walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

chosen family, legal rights and, yet again, the New Old Age


I've been reading a little bit, inadvertently, about the child-free movement. I had known about this movement (in much the same way I knew about some of Richard Stallman's other idiosyncrasies) but not paid it a whole lot of attention. The most recent occasion for encountering it revolved around a fascinating (and thus far unanswerable) legal question about whether children can be required to pay for the nursing home bills of their indigent parents. Several (I think, actually, most, but I'm totally unable to drill down to real details) states have Napoleonic Code-type laws on the books that make family members legally responsible for each others bills. For the most part, the only ones that are actually enforced are between spouses, and parents for minor children. I dropped into a child-free discussion on a forum in the course of trying to google an answer to this question.

For a very long time, I was on the fence about whether I'd have children ever (and, had the financial circumstances of my life gone at all differently, I almost certainly would never have had children); my circle of friends and acquaintance includes a disproportionately large number of women who have never had (and, as we all age, will never have) children. And men, too, for that matter. Some of those people intended to never have children; others, it just never worked out. But none of them were particularly political about it, so I don't have the kind of direct experience of this political position that I do for, say, ethical vegetarianism or veganism.

One of the questions which arises within this debate is what happens when you grow old? While Jane Gross doesn't appear to be particularly politicized on the child-free thing, as a child-less and unmarried woman who has recently supported her own mother during her decline and death, she feels some concern about her own prospects and discusses the possibilities intelligently, with an emphasis on the lack of legal support supplied to friends and family-who-aren't-spouses-or-children (siblings, say, or extended family) who might be able and willing to supply assistance in one's last years (FMLA rules, for example).

She generalizes the issue to the weak status of friendship within our legal system, an interesting stance, particularly given what's going on with the Lambeth (sp) currently. After all, if we're all over the New Hampshire bishop for availing himself of the legal support supplied via civil unions and suggesting he should have waited or not supplied such juicy red meat to bigots, er, opponents of gay clergy in the Anglican community, we'd be saying he'd have to rely on those non-existent legal supports for friendship (should that be in quotes?). Which is to say, even after you've really gone after all the paperwork (health care power of attorney, power of attorney, living will, various proxies, blah, blah, blah), is not a whole helluva lot.

An even larger and more disproportionate fraction of my circle of acquaintance really subscribes to the notion of "chosen family" as opposed to family-of-blood (little Dr. Who reference for ya there). Any opinions about whether we should modify our legal system to better support "chosen family"? I'm particularly interested in non-sexual connections, but also somewhat interested in what people would like to see in terms of supporting polyamory. One argument for polyamory is better/more stable support of children; equally, polyamory could become a framework for support in old age (altho I don't know that I've ever seen anyone explore this idea in any detail).
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