Markets in Everything: Reproductive Edition

Guaranteeing that children are cared for is legitimate, but contracts matter.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a woman who promised a sperm donor he would not have to pay child support cannot renege on the deal.

“Where a would-be donor cannot trust that he is safe from a future support action, he will be considerably less likely to provide his sperm to a friend or acquaintance who asks, significantly limiting a would-be mother’s reproductive prerogatives,” Justice Max Baer wrote in the majority opinion issued last week.

Like so many things, the ability to enter into a contract does not necessarily include the ability to competently enter into a contract. That does not mean the competent party must be held retroactively responsible for the poor decision by the incompetent party. Courts should not provide an “oops” clause not found in the original contract.

Also from the article:

A county judge said it was in the twins’ best interests that McKiernan be required to support them. In addition to monthly payments, McKiernan also was ordered to come up with $66,000 in back support. The appeal reverses that order.

If the law can ignore a valid contract, why not rule that it’s in the twins’ best interest that Brad Pitt be required to support them? I’m sure he has more money, and I bet the twins might enjoy hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities. That would be no less based in fact than the county judge’s actual order.

Justice J. Michael Eakin, in a dissent, said a parent cannot bargain away a child’s right to support. “The children point and say, ‘That is our father. He should support us,'” Eakin wrote. “What are we to reply? ‘No! He made a contract to conceive you through a clinic, so your father need not support you.’ I find this unreasonable at best.”

Children have a right to support from parties obliged to support them. In this case, that’s the mother. So, yes, we are to reply “No! He made a contract to conceive you through a clinic, so your father need not support you.” I find this reasonable. The facts are what they are.

5 thoughts on “Markets in Everything: Reproductive Edition”

  1. Ultimately, the issue is that the ruling court would rather make the sperm donor pay for the child’s care than have the state pay. They rightly put the child’s interests above the contracting parties’ interests, the kid wasn’t a part of that deal and shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of some people’s poor choices. But instead of having the state pick up the slack, they force the sperm donor.
    I know you’ll disagree about having the state pay. But at least we can agree the court made the wrong decisions.

  2. I actually don’t have a problem with the state paying, under the right circumstances. There are many libertarians who are okay with a limited welfare state. Playing in theory is fun and leads to better reality, but we can’t ignore reality while we’re in it.
    Some will face hardship. While it’s useful to remember that the money for welfare programs comes from someone else, there are positive externalities for society in preventing poor people from starving and freezing to death. That holds true for children and adults. It’s just when the welfare state moves from helping to enabling that the problem begins.
    As for the contract in the case, I’m firmly on the side of the PA Supreme Court. The mother and biological father entered into a contract no different than if she’d gone to a sperm bank. If she’d done that, she’d have no recourse. Reaching the same agreement (contract) with a sperm donor she knows makes no difference. She entered the contract that relinquished his parental rights and obligations.

  3. The scariest part of all of this is that anyone would think that the donor has any responsibility at all.
    His participation was contingent upon not having to support those children! He didn’t want children, he was trying to enable someone else to have children.
    How depressing.

  4. Unfortunately, child support is for the _child_, not for the mother. A contract entered into by the mother cannot strip the rights of the child, so it seems unlikely that it would be considered a “valid contract.” The Brad Pitt analogy is false and silly. It’s not Brad Pitt’s sperm.
    Not that I don’t think there should be a way to enable this type of contract, but it would require a rethinking of current child support laws, I think.

  5. The child’s right is to be supported, to survive. Whatever agreement that parents (or other consenting adults) want to reach for that support is valid as long as both consent. No one has unfairly burdened the child by entering into an agreement that satisfied both parties.
    The children would not be here if their biological father did not have the right to enter a (voluntary) contract with their biological mother to absolve himself of financial obligation. I’d say the children are better off existing than not existing.
    My Brad Pitt example is extreme and intentionally absurd, but it is neither false nor silly. The judge used faulty logic to wish his viewpoint into reality rather than using the evidence before him, a valid contract.

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