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The Story: The Supreme Court recently heard arguments about who counts as a “child” for the purposes of inheritance law and Social Security benefits, notes World magazine.

The Background: According to the L.A. Times, since 1930 the Social Security Act has offered benefits to the survivors of a deceased wage earner, including dependent children. But when Karen Capato applied for survivors benefits for her twins, a Social Security official said she had a “very sympathetic case,” but turned down the request because the children were conceived after the father had died. Capato is a New Jersey mother who gave birth to twins through in vitro fertilization 18 months after her husband, Robert, had died of cancer.

The Justice Department defended the commission’s view of the law on the grounds that the provision says a surviving child is one who is “dependent on the deceased wage earner at the time of [his] death.” Since the twins were not yet conceived, argued the Justice Department lawyer, they could not have been dependents at the time of his death.

As the Times claims, the case has captured the attention of U.S. servicemen overseas, some of whom have used sperm banks before deploying to war zones.

Why It Matters: During the oral arguments Justice Stephen G. Breyer said he was skeptical of “applying this old law to new technology.” Christians should be similarly concerned about indiscriminately applying well-intentioned moral reasoning to ethically questionable behavior made possible by technological novelty.

For example, Concerned Women for America sided with the mother because, as Mario Diaz, the group’s legal counsel, said, “We hope the Supreme Court recognizes, as other circuits have, that all biological children of married parents meet the definition of a child. . . To say otherwise would not only devalue children in legal theory, but, as we can see in this case, it would also have enormous tangible consequences.” While such concerns are legitimate, Diaz seems to miss the point that the children are not born to married parents—-death is the ending of marriage and any conception that occurs after the death of one spouse is occurring outside the marriage bond.

But this is only the edge of the slippery slope. Once we determine that there is nothing morally or legally wrong with a dead husband conceiving a child, other unnatural arrangements become more acceptable. For instance, in 2007 an Israeli couple won the right to use their dead son’s sperm to inseminate a woman he never met. The case was viewed by some as a great victory for “family rights.”

The children born from such post-death conceptions are not at fault, of course, and should be protected as much as possible from having to suffer from a decision over which they had no control. But hard cases often make bad law, and Astrue vs. Capato could set a precedent that would harm other children in the future.

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