Sunday, 9 September 2012

Could and Should Rivers have Rights? Yes, of Course!

This little news item, spurred some slightly uneasy reactions when I forwarded it on Twitter today. It's about New Zealand granting a particular river "legal personhood", implying it to have legitimate interests and rights, just like other legal persons.

Must be crazy, right? Or at least appalling and misguided, given all the instances globally where actual people are not being granted such standing? Or, at least, I – in light of philosophical views I hold in other areas – should be against anything in this direction. I mean, if I'm hesitant to award human embryos or fetuses moral status of the sort claimed by pro-life ethics advocates, why should I be prepared to grant rights to a river??

Well, it may surprise you all to know that I actually find the New Zealand move perfectly defensible. Be back to explain why in a later post, unless someone presents the right answer here in the comments before ;-)

Families – Beyond the Nuclear Ideal... the title of a book soon to be released by Bloomsbury Academic as part of its Science, Ethics and Innovation series, edited by Daniela Cutas and Sarah Chan, with one chapter contributed by myself and Thomas Hartvigsson (on how to apply the best interest of children standard to the issue of what sort of families to allow), plus others by, e.g., Adrienne Asch, Melinda Roberts, Kerry Lynn Macintosh and a number of other distinguished scholars in whose company I'm very proud to be.
In the words of the presentation by the editors, this book....

...examines, through a multidisciplinary lens, the possibilities offered by relationships and family forms that challenge the nuclear family ideal, and some of the arguments that recommend or disqualify these as legitimate units in our societies.

That children should be conceived naturally, born to and raised by their two young, heterosexual, married to each other, genetic parents; that this relationship between parents is also the ideal relationship between romantic or sexual partners; and that romance and sexual intimacy ought to be at the core of our closest personal relationships -- all these elements converge towards the ideal of the nuclear family.

The authors consider a range of relationship and family structures that depart from this ideal: polyamory and polygamy, single and polyparenting, parenting by gay and lesbian couples, as well as families created through current and prospective modes of assisted human reproduction such as surrogate motherhood, donor insemination, and reproductive cloning.
And the full table of contents runs like this:

Chapter 1: Daniela Cutas and Sarah Chan, Introduction: Perspectives on Private and Family Life
Chapter 2: Julie McCandless, The Role of Sexual Partnership in UK Family Law: the Case of Legal Parenthood

Chapter 3: Mianna Lotz, The Two-Parent Limitation in ART Parentage Law: Old Fashioned Law for New-Fashioned Families
Chapter 4: Christian Munthe and Thomas Hartvigsson, The Best Interest of Children and the Basis of Family Policy: The Issue of Reproductive Caring Units

Chapter 5: Joanna Scheib and Paul Hastings, Donor-conceived Children Raised by Lesbian Couples: Socialization and Development in a New Form of Planned Family

Chapter 6: David Gurnham, Donor-conception as a ‘Dangerous Supplement’ to the Nuclear Family: What can we learn from parents’ stories?

Chapter 7: Susanna Graham, Choosing Single Motherhood? Single Women Negotiating the Nuclear Family Ideal

Chapter 8: Mary Shanley and Sujatha Jesudason, Surrogacy: Reinscribing or Pluralizing Understandings of Family?

Chapter 9: Adrienne Asch, Licensing Parents: Regulating Assisted Reproduction

Chapter 10: Simon Căbulea May, Liberal Feminism and the Ethics of Polygamy

Chapter 11: Maura Irene Strassberg, Distinguishing Polygamy and Polyamory Under the Criminal Law

Chapter 12: Dossie Easton, Sex and Relationships: reflections on living outside the box
Chapter 13: Kerry Lynn Macintosh, Human Cloning and the Family in the New Millenium  
Chapter 14: Melinda Roberts, Moral and Legal Constraints on Human Reproductive Cloning
You can follow the book on its Facebook page to receive notification of publication, ordering opportunities, and so on.