The discussion of homosexuality in your June 15 issue by Eve Tushnet and Luke Timothy Johnson (“Homosexuality & the Church”) has prompted me to say a word on gay adoption. My wife and I have a “natural” child and an adopted child. We both feel deeply that the traumas of adoption—of lost or uncertain identity, of troubled relations with adoptive parents, as experienced at one or another time by virtually all adopted children, and as witnessed and experienced by adoptive parents too—are so grave and disruptive (and in some cases disabling for the child) that to add to this an arbitrary imposition of monosexual parentage is a very grave step, involving an enormous responsibility for the life of another human who has no say in the matter.
The issue is nearly always discussed simply from the viewpoint of the prospective parents. Rarely considered is the situation of the child who will bear the consequences. Objections are often dismissed with the argument that a loving home is surely better than an orphanage. No doubt it is, but it is my impression that most gay adoptions in the United States and in other advanced countries involve children who are deliberately conceived for adoption, with the help of a friend, a commercial sperm bank, or a young woman willing to bear the child, sometimes for a price—all of which dreadfully complicates the identity quest, as a number of recent personal accounts attest. (These children are not being rescued from Ceausescu-era Romanian orphanages.)
The question of origin and identity usually arises for an adopted child as he or she passes through late adolescence. In the case of our own child, raised in a “normal” middle-class professional family free of crises, with a loving and protective older brother as well as loving parents, our daughter came close to being lost to us, and to herself, during adolescence, when, as she told me recently: “I hated you even while I loved you. Who were you to do this to me? Where was my mother? Why had she abandoned me?”
She survived, as did we, and is now married with three young children of her own. But when each of her two daughters was born, she was thrown into a crisis of rejection and confusion for which she sought psychiatric counseling. At thiry-eight, after the birth of her youngest daughter, she approached her adoption agency to try to find her birth mother—so as to find closure, she said, even though she recognized that the search might fail, or worse. Then as the emotions provoked by her own daughter’s birth eased—when she had again asked, how could my “real” mother have abandoned me, given me away?—she gave up the search, but the question stays with her.
Gay adoption is a privileged society’s historically and socially unprecedented experiment with helpless lives, an experiment justified as affording “equality” for homosexuals. But equality is not equivalence. To impose on an infant a lifetime experience not only of the crisis of normal adoption but also of the absence of normal heterosexual psychological (and even physiological) parental modeling and influence is to risk inflicting a crippling wound on the victim of this experiment in order to provide adult homosexuals with the gratification of love. This gratification is real, of course, but for the child it means the artificial circumstances and social disadvantage of a simulacrum of heterosexual marriage.
This seems particularly grave in the case of male homosexual alliances. I believe that competent authority amply supports the common-sense conclusion that a man is not physiologically or emotionally equipped to be a mother. A man does not nurture as a woman nurtures, nor can a man substitute for a woman as a model for serious and balanced sexual maturation of the child. Children need both men and women as role models. I am reminded of the crisis of clerical pedophilia—a matter that is not, alas, wholly irrelevant to the adoption issue—in which church authorities willfully ignored the obvious for reasons of scandal—avoidance, priestly solidarity, convenience, cowardice, etc., until a disaster exploded in their faces. A generation from now, I am convinced, equivalent reproaches will be expressed with respect to the children made part of the experiment in gay adoption, which enjoys the endorsement of many well-meaning people today, including a significant segment of the Christian community. Of course, there are loving homosexual couples who are committed to responsible parenthood. But men and women have to take responsibility for what they are, and for the consequences of what they do, even when they do it with love.
Because the editors know my address and identity, I hope that for the sake of my adopted daughter and grandchildren’s privacy I may be allowed to remain anonymous.
AN ADOPTIVE FATHER
[See Letters, October 17, 2007, for a response to the above.]
THE RESPONSIBLE CHOICE
I was glad to see vegetarianism addressed in your July 13 issue (Bernard G. Prusak, “All We Can Eat?”). Unfortunately, I found the article itself disappointing. Prusak, who eventually rejects vegetarianism, fails to address almost all the reasons that Christian vegetarians would actually give for being vegetarian.
Foremost among these would be the Christian call to mercy, compassion, and the proper stewardship of the world’s resources. This compassion is both for the innocent suffering of animals and for the suffering of humans that a meat-based diet contributes to in numerous ways. It takes, for example, an average of eight to twelve pounds of protein in the form of grains and beans fed to animals to produce one pound of animal protein. The remainder of this protein is lost to human consumption. And the demand for meat by the world’s wealthy means that vast areas of many third-world countries are used to grow animal feed while the people of these nations go hungry.
The negative ecological impact of a meat-based diet is similarly enormous. According to a recent UN report, the livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that switching from a conventional meat-based diet to a vegan diet saves more energy than switching from driving an SUV to driving a hybrid.
Human health is another important concern. Many studies have shown that vegetarians have significantly lower rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems. Choosing a vegetarian diet is a powerful way of modeling God’s love through nonviolence, compassion for animals, care for the earth, care for our bodies, and responsible use of the earth’s resources.
The writer is professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University.
A BIOLOGICAL APPROACH
Bernard G. Prusak seems to consider the issue of vegetarianism almost exclusively from an ethical perspective. While it is refreshing to see ethics considered in the choices of daily life, there is also biology to consider, and Prusak seems to relegate that side of the story to a matter of divergent opinion. Unquestionably, nutrition involves deeply held values and evokes powerful emotions, but biology is more than just a matter of opinion. There are many nutrients essential for human health that are found only in animal foods, particularly meat. Vitamin B12 is one example, the branched chain amino acids are another. They are essential for optimizing insulin sensitivity, but cannot be ingested in sufficient quantity from plant food sources, because plant proteins have low quantities of these compounds. Our gastrointestinal tracts and their digestive secretions are those of an omnivore, not a herbivore. Countless other instances could be cited.
One of the important conclusions from natural selection is the understanding that, over the course of evolution, all organisms drop the ability to make biologically active compounds if the food they eat supplies those compounds. The fact that we need vitamin B12 but can’t make it for ourselves is simply a reflection of the fact that our physiologies evolved in the context of a diet that included meat. Millions of years ago, our hominid ancestors became dependent on meat. That trait is a part of our heritage.
The effects of inadequate nutrition are individually small, but cumulative over time. This is why we can ingest inadequate diets and not see immediately bad effects. No one doubts that drinking too much alcohol causes the next day’s hangover, but effects of diet are more subtle. This is what permits us to hold scientifically unsound views on nutrition: their wrongness is not so personally and immediately apparent.
Can we build on what we know? Can we adopt a vegetarian diet and supplement those foods with the missing nutrients? Through modern technology and science, that is now possible, but it is still not natural. Moreover, the book of nutrition is not yet fully written. We don’t today know the full extent of our dependencies.
Clearly we should avoid cruelty in our use of animals. Equally clearly, we need to eat animals—not for convenience, not because we have dominion over them, but because they provide what is essential for our health. We must confront the fact that all organisms eat other organisms—are utterly dependent upon doing so. That is one aspect of the arrangement of our world that caused George Ellis to see kenosis as the underlying principle of the cosmos.
ROBERT P. HEANEY, MD
[See Letters, October 17, 2007, for a response to the above.]
Thank you for Richard Alleva’s reviews of Once and La Vie en Rose (“Behind the Music,” July 13). As a lover of both Edith Piaf and boxing, I noticed a small mistake in the review. The name of the love of Piaf’s life was the boxer Marcel Cerdan—spelled with an “a” not an “o.”
LOUIS J. MCCABE, SJ