You wouldn't sell or give away your kids, would you?
So don't donate your sperm!
Yesterday my wife and I arranged to meet with some friends in the park because it was a sunny Australia Day holiday and we hadn't caught up with them since before Christmas.
They are a couple in their early forties and they had brought with them a friend of theirs (let's call him P) who had just separated from his partner after 15 or so years.
So we got drinking and talking and as evening came on we moved to a local bar where, in addition, we got some eating done as well.
I don't quite know how it happened but somewhere in the middle of our conversations P announced that he was a former sperm donor and that in fact he knew my story quite well and, as a consequence, I had inspired him to register his name with our Infertility Treatment Authority as being a donor who would be amenable to being contacted by his children should they wish to find him (as I have also done).
He told me that he knew he had produced ten children in a total of nine families but this is all he knew and that he really didn't want to know any more than that. But the most surprising information he gave me was that he became a donor in 1988 which just happens to be the year when landmark legislation which governs infertility treatment in Victoria was first enacted.
One of the most contentious pieces of that legislation is that it gives donors the right to attempt to initiate contact with their child when that child reaches the age of majority which in our country is 18. Hence from the 1st of July last year it has been legally possible for donors in the 1988 cohort to approach the Infertility Treatment Authority to request that their child be informed of their existence.
The oft-cited problem with this arrangement has been that - as is well known and acknowledged - despite being counselled to do otherwise, only a very small percentage of donation recipients are prepared to inform their children of their donor-conceived status.
It has not been surprising, therefore, that in the last six months not one single donor-conceived adult from the 1988 cohort has approached the Authority to exercise their equal legislated right to access information about their donor. And the same applies to the donors who it seems, in the main, are just not interested or don't want to know about it.
So there I was sitting right next to someone who has all the power which I do not possess: the ability to seek out a lot more information about his children than I will ever be able to do (short of burglary!) and yet he professed no wish to do so even though he has never had children with
any of his partners.
I must say the urge for me to proselytise was overwhelming and had it not been for P's openness, intelligence and honesty I might well have become akin to a rabid prophet.
What could I say to this man who, as a 23 year old, had donated for pretty much the same naive and mercenary reasons I did and had swallowed lock stock and barrel the clinic's argument that really it was not much different from donating blood and besides he was giving childless couples the 'gift of life': all the usual altruistic rubbish.
So I levelled with him. I told him things that he probably didn't know: that he could at least request of the clinic that he be given non-identifying information regarding his children.
This will tell him their gender and what years they were born in and, if he is lucky, some brief details regarding the ethnic background, occupations and place of residence of the parents.
And I further told him, that armed with the knowledge of their birthdates, he would know precisely when those children turn 18 and will therefore be able to request to make contact with them when the time arises.
But getting him to realise, despite his reluctance to do so, that he has - from my perspective at least - a moral duty to announce his existence to his children was a pretty hard nut to crack.
This is not to say I don't respect his concern for the incredible impact this announcement might have on these children and the ramifications for their families but I cannot subscribe to the notion that "what they don't know won't hurt them" because in this instance it is precisely 'what they don't know' which is hurting them and their relationships with their parents whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
Ultimately, I am more inclined to assert that "the truth will set you free"; and I told P so.
This was one of the first times I had found myself having an in-depth conversation with a fellow donor about all these issues. It helped that he had obviously thought long and hard about his act of donating during the subsequent two decades since he did so.
All I could hope was that I was having some impact on him and might push him closer towards accepting that he is indeed the father of his donated children and has every right to assert that status despite what the law might say or what others might want to deny.
All the while he and I were talking my wife was having a somewhat more heated discussion with our female friend who needed a lot of convincing that donor conception is a bad idea until she was made to realise that DC people don't even have the same rights or are awarded the same openness about their origins as truly adopted people are.
My wife told me later that it was at this point where she finally won our friend over and that she also happened to notice that P, who was standing there at the time, turned away with tears in his eyes.
Later we went back to P's house and he knocked together a wonderful gourmet salad.
The evening concluded with much inebriation at 3 a.m.
When we said goodbye P and I gave each other a big hug because we are truly brothers now.
And he said that he will.
The fact that there are single mothers doesn't make it right
By Theodore Dalrymple
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 22/01/2004
The worst child abusers in the country have been successive British governments. They have done everything in their power, by means of social reform and fiscal policies, to promote the very circumstances in which child abuse and neglect are most likely to take place. He who says single parenthood – at least in Britain – says moral, spiritual and emotional degradation, squalor and deprivation. He who promotes single parenthood is indifferent to the fate of children.
Yet another step on the primrose path to perdition has just been proposed by the chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Suzi Leather (beware of people in authority who use diminutives of their names). She has suggested that, henceforth, the clause requiring doctors to take account of the need of a child for a father, when offering in vitro fertilisation to infertile women, should be removed from the law. The idea that fathers are necessary or even desirable in the lives of children is, in the opinion of Ms Leather, too old-fashioned to be entertained any longer.
Ms Leather is one of those who think that the social trends she no doubt approves of are self-justifying. "It is absolutely clear," she said, "if you think about the changes in society and the different ways that families can be constituted that it is anachronistic for the law to include the statement about the need for a father." That is to say, if enough people do something, it is right, and the law should lend its imprimatur to it. If you think about it, it is absolutely clear that the changes in the rate of burglary over the past 50 years mean that it is anachronistic to lock your door or expect the police to do anything about it when your house is broken into.
What is so deeply revolting about Ms Leather's lucubrations is their unutterable and invincible bourgeois complacency, worthy of Messrs Pecksniff and Podsnap. If you care to look at the already extensive part of the country in which fatherhood scarcely exists, except in the merest biological sense, you will find not merely an alternative, but a very much worse kind of family life (the word family being used very loosely). It exists in a Hobbesian world of primitive brutality, where the man with the biggest fist or biggest machete or biggest gun rules, and where children are soon inducted into a wholly egotistical code of conduct in which what you do is determined only by what you can get away with.
It is a world from which increasingly there is no escape. It is a world in which women are subjected to far more domestic violence than ever before, and in which children experience a dialectic between gross over-indulgence on the one hand and savage repression on the other, according to the mood of the moment. Merely to call this way of life different is abject cowardice or dishonesty. Indeed, having lived and worked in several parts of the world, and having travelled very extensively, I should say that it is the worst way of life known to me anywhere. To say that we should merely accept it as inevitable, as part of the march of history, as an inescapable part of the zeitgeist, is to accept descent into degradation. It is complacently to accept disaster, both for the individuals caught up in it and for society as a whole. Ms Leather's proposals are one more sentence in our long national suicide note.
For her, a seventh-rate sophomoric moral generalisation – that we should not discriminate between ways of life – is more important than the real lives of millions of her fellow beings, including children. What she demands is this: IVF on demand. In order to satisfy women's unbridled whims, children will be brought into the world at public expense, and then brought up at public expense. You, dear reader, are already de facto more responsible for the upkeep of a good (or should I say a bad?) proportion of the children of Britain than their fathers are, who would never dream of wasting their money on support of their offspring; and here is yet another proposal to extend the paternal role of the state.
In Ms Leather's brave new world, women are to have children merely because they want them, as is their government-given right, irrespective of their ability to bring them up, or who has to pay for them, or the consequences to the children themselves. Men are to be permanently infantilised, their income being in essence pocket money for them to spend on their enjoyments, having no serious responsibilities at all (beyond paying tax). Henceforth, the state will be father to the child, and the father will be child of the state.
There is nothing pre-ordained about this. It is not written in the genes of history; on the contrary, it is something that successive governments, either deliberately or by inadvertence, have brought about. It is simply not true that it is irreversible, in the sense that people could not be encouraged to behave otherwise by tax incentives and changes in the law.
Ms Leather's proposal is a peculiar and, in my view, poisonous mixture of unbridled individualism on the one hand and nanny-state interference on the other. In order that all the children in the vast kindergarten, conventionally known as Britain, should get exactly what they want, the teacher-state has to assume vast powers of taxation, regulation and redistribution. Without these powers, the women simply couldn't afford to have children on a whim, just because they wanted them, nor would men be able to escape their responsibilities.
In my medical work, I meet practically no child, youth or young adult who has any kind of relationship with his or her father. Not only do fathers believe they have no responsibility towards their offspring, but the mothers do not believe it either. The mass misery of this way of life cannot be offset by the undoubted fact that a relatively small number of very capable women bring up children successfully without the support of fathers.
Ms Leather's proposals are thus completely lacking in compassion, deeply unimaginative and wholly bad in their effects. A social trend is not to be accepted merely because it exists. We should not follow a multitude to do evil.
Theodore Dalrymple is a practising GP