For One Thing, I Might Sit On Them

The wife and I have agreed to go on the Jenny Craig diet, because we are extremely susceptible to advertisements featuring the former cast of Cheers. If Woody Harrelson told me to buy a new Hummer I'd be smashing up Priuses in the parking lot and enraging people with hemp shoes with it by the end of the week. I'm extremely dubious that Katrina requires this diet; if she does, she needs it several orders of magnitude less than I do. I've sailed past late Elvis and late Marlon Brando and am fast approaching Dom Deluise/Oprah/Hutt.

Anyway, she's already had her first appointment and picked up her week's supply of ludicrously expensive, sodium-and-preservative rich food-analogue-products. (As near as I can tell, Jenny is flirting with the hypothesis that cell death from sodium poisoning will cause weight loss. You could set some of this stuff out for deer to lick.) She showed me one of the dishes the other night. "It's nice they give you an amuse bouche to start with" I say. No, that was the entire dinner. Since I'm in a different weight class, the one good J.C. classifies as "planetoid," I'll get to eat more every day. But unless I get to line up nine or ten of those entrees like tequila shots on a bar, I'm going to be gnawing the pillows by the weekend.

This is a roundabout way of mentioning that I'm fat. I'm a fat adoptive parent. In some places, as recent news shows, this is an anaomly, as adoption agencies and authorities have health restrictions for adoptive parents that include weight restrictions. Yet somehow our busy friend Matt Drudge saw fit to announce breathlessly on his front page that a family had been excluded from adoption because the husband was too fat.

Damien and Charlotte Hall were told to reapply once Mr Hall, who weighs 24 stone, had slimmed down.

The couple, who do not drink or smoke, have accused Leeds City Council of ignoring their parenting skills and denying a child a loving home.

They approached the council about adoption because they cannot have children of their own, but were told that Mr Hall's weight made them ineligible, because of the risk that he could become ill or die.

The 37-year-old call centre worker from Leeds must cut his body mass (BMI) index to below 40 and prove he can keep the weight off for the couple to be considered. He currently has a BMI of more than 42, classifying him as morbidly obese.

24 stone, for those of you who do not live in a country where they still measure things by reference to various forms of rubble, is about 336 pounds. That's a much bigger planetoid than I am. And I'm a good distance from BMI 42, thankfully, though nowhere near as far away as I should be.

To me, it seems self-evident that someone with a condition with "morbidly" in the title, whether or not the condition is "voluntary" or "involuntary," is questionably qualified to adopt a child. But people like the Halls and their supporters assert that they have a right to adopt a child despite this level of obesity, that Mr. Hall can still parent, that they can love a child who needs a home, and that the restriction simply reflects a commonly accepted social prejudice against fat people. I have no doubt that Mr. Hall is capable of loving a child and being a good parent by any number of measures. But I also have no trouble with adoption agencies — and governments — setting requirements for adoptive parents reasonably calculated to ensure that every child is adopted into a home with healthy and capable parents who do not pose a unusually high risk of stroking out when the kid is in junior high.

Certainly some adoption requirements are motivated by social prejudices that do not warrant respect. I have very low regard for states that prohibit adoption by same-sex couples, which strike me as questionably related to actual child welfare and more related to enforcing social norms. And China's ban on parents with "severe facial deformity" is probably a reflection of that culture's regrettable attitude towards visible disability or difference. But someone who is morbidly obese is much more likely to die early, or suffer substantial health problems, than someone who is not. That's a medical fact; it would exist whether or not our society had decided that Paris Hilton and Kiera Knightly represented reasonable beauty ideals. Adoption agencies and governments setting adoption requirements are entitled, legally and morally, to restrict adoption to reasonably healthy parents, as determined by reasonably available and workable criteria.

Some of the outrage about eligibility limits on adoptive parents carry a dangerous tone — the tone of entitlement. People like the Hills feel they are entitled to a child in the care of the state, and that thus the adoption process should be as accommodating and "non-discriminatory" as the application for a library card. But children placed for adoption are not anyone's entitlement. The entitled attitude encourages the commodification of children, which is already enough of a problem in both domestic and international adoption. People like the Hills offer a similarly problematical chord when they trot out the "I just want to give a needy child a home" argument. First, this argument plays into the parent-as-savior complex that offends self-aware adoptive parents, who recognize that viewing your child as lucky to have you is the exact opposite of the way a principled adoptive parent should view the situation. Second, the argument lends itself to the view that adoptive children are strictly second-class, and ought to he happy for what they can get — that restrictions on suitability on adoptive parents are inappropriate when children ought just be thankful to have a roof over their head. Once again, this is a vision of an adoptive child as a supplicant rather than a family member, and is a terribly unhealthy foundation for a family relationship.

And so, though I am interested in discussions of whether eligibility requirements are rational, I make no pretense to suggesting that everyone should be eligible to adopt. I'm not morbidly obese — I'm probably 8 BMI points behind Mr. Hill — but an agency or government could rationally and morally eschew me in favor of a physically fit parent. Most American adoption agencies will not refuse me because I take anti-depressants, and I view that as a rational decision, but when China made me ineligible I recognized that this was their call based on their medical and psychological judgment. It's not the judgment that I'd make, and I'd argue against it given the opportunity, but it's not irrational or unscientific, like their sad cultural hang-up about facial deformity. The truth is, I'm not much of a parent if I stop taking my meds.

Adoption is not about me and my right to self-realization, and I ought not expect it to be.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Derrick says

    I applaud this decision. What kind of society would we be if we allowed children to be raised British?!

  2. lpont says

    Of course there are there are some rules with some countries/agencies about adoptive parents weight and meds in take. The key here is that there is no question about us gaining weight and needing meds AFTER out kids get home.

    It's all about finding the loop holes.

  3. astonied says

    Screw Jenny. Try Lindora. Lean for Life. They have 'em near you. I lost 40 pounds on it and have now lost 16 pounds in a month. A friend lost 80, another 60, another 60. IT works.

    Personally I think that you should only be allowed to become an A-parent if you like kids. I have never seen that qualification listed anywhere.

  4. says

    "Most American adoption agencies will not refuse me because I take anti-depressants, and I view that as a rational decision, but when China made me ineligible I recognized that this was their call based on their medical and psychological judgment. It’s not the judgment that I’d make, and I’d argue against it given the opportunity, but it’s not irrational or unscientific, like their sad cultural hang-up about facial deformity. The truth is, I’m not much of a parent if I stop taking my meds. "

    True 'dat. I agree with you. I am incredibly sad that China won't allow me to adopt…BUT my CURRENT children know that mommy ON drugs is much better than mommy OFF of drugs. Tom Cruise can put THAT in his pipe and smoke it!

    Seriously, though….your article is great, Ken. Very well said.

    I also agree with the previous poster who said to SCREW JENNY! I about fainted one day when Nate, who was about four at the time, very sweetly turned my face to his, looked deeply into my eyes and implored, "Mom? Why don't you just call Jenny?"

  5. John Beaty says

    So, you're not a fit parent if you overeat, but you are if you fail to take your meds. Wait, that's not what you said. Let me try again.
    You're not a fit parent if you' re overweight, but you are an unfit parent if you don't take your meds.

    What if your meds stop working? (See my DIL for details. It ain't pretty.)

    What if the "risk" of obesity is overblown?

    Should parent with increased risk of cancer, graves disease, parkinson's also be forbidden?

    How about too skinny?

    I'm close to 24 stone, 2 adopted children, both open domestic adopts, I look like the brother of one of the kid's grandparents. Given that a portion of body weight is genetic, should that count? How about that my other daughter is hispanic, and looks nothing like me and is rather slender, something her mother and i will never aspire to?

    How about smoking? In the past?

    Thanks for bringing up the subject, even if we come to different conclusions!

  6. says

    I think the couple here is in serious denial. As are many in society.

    He describes himself as "overweight". I'm overweight at He needs to lose 100lb to be overweight at just over half his size. He's not just obese, he's way beyond that.

    When talking about the obesity epedimic on TV news they show pictures of the severely obese people, rather than the people society considers to be "a little bit overweight". Thus we think obesity kicks in at a larger size than it does.