Tuesday, December 05, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Anti-Smoking Group's Stance on Smoking by Adoptive Parents is Unacceptable

I reported here yesterday that a major national anti-smoking group - Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) - is pushing to bar prospective parents who smoke from being able to adopt children. The policy they are supporting does not bar adoption by parents who smoke in the home; it bars adoption by all smokers, even if they do not smoke in the home and they certify that they will not expose their child to secondhand smoke.

ASH shares a story about a "heartbroken" couple who was recently told that their desperate desire to adopt a child could not be fulfilled unless the prospective father quits smoking for six months and obtains medical documentation that he has quit. And ASH seems to derive some pleasure out of the fact that this couple was made to be heartbroken because the prospective father is a smoker.

While I didn't mention it in my original post, there is a fundamental flaw in ASH's argument in support of this policy.

One of the arguments ASH uses to support this policy is that a smoker might say he is not going to smoke in the home, but later change his mind. Thus, as long as a prospective parent is a smoker, he must not be allowed to adopt a child.

Well the same argument could be made for a smoker who quits smoking in order to adopt, something which ASH apparently supports. We know that relapse is very common. An ex-smoker could easily change his mind and resume smoking. It happens all the time.

In fact, the risks of a smoker relapsing are probably far greater than the risk of a smoker lying about not smoking in the home in the presence of his child.

Thus, if ASH really wants to protect children, it needs to bar all ever-smokers (current and former smokers) from adopting. Of course, that would wipe out the majority of the population as prospective adoptive parents.

Thus, ASH's policy makes no sense, even if it were appropriate for adoption agencies to disallow adoption if there was any possibility that a child would be exposed to secondhand smoke in the home.

But there is a far more troubling implication of ASH's support for this policy which I simply find unacceptable: the idea that if an individual is a smoker and is biologically unable to have children or married to someone who is unable to have children, that individual cannot be allowed to have children.

The Rest of the Story

Adoption of ASH's policy would result in a society in which no smoker who is biologically unable to have children could have the privilege and fulfillment of having and raising a child.

In fact, the policy would also eliminate the possibility of parenthood for all nonsmokers who are married to a smoker where either one of the couple was unable to have children.

Moreover, the policy would essentially bar gay couples where one partner smokes from having children, unless they are willing to use a surrogate father of some form of embryo implantation.

By the way, would ASH, if left to its own devices, even allow gay couples where one partner smokes to have children? By their logic, it would be appropriate to bar the use of embryo implantation in smokers. In fact, such a law would be less damaging than barring adoption because with adoption, there is already an existing child who is being deprived of loving parents. With barring embryo implantation, it is merely a theoretical child that is affected.

I want to make it clear at this early stage of the game that I find this policy to be completely unacceptable and I find the support of any anti-smoking group for this policy to also be unacceptable.

It would be a tragedy if we established a policy that prohibited smokers from having children if they could not, or did not want to bear children themselves.

It would be a tragedy if we established a policy that prohibited smokers from having children if they were gay and did not wish to utilize a surrogate partner or embryo implantation.

It would also be a tragedy if we established a policy that prohibited nonsmokers from having children if they married a smoker and either they or the spouse were unable to have children.

In fact, this would create a scenario in which nonsmokers might actually be encouraged to avoid marrying smokers because of this very possibility. Perhaps this what ASH wants. It would, after all, encourage smokers to quit.

To be consistent and effective, if we adopt ASH's reasoning, we'd have to support a policy by which any ever-smoker (current or ex-smoker) is barred from adoption because there is a risk of that person smoking around the child or relapsing and then smoking around the child. And as I have argued, the risk of a smoker relapsing is far greater than the risk of a prospective adoptive parent lying about his willingness not to smoke around a child.

I should note here that I haven't even addressed the issue of whether smoking status of the parent (even if they do smoke in the home) is a legitimate concern in the consideration of the fitness of a prospective adoptive parent. It is certainly a problematic idea, because the same reasoning would lead to an inquiry into a host of other behaviors by prospective parents that could increase their children's risk of adverse health effects.

We can leave that discussion for later because, unfortunately, the anti-smoking movement is so far beyond that issue - it has left that issue in the dust. The issue now is whether or not a smoker (or a nonsmoker married to a smoker) has the right to have children by means other than childbirth. The issue now is whether a gay couple where one or both partners smoke has the right to have children at all.

This is probably the most dangerous and intrusive anti-smoking policy that I have seen so far. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

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