Following Family Day, the time has come to talk about the new social and demographic reality of Israel’s families. In an age where family takes on dozens of new shades, the legal system must adapt to the changing reality in which we live, and rewrite the basic definitions of family that compose our laws to address the needs and challenges posed by the emergence of new forms of family.
Throughout human history, the classic family structure was composed of a father, mother and children. In the later decades of the 20th century, the structure of the family developed different shades and textures. Today, in contrast to the past, we see more single-parent families, more same-sex families and more families assisted by reproductive technology.
Reproductive technologies now enable children to be born in ways barely imagined a decade ago.
Today, a fetus, created from ova donated from an anonymous woman, can gestate in the uterus of another woman, a surrogate mother, who delivers it for an individual or couple, who become the legal parent or parents, and who raise the child as their own.
A man, who is single or in a same-sex couple, can make a shared parenting agreement with a woman, and share legal rights and responsibility for a child that she bears from her ova and his sperm. Today, children can even be born after the death of one or even both of their biological parents through a Biological Will™. Reproductive technologies continue to grow more sophisticated, enabling families to be formed in ways that the Israeli legislator has not contemplated, necessitating the legislator to define the rights and responsibilities of the stakeholders in various plausible sceneries.
Israel’s revolution in family life has already overcome the boundaries set by the narrow definition of the right to family granted by the state. Yet, this is a revolution in process; a revolution that aspires for complete liberty to create a family without religious or governmental approval. This is a revolution that changed individual consciousness by empowering people to choose the character and composition of their family.
TODAY, WE live in an era where we can engineer the family, sketch its contours, determine the number of members, their gender and the timing of its formation. The human desire not only to have a family, but to choose its shape and character, is emboldened by the social, demographic and legal developments that define the modern era.
According to predictions, the classic structure of the family will become increasingly less common in the face of new family structures.
The reasons for the change of the classic family structure include, among others, increasing individualization and development of individual freedoms, enhancement of the status of women, rising divorce rates, increased legitimacy to express sexual and gender identity, and the spread of secularism that allows people to form families independent of religious authority.
Increased use of reproductive technologies allows childless people to become parents without spouses or with partners of the same sex, or by using the genetic material from anonymous strangers or known donors who are no longer alive. In the coming decades, more and more citizens will use reproductive technologies. This is because two opposite forces are at play. Humans are becoming less fertile due to delays in childbearing ages, declining sperm quality, environmental deterioration, and other factors we do not fully understand. Yet, while humanity slowly loses its fertility, our natural desire for parenthood, to have biological descendants, and to raise children, is enhanced.
Humanity’s desire for continuity is assisted by the proliferation of reproductive technologies. The right to parenthood using existing reproductive technologies, and technologies that will develop in the future, must lead to a broad public dialogue on the numerous ethical, social and legal questions it raises. Will the use of reproductive technologies affect the composition of the average family? Will the Israeli legislature recognize the new forms of families that have emerged in recent decades? Will all forms of family eventually win equal rights? Consideration of these issues must be reflected in the writing of new family legislation. The Israeli legislator must adapt the legal system to the reality in which we live. Legislators must rewrite the basic definitions of our family law. Legislators should redefine what constitutes a legal relationship, what is a family, who is a parent, and what authority and responsibility parents have. The reality urges us to redefine the family unit to protect the rights and responsibilities of all types of families and all their members. Inevitably, the religious establishment must also confront the reality of the new family unit.
The author is an attorney at law, an expert on family law and fertility technologies, founder and executive director of New Family Organization.