life. They are being used as a blank slate for adults to write their own ideological slogans.
2014. Belgium legalized euthanasia for children. This means that an 8-year-old – or even a 6-year-old — can legally kill himself. Supporters insist that the law is safe and that there will only be a handful of cases each year. They say that there are safeguards: a child must be suffering from a terminal illness, must have “constant and unbearable suffering” and must demonstrate a “capacity of discernment”. This shows naïve confidence in the ability of children to understand death and in their ability to resist pressure from the adults around them.
In short, over the past 40 years, Western society has made two gigantic errors as its complex attitudes toward children, the most vulnerable and powerless group in our society, evolve. On the one hand, it often treats children as mere gratification for adult desires; on the other, it overestimates their ability to make adult choices.
Let’s pose the question again: where will it all end?
Alarmist as it might seem, the next logical step could be some form of legal paedophilia. After all, children can already consent to a mutilating sex change and even to euthanasia. In exceptional circumstances, why couldn’t some precocious children consent to mutually-gratifying sexual activity?
In the 1970s and early 1980s, it should be remembered, paedophilia was regarded with mere distaste rather than horror. In 1981 the German Greens’ election program even included the decriminalization of sex between adults and consenting minors.
Last year, in no less a pulpit than the New York Times, an academic from Rutgers Law School, Margo Kaplan, said that we need to be more sympathetic to paedophiles. Paedophilia is a disorder, not a crime, she said.
This was a theme taken up by a Norwegian bioethicist who has worked at Oxford University, Ole Martin Moen, a couple of months ago in the Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics. “Pedophilia is bad only because, and only to the extent that, it causes harm to children, and that pedophilia itself, as well as pedophilic expressions and practices that do not cause harm to children, are morally all right,” he claimed.
So there is no lack of intellectual fire power to build a case for paedophilia, at least for children who have a “capacity for discernment”. If nearly all kinds of sexual activity are deemed legitimate ways of expressing affection and if children deserve to have the same rights as adults, what logical reason can there be to ban it?
As far as children are concerned, legalised paedophilia is the Western equivalent of the Islamic State taking over Syria. But history will march on and beyond that disaster something else must follow. Whatever that might be is too dark for anyone to imagine.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.