At The New Republic, Liza Mundy writes on “The Strange History of the Birth Certificate“:
…As it turns out, the birth certificate is an awkward and hybrid document, tasked with any number of purposes. It dates back to the ancient world, when officials wanted to know how many citizens to tax and conscript, as well as to the 1500s, when the English church began requiring ministers to register christenings. In this country, a few colonies began recording births as early as the 1600s. But the first national model appeared around the turn of the twentieth century, as part of a health and sanitation movement. Officials needed birth (and death) records to calculate the mortal effects of epidemics, industrialization, and urban overcrowding.
…consider how strange it is that we gather nuanced data on a mother’s education or Hispanic origins or use of government-funded groceries, and ignore an egg that that didn’t come from her. All told, there can be as many as five people contributing to a birth by assisted reproduction: egg donor, surrogate, sperm donor, legal mother, legal father. We know that genetic history foretells a lot about well-being. We know that the genome unfolds, or “expresses” itself, in the womb. So a surrogate has an impact on children’s health, and so do donors, at birth and thereafter. If you’ve ever gone for a physical, you’ve been asked about your family history: breast cancer, heart conditions, strokes. It’s a problem if tens of thousands of people are walking around thinking they are related to the wrong parents.
So it seems time to make birth certificates more honest and transparent. I admit this is idealistic, and hard.
(Below, an old Soviet birth certificate, via Creative Commons at Flickr.)