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The $50,000 Daughter

Deann Barrera CC

Rachel Lu - published on 11/18/14

The cost of the "perfect family" is steep, financially and morally.

From the time she was a small girl, Jayne Cornwill wanted to be a mom. That sounds sweet, but wait for the rest of it. She didn’t want to mother just any child. She specifically wanted a little girl.

She was close to her mother. She dreamed of her own “little mummy’s girl." After her first son was born she “wasn’t too disappointed” because she assumed (rather oddly) that the next child would be a daughter. But after two more boys came, she grew desperate, and she and her husband left their native Australia to travel to California for “gender-selection treatment.”

In a world with in-vitro fertilization, many things are possible. Among them, we can demand (for a price) children of our preferred sex. The concept, at least, is diabolically simple. The mother’s eggs are harvested, fertilized, and grown to the point where the sex can be determined. Embryos of the unwanted sex are then discarded, while a few healthy eggs of the desired sex are transferred to the mother’s womb. The implantation isn’t always successful, so parents must be prepared to spend a substantial sum for their dream child. To obtain their much-desired daughter, the Cornwills went through two rounds of IVF and spent $50,000.

To Catholics, it should be clear that this practice is gravely immoral, most especially because it involves the callous disposal of unwanted babies. The Cornwills were dissatisfied with the children that were naturally born to them. Their solution was to bring into being a whole host of unique, precious children, so as to give themselves the “pick of the litter." The rest of their newly-created offspring were most likely just thrown away.

Even for those who deny the value of immature human lives, Cornwill’s manifesto (which was intended as an argument for legalizing gender-selection in Australia) should set off multiple alarm bells. Her entire perspective on maternity and family is so obviously unhealthy that no reasonable person could read this as an argument for gratifying her tyrannical demands. Let’s consider a few of the more obviously defective ideas that Cornwill unashamedly sets out in her reflection.

“Ever since I was little,” she relates, ”my only goal in life was to have a daughter, and as an adult that desire only grew stronger. I come from a mixed-gender family with two older brothers and an older sister, and I saw the benefits of growing up with both perspectives. I also think society pushes the idea of the "perfect" family being two parents, with two children — one boy and one girl. I certainly thought so.”

We already know that Cornwill’s idea of a “perfect” family is fanciful to the point of absurdity; she’s admitted that she assumed her second child would be female simply because the first was male. Clearly, that kind of reality avoidance is unhealthy. My attention was arrested, however, by her observation that children are better off “growing up with both perspectives." That is, she thinks it beneficial to have both a male and a female presence within a family.  

I would agree. But mightn’t it be more natural and appropriate to achieve that balance among… the parents? When a family begins with the uniting of man and woman (as has been the near-ubiquitous custom throughout history, until the present day) a complementary male and female “perspective” is established from the very beginning, and it isn’t necessary to impose such inflexible conditions on what sort of children we’re willing to accept. Same-sex marriage isn’t the subject of Cornwill’s piece, but she notably doesn’t mention “mother” and “father” as established elements in her perfect family. She herself has a husband. Even so, one wonders whether gender-selection treatment might, for her and others, be a kind of back-door way of validating the importance of gender complementarity.

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