An ethicist look at three scenarios to help sort out the difference between studying one’s biological vs. adopted children:
Ethics has a bizarre blind spot around parents and children. For no justifiable reason that I can discern, we deem it perfectly tolerable for a parent to decide unilaterally to raise their child genderless or under the Tiger Mother or laissez-faire method of parenting, but horror at the idea of someone “testing” one of these parental styles on a child. Recall, there is no test to become a parent, no minimum qualification or form of licensing. In fact, if you are so irresponsible as to unintentionally have a child you do not want and cannot support, you have more of a right (and obligation) to rear that child than a stranger with the means and desire to give that child a better life…
I would like to test this reproduce-rearing correlation with a thought experiment. The details of the thought experiment appear below the fold, but the conclusion is as follows: it would be ethically permissible for a scientist to adopt a large group of children and then perform specific, non-harmful, nature-vs-nurture social experiments on those children…
After running through three scenarios, here is the conclusion:
Therefore, if it is morally permissible for parents to independently decide how to raise their children in regards to gender, it should be morally permissible for a team of scientists to conduct a rigorous experiment with their own adopted children on the impact of rearing on gender and sexual preferences.
I imagine an IRB would have a very difficult time approving a formal proposal for this.
Several other methodological issues come to mind:
1. There could be issues of objectivity: how do we know parents of either biological or adoptive children could “objectively” observe their own kids? This may be a bigger problem in some disciplines than others: ethnographies, for example, utilize participant observation which parents would certainly be a part of. But even then, there are concerns about the researcher becoming too immersed in the setting of the study and losing an outsider’s point of view. Scenario #3 simply suggests that sociologist parents would make “unbiased observations.”
2. How could an experimenter be sure that results from adopted (or even biological) children are the result of the treatment rather than prior experiences and behaviors? Experiments try to isolate the effects of treatments but adopted children could have numerous confounding factors from their pre-adoption days.