Monday, December 28, 2009

Sperm Donor Children Should Have the Right to Their Whole Identity


Do children born of anonymous sperm deserve to know their fathers? Do they have a right to know their fathers?

When a lesbian acquaintance recently became pregnant I immediately wondered who the father was, but it was abundantly clear this was not a question one could ask. But the question nags still: Will the child, conceived and born in the United States, ever be able to know his father--next month, next year, next whenever? Unless the mother is hip to the idea that children need to know not only their maternal heritage--and I'm not nearly close enough to her to know--it's likely that the little boy will grow up with half his heritage missing, a blank where there ought to be connection, data, medical and cultural history, if not love and feelings.

Across the pond, once again the United Kingdom is way ahead of us on this one. Recently a columnist  in The Guardian, Veronica Lee, decried yet another acquaintance of hers having an anonymous sperm donor father a child:
Children have a right to know who their father is and, where at all possible, to forge a relationship with him. For a woman deliberately to have children alone is astonishingly selfish. Many children miss out on having a father through death, abandonment or other unforeseeable circumstances, but this is deliberate deprivation and treats the child merely as the mother's chattel. My friends would argue they have a right to bear a child, but what about their children's right to know their fathers?
Indeed. What about their children's right to know their fathers?

We at FirstMotherForum are all in favor of children knowing both their mothers and fathers, the ones without whose involvement they would not exist, aka their first/birth/biological parents. And recently (12/10/09) the Irish Supreme Court agreed. A 42-year-old man who had fathered a child for a lesbian couple with whom he had been friendly is opposed to their planned move to Australia, taking his now three-year-old son with them. Supreme Court Justice Susan Denham wrote:
There is benefit to a child, in general, to have the society of his father....I am satisfied that the learned High Court judge [who rejected the father's claims] gave insufficient weight to this factor.
Now over at The Huffington Post, Jacob M. Appel, has his knickers in a twist over this decision, calling it "noxious jurisprudential seed" [pun noted] and "a genuine challenge to reproductive freedom and familial integrity." Which right there is a little odd because he assumes that family integrity is anything you want to make it--and has nearly nothing to do with whose DNA you have, why you have blue eyes instead of brown, can't snap your fingers on her left hand, whistle off key, and have the annoying habit of say, twirling your hair when you are concentrating--just like, why just like dear old Dad! Appel  ought to look up the word integrity in the dictionary: "The state of being unimpaired; probity; completeness. See synonyms at honesty." We understand the concept of the modern "family," and in many cases, see no problem. That is life today, and we are not going backwards. We ourselves are part of a blended family. But family, at its purest interpretation, consists of mother, father, and child or children born of those two people--that is the "state of being unimpaired." I can imagine the hackles being raised as I write this, but give me this interpretation here if you can. I'm simply talking semantics now. But back to the column at the Huf Po (where you might want to leave a comment):

Appel is quite worked up, no doubt about it. He rails against Kansan Daryl Hendrix who brought suit against his former girlfriend, Samantha Harrington, who gave birth to twins using his "excess sperm." A divided state supreme court ruled 4-2 that in the absence of a written agreement, Hendrix had no rights. Hendrix pursued his case to the Kansas Supreme Court, but they refused to hear it. Who brings such suits, Appel posits are "men...who have missed the fatherhood train." There's more venom he spews:
Advancing the antiquated argument that every child should have a father, [italics decidedly ours] these forces have succeeded in preventing anonymous donation in Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Great Britain and Canada no longer allow donors to be compensated. As a result, semen sources are drying up. The unfortunate consequence is that, without sperm, would-be mothers will not be able to conceive.
Our friend, Alison Ward, who alerted us to this story, comments that her favorite line in the screed was "semen sources are drying up." We like that sentence, we admit, but we find others that are just as amusing, to wit: ..."without sperm, would-be mothers will not be able to conceive." Yup, that's true. And we applaud those backwards-thinking countries that have ruled that sperm donation should not be anonymous, or for profit.

What is sickening throughout Appel's diatribe is the total lack of consideration and compassion for the children conceived with anonymous sperm. He is critical of those who are "pressuring sperm banks to identify their genetic 'fathers' [quotes his]. ...These trends also threaten to undermine the 'no-strings-attached' [quotes his] policies that make altruistic [italics mine] sperm donation possible." So the children who are interested in learning their paternal biology and identity are likened to ungrateful thugs who won't leave those fathers alone. Appel does not mention the DonorSiblingRegistry which has more than 26,000 donors, parents, and children conceived by donor sperm, and has connected 6,941 half-siblings and donors, according to its website.

He does concede that sperm donors who become aware of a fatal genetic disease (cancer? cardiac arrest?) should be "unmasked," but all other should be perpetually sealed, and that sperm fathers ought to be viewed no different from those who donate organs to others. "Why should society treat my donation any differently simply because it contains a germ-line cell rather than somatic tissue?"

Because somatic tissue does not carry the DNA that determines who and individual is. Because somatic tissue is not hereditary. Because one-half of one's makeup and identity is not contained in somatic tissue.

We wish Mr. Appel had told us a bit about himself. Is he a donor father himself who wishes the cloak of anonymity? Does he know his own biological background and genetic makeup? Was he a foundling who has no background on himself and feels that no one else thus has the right to know whence  she came if that is an issue? Does his sister/girlfriend/cousin have a baby conceived with anonymous DNA-rich sperm?

Because we do not hold the same  "progressive" view of conception and parentage as Appel, we are branded together with Christian conservatives and and other "naturalists." We are progressive on many, if not most, issues, but on a question so basic as the answer to Who Am I? we will argue that everyone has the right to know the full and complete answer, and that test-tube children ought to have the same rights as the rest of us: To know one's identity. If we are talking rights, let's start with the children. 
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20 comments :

  1. How very interesting. The statement "this is deliberate deprivation and treats the child merely as the mother's chattel" can be made into the same thing as this: adoption is a deliberate deprivation and treats the child merely as the adoptive parent's chattel.

    Interesting - I think I will wander over to the HP - lol - stir the pot!

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  2. Lorraine,

    This was my response - if it gets posted - LOL!

    I am concerned that the inevitability of the need for a complete medical history and the denial of parental, or at least the father's rights are being denied. It seems to me that if you look into the genetic issues that are prevalent in childhood diseases and into adulthood, it would only make sense that the persons involved, both the mother and the "sperm donor" father have the same rights to either personal privacy or not. There is no excuse for a child not to have the influence of their biological father.

    I find this reminding me of the influence that male bull elephants have on young male elephants. Without the male bull, the young males become unpredictable, dangerous and in some cases have to be put down. This is a well documented fact.

    We have a society that embrasses the mother (provided she is not the "birth mother") and denigrates the father (provided he is not the "birth father"). We also have young men killing people in their schools and colleges.

    Does the similarity not strike you as important?

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  3. God, I commented all over that thing. I'm with you--I'm generally progressive about stuff, although I find that an inadequate word and label. But not about this. People do have the right to know where they come from, and if someone who pursues alternative family-building options is that ashamed of what they are doing, perhaps they should reconsider before imposing their notion of "family" on an unsuspecting innocent party.

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  4. My firm belief is that under no circumstances should a child, a human being, be ANONYMOUSLY conceived to placate another human being's need to parent. If you can't be honest with your child, don't birth one. Get a dog! I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I denied my child his, or her, PRIVATE information. How selfish, how small, must one be to keep a child's PERSONAL information from him, or her? I'd like to know how and when sperm donation germinated. Could it have been another product of our illustrious patriarchy? I can safely say it was all about money.

    The audacity of a nation to keep vital information [from certain individuals] that every other human being takes for granted. Where do we, as a nation, get the audacity to make amputees of our offspring? Children should not be sacrificing themselves for adults. By nature, shouldn't it be the other way around? Parents take care of children.

    You might enjoy our critique of a recent Dr. Phil Show about adoption. Dr. Phil, a PSYCHOLOGIST, views an adoptee's need to know the question, "Who am I?" as mere idle CURIOSITY! Why do we worship such a supposed mental health professional? Don't we see there's something wrong with that analogy? I would think everybody would be up in arms about such a statement. We're so accustomed to the discount of human beings that not many are even phased by such a crack! The critique is dated December 16, 2009, and entitled, "Watch Your #$%* Language, Dr. Phil," at http://www.caleighbrookswatchingthewatchers.com Enjoy!

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  5. OMG - I responded on the Huff Pus - and it was approved! - then up pops this moron who is totally out in deep space and knows nothing:

    BoyInBOYCOTT:
    "Religious folks who claim to care so deeply to save the unborn. Are you going to go back to a birth mother who gives up a child to be adopted, that later they can make the birth mother financially responsibelfor her PARENTING?
    If not how is she NOT responsible, and her sperm donor would be?

    Cuz all that will acomplish is more women ABORTING."

    Which was responded to by this one:

    Ametista:

    "Actually I came to the same conclusion. If sperm donors (whether from a one-night-stand or a plastic cup) can sue for custody it will encourage abortion because no woman wants to be stuck dealing with some jerk she barely knows (or doesn't know at all) for 18 years just because his dna mixed with hers."

    So I had to respond:

    Ametista, do you have children? If a woman wants a child that badly, they don't care. How do you think adoption brokers stay in business? Because when a woman or couple - and women are the biggest pushers for this - want a baby bad enough, they will do what they have to. Good grief - read some First Mother (Birth Mother) blogs!

    Is it me or are the blind leading the blind - or is it the ignorant leading the ignorant!

    The Boy (for short) is so misinformed about animals, he actually thought I made that up!

    GOOD GRIEF!

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  6. The donor is not anonymous; the couple used a gay friend and he wanted more contact as time went on. There is no issue of anonymity or the child's right to know but there is an issue of three people trying to work something out. Too bad it had to get this ugly.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/1211/1224260511577.html

    If you're into this stuff, Julie Shapiro at Related Topics writes about the family law and ethical implications of sperm donation quite a lot. Her take on the Irish case here:

    http://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/irish-court-decides-gay-sperm-donor-is-dad-to-lesbian-family/#more-1393

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  7. On a related note, the mother who insisted on collecting her dead son's sperm without his prior consent just so she could get herself a grandchild is an example of someone avoiding the "genetic issues" that are often discussed here, yet IMO that child would definitely be chattel.

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/30133582/

    In the Irish case, there are three people who struck an agreement to use a man's sperm without considering him to be acting in a fathering role. They all agreed to this. Subsequently, he protested, thereby calling into question the right of the "family" (in this case the two lesbians) to make decisions. Much as this method of family-making may get up people's noses, there is a question about what the three originally and legally agreed to. The fact that the Irish Supreme Court wouldn't even consider these two women and the child "family" with the rights of autonomous decision-making is a huge blow for civil rights, in case nobody noticed.

    Nobody has the unfettered right to a traditional family. What we do have the right to is a safe, loving family and the right to know our origins and the people we came from. I don't think that was in question here.

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  8. Everyone deserves to know who there mother and father are...

    In the UK there are many sperm donors that are fine with not being anonymous...that is not the problem, the problem is that only 4% make it past the medical screening test.

    http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_45488.asp

    "The acceptance rate of those who apply to donate sperm to those that are selected is only four per cent. The vast majority of applicants are rejected because of poor sperm quality (85 per cent) and others because of concerns about sexually transmitted diseases (7 per cent) or their genetic history (8 per cent).

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  9. This is an urgent and important question. Notice that policy and practice are firmly in place that create children who have no right to appropriate the whole of their past but instead have their past edited by all sorts of interests so that people who have actually no direct stake in the matter can rile the water and support these practices. It is the same pattern that we see with adoptions.

    The direct interests only need to point to the fears that so many uninvolved people provide to establish the importance of their cause.

    Glad that you are taking this up. There are some great blogs by donor conceived persons...which I do not have access to right at the moment. Shawn Vandor's blog comes to mind.

    England is ahead of the USA in mandating that disclosure of records must be made on the part of the state, but parents are not required to disclose to their children the circumstances of their conception. So, many of the DC persons will not know to ask for the records that will tell them identifying information.

    Keep an eye out on this whole issue.

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  10. I'm not sure why my second post didn't get through. Let me restate what I said more clearly.

    It is not just “genetic issues” that bind us here. It is the technology that increases our ability to act in our own self-interest. Witness the Texas mother who harvested--without consent--her dead son's sperm so she could get herself a grandchild and mend her broken heart. Inexcusable, in my view, dangerously close to making a child chattel, and just plain icky. Sperm and eggs are NOT identical to other bodily organs that go on ticking and gurgling in other people's bodies if donated. Yet what defined that case and made many people sympathetic toward her was the fact that this was her genetic material.

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/30133582/

    While I believe the three adults in the Irish case should have worked it out themselves and should have given the man more time with this child, they signed a legal agreement prior to the birth of the child stating that the man would not raise the child. This man suddenly applying to become the child's guardian would throw most any family, I would think. Not recognizing the couple as a “family,” as one justice stated, was also problematic IMO.

    Children have no unfettered right to a traditional family. They have the right to a safe, loving family and the right to know their origins if adopted or conceived by IVF. There are plenty of sperm donors out there carefully distancing themselves from the role of father even if they donated their genetic material.

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  11. I'm so glad to see that you are taking on this issue! I found that article and it upset me so much that I commented under 'donorconceived'. I wrote:

    "As a 'donor conceived' person myself, I really don't think any of this should EVER be about adult rights but rather about the best interests of the child. A 'sperm donor' is a father - no matter how you might politically like to position that person for what ever 'rights' agenda you might support. My parent's donor is not 'my donor', he is my father.

    It might have been in my best interest not to have had him involved in my life, but that does not mean that that makes him nothing less than a contributor of half of my dna and it doesn't make his absence from my or my children's (his grandchildren) lives morally neutral or irrelevant. The circle talk about 'rights' is, in my opinion, just a way to avoid the harsh reality of all this - sperm/egg/procreation/responsibility is intimately connected to men/women/children and family - it is just impossible to say that love is the only prerequisite to family without separating sperm/egg from procreation/ and responsibility - without saying mothers/fathers are irrelevant - without saying parenting responsibilities are ONLY choices - without saying that children are only about filling adult desires.

    So PLEASE stop with the "IT'S MY RIGHT!" politics. No one has a right to a child but we all have a responsibility to do right by a child."

    Which was attacked - so I tried to explain further - more attacks - more posts from me - I just have to walk away from it now.

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  12. Yo, folks, we have lives...both Jane and I were away from the computer today. I got into Manhattan and toured the Cloisters and then had lunch with my husband and his grown children, their wives and sons, and as we live a hundred miles from Manhattan, that was the day. I checked in this am before we left but there was nothing to post. So sometimes if we do not get to the comments a quickly as usual, it's because we are not tied to the computer as usual. And I had phone calls I had to catch up on.

    Happy New Year everyone.

    lo

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  13. Osolo, I see your point, and yes there was a legal contract, but I do have sympathy for the father in this case. He obviously has some sort of paternal relationship that went from casual "uncle" to something more before his friendship with the lesbian couple who are the legal parents deteriorated. So if they move to Australia, his relationship to his son--whether legal or not--will certainly be difficult to maintain, particularly if they chose to restrict access to the boy. And of course I speak as someone who was my daughter's mother but not in the eyes of the law. Yet there I was: her mother.

    What this kind of mess most clearly illustrates are the complicated ethical issues and problems that stem from forging new and different biological families. We don't know the circumstances of their desire to move to Australia, but given that the relationship with the biological father was on the rocks, it's possible their decision to move half way around the world was fostered by that breakdown. Say the couple does move to Australia and one day, fifteen years later, the boy learns that his father wanted to have a relationship with him, but the move so far away denied him that. Is he then going to be pleased that his mothers denied him that connection?

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  14. You folks ought to see the long chain of comments and various threads going on at the Huf Po where this noxious column from Jacob Appel originated. Amazing. Some people arguing that adopted people have no rights to information either, and that's fine and dandy. But we do have a number of people sticking up for their rights.

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  15. I went over to HuffPo and it was way too much writing for me. Besides, what Dana said I basically agree with--respecting the reality of alternative families while sticking up for the right to know one's origins.

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  16. I did a post on this topic a while back when there was a similar article in a magazine up her.

    It's called Who's Your Daddy? (Not Who's Your Daddy II) I'd put a link but I don't see a way to do that.

    Sperm donor kids are just the next waive.

    And as one of your commenters said - how dare someone put their need to parent ahead of a child's right to know where he or she comes from.

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  17. This problem has been going on for centuries. It did not just start with the advent of "sperm donation".

    What about birth mothers who have no idea who the father of the child is? I know many women who gave birth to babies,and do not know who the daddy is. They don't remember names or anything else. Or they might refuse to tell, even if they do know. Doesn't that also violate the child's rights?

    And for centuries,children have been raised by men who believed they were the genetic father. They never knew otherwise. They never knew the wife had an affair with another man, which produced the child they believed was their own genetic offspring.

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  18. In fact, the percentage of fathers unknowingly raising other men's children is higher than previously known or thought and coming to light with modern medicine where blood and bone donations are sometimes needed and one needs to be a match. The New York Times Magazine did a cover story on this about ...six months ago.

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  19. The direct interests only need to point to the fears that so many uninvolved people provide to establish the importance of their cause.

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  20. If children, conceived by artificial means, are granted the right to know so should children of prostitutes and adulterers. Granted I agree everyone should have a right to know where they came from, but it would be difficult to implement fairly. At best donors should have the medical records and genealogy disclosed.

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