Why this rush to judgement on buying babies?

What is adoption for? To give unwanted children a good home, obviously.
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The Independent Online

At least that's the theory, and the Government is committed to making the procedure easier in this country; there were 2,200 adoptions in 1999, of which only around 300 involved children from abroad. Last week, though, the Prime Minister entered the debate about the American twins adopted by a couple in Wales after being advertised on the internet, condemning the transaction as disgusting. On Thursday evening, as accusations of bad faith and broken promises flew across the Atlantic, Flintshire social services stepped in and took the twin girls into council care.

At least that's the theory, and the Government is committed to making the procedure easier in this country; there were 2,200 adoptions in 1999, of which only around 300 involved children from abroad. Last week, though, the Prime Minister entered the debate about the American twins adopted by a couple in Wales after being advertised on the internet, condemning the transaction as disgusting. On Thursday evening, as accusations of bad faith and broken promises flew across the Atlantic, Flintshire social services stepped in and took the twin girls into council care.

Judith and Alan Kilshaw, who flew to California and took the twins to Arkansas to arrange a speedy private adoption, have received the kind of press normally reserved for child-molesters (or gay couples who aspire to become parents). They must bear some responsibility for this, given their peculiar decision to book into a hotel and give wall-to-wall interviews to the media. Yet it is far from clear, apart from the fact that they present themselves badly on television, why the Kilshaws have attracted near-universal censure. Much has been made of their use of the internet, yet I cannot see much difference between advertising children for adoption in newspapers, as local authorities have been doing for years, and a private agency offering them via a website.

Nor is it clear that the fact of money changing hands - £8,200, apparently via a credit card - damns the couple as comprehensively as has been claimed. It is far from unusual these days for women to take out a bank loan to pay for in vitro fertilisation, a decision that is quite likely to get them featured in the Daily Mail, not as monster-of-the-month but as a heroic example of the power of the maternal instinct. Paying for fertility treatment is interpreted as selfless and altruistic, even though it is more often than not a complete waste of money; it is a harsh fact that most childless couples would do more good by signing cheques to help poor children in Guatemala than by handing over thousands of pounds to fertility clinics. So why such haste to condemn spending on babies that already exist?

What the transaction has revealed is a need for closer regulation of private adoption agencies in the US. It also says something about poverty there, a subject on which almost everyone is strangely silent; according to the UN children's agency, Unicef, 22 per cent of American children live below the poverty line, a shaming statistic for the world's wealthiest nation. We may be horrified when Tranda Wecker, the twins' natural mother, says she loves them but cannot afford to keep them, but that does not mean she is lying. It raises a question we in Britain are powerless to answer, which is when a proportion of the US's vast resources will be diverted towards supporting mothers such as Ms Wecker instead of being squandered on tax cuts and unworkable missile systems.

What we can do something about is our contradictory and confused attitudes to parenting. It is the misfortune of adoptive couples to be judged by very different standards from parents who have children by natural methods, especially when the tabloids, with their simplistic and retributive notions of morality, get involved. They are offended by Mrs Kilshaw's admission that she began the adoption process because she wanted a baby girl, although she already has two adult daughters and two young sons. Through being so frank about their motives, she and her husband have offended against one of the most powerful myths of our culture: that parents are unselfish people who produce offspring for no other reason than to love them and benefit society as a whole.

That is sentimental rubbish. People have children for all sorts of reasons. They hope that having a baby will keep a marriage together or - this is especially the case with 40-something mothers of several children - they find themselves unable to imagine life without a dependent creature to look after; in developing countries, economic necessity dictates that couples have large families, in order to improve their own chances of survival.

That is not to say that the Kilshaws are ideal parents for the twins, a decision that will eventually be made, quite properly, by the courts; adoption has to be regulated according to the laws of this country, and the interests of the children put first. What does seem unfair is that they should be judged and condemned in advance by the media and politicians, through comparisons to an ideal family that exists only in storybooks.

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