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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