Hazel McHaffie

Questions & Challenges for “Double Trouble”

Literary questions for reading groups

For discussion
  • Q. Motherhood features strongly in this novel. How good a mother do you think each of the women was?
  • Q. Nicholas, Donella, Declan and Roberta took a number of different steps to prevent the disclosure of information which they preferred to keep private. They did not anticipate the effect of Graeme Robertson’s mental instability. What other chinks do you perceive in this family’s armour?
  • Q. How would you describe the relationship between Nicholas and Donella? Do statements they make themselves on the subject square with your view?
  • Q. Professor Richard Halley is a powerful man. How much does he influence what happens to his family? Do you approve of his behaviour? Do you like him?
  • Q. Which characters emerge as having most integrity? How do the others fall short of their standard?
  • Q. If you were writing the sequel to this story what would happen in it?
  • Q. Did you anticipate the ending of this story? Can you find cues retrospectively? How did you respond to it? Why?

Moral and ethical questions

Double Trouble revolves around the central theme of what should be permissible in relation to assisted reproduction involving surrogacy.

Respect for autonomy and paternalism
  • Q. Professor Dick Halley is personally strongly opposed to surrogacy. Is it acceptable that he, as a clinician specialising in helping infertile couples, should refuse to be involved with patients who wish to go down this route?
  • Q. Donella Halley argues that a surrogate mother had just as much right to terminate a pregnancy as she would have if it were “normally” conceived. Do you think she is right? If not, why not?
Disclosure of information, rights and responsibilities
  • Q. When the information about Judy and Declan Robertson impinges on the happiness of her own son, Roberta Mansfield/Halley feels differently about it compared with her reaction when the Robertsons were merely patients. To what extent should doctors allow emotion to affect their judgement in decision making?
Confidentiality and the right to know
  • Q. Even in the face of Donella’s direct appeal for information that concerns her and her unborn child, Roberta withholds it. Is this an appropriate interpretation of her duty to maintain medical confidentiality?
Conflicts between beneficence and autonomy
  • Q. Roberta tries to protect her son from the consequences of genetic inbreeding. Were her actions morally defensible?
Ethical issues relating to artificial or assisted reproduction
  • Q. Nicholas is very keen to have a child of his own. When he weighs up the pros and cons of infertile couples acquiring a child through assisted means, he comes to the conclusion that there are more arguments in favour than against. How many of his arguments would you be persuaded by?
  • Q. Imagine you are
    1. a social worker considering Nicholas and Heidi for adoption of a child,
    2. a fertility specialist considering them for assisted conception.

    Would you approve them as prospective parents? To what extent would the criteria you use differ in the two scenarios?

Ethical issues relating to surrogacy
  • Q. When Nicholas questions his father on the idea that surrogacy is a form of adultery, Dick reassures him that it is not. Is there technically a moral difference between a couple inserting warm semen into the woman in a private bedroom compared with doctors doing the same thing in a medical clinic, as Dick suggests? Does the experience of Nicholas and Donella alter your theoretical view?
  • Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of
    1. the surrogate mother staying in touch with the commissioning couple?
    2. the surrogate mother being a relative?
    3. involving a surrogacy agency?
  • Q. Maintaining secrecy is much more difficult with surrogacy than donor insemination. What steps might Donella and Nicholas have taken to protect themselves from outside criticism?
  • Q. The two couples begin with strict rules of behaviour to ensure no breaches of propriety and taste. By the fourth attempt several of these minimum requirements are no longer in place. Which basic safeguards do you think are essential in such a transaction?
  • Q. Nicholas believes the law is right to give custody of the child to the biological mother in the event of a dispute. Do you agree?