The Donor Who Dared To Say Don't
You wouldn't sell or give away your kids, would you?
So don't donate your sperm!
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Genetic rights? Whose rights?
The other night I watched a news report dealing with the legal parentage issues arising out of the current laws governing the use of IVF and surrogacy in Victoria.
One heterosexual couple - shortly after using a surrogate mother to give birth to twin boys - were dismayed to discover that they were not recognised as the legal parents of their children.
In fact, even though the children were conceived using the couple's own gametes, only the surrogate mother and her partner were entitled to be named on the birth certificates as parents.
This made me think that, essentially, the commissioning couple find themselves in the same position as a gamete donor who, under the dictates of the same legislation, has no claim to be recognised on the birth certificate as a donor-conceived child's biological father or mother.
In other words, it is implied that the male and female named on the certificate are the actual biological parents of the child.
In the first instance, it seems absurd that the commissioning couple are not recognized as the legal parents of their children; hence recommendations are shortly to be considered by our state parliament which will modify the relevant legislations in order to rectify such anomalies.
So, soon, our unfortunate couple will be able to have new birth certificates issued proclaiming that they are indeed the legal and (implied) biological parents of their children.
But here's the sting: it is highly unlikely that there will be changes to that same legislation which will guarantee equal acknowledgement of true biological parentage on the birth certificates of donor conceived people.
Nor would donors like myself be able to claim, as this couple has done, that at least one of the persons named as parent on the birth certificate is effectively an imposter and that the donor's name should be substituted instead.
Once again the legislation will protect the interests of the recipients to the perpetual detriment of the donor-conceived people themselves.
Mother>daughter egg donation
[b]Mother and sister, mother and grandmother
Now that human eggs can be frozen, the effects of gamete donation on the resulting children are the subject of an overdue debate[/b]
Margaret Somerville, Citizen Special
Published: Friday, April 27, 2007
Last week it was announced that a Montreal woman, Melanie Boivin, had undergone ovarian stimulation and had her ova (eggs) frozen for possible future use by her daughter, Flavie, who has Turner's syndrome and who will be infertile as a result. While Melanie's action was done entirely out of love for her child, if Flavie uses those ova she would give birth to her half-brother or half-sister, and the child would be the son or daughter and grandchild of Melanie.
The media reported this case on two fronts: The scientific focus was the recent "breakthrough" of being able to freeze human ova.
The ethical issues this raises was the other focus. Leaving aside for the moment the most fundamental question of whether any gamete donation is ethical, here's a sampling of some ethics questions I've been asked in the past few days.
If a young man is infertile and his wife fertile and they belong to a cultural group in which genetic relationship is very important, is it acceptable for the man's father to donate sperm to inseminate his son's wife? This would result in the same genetic relationship on the male side as would result on the female side in the Boivin case.
I would argue that both are ethically unacceptable, but if the male donation is seen as acceptable, consistency seems to require, at least at first glance, that the female donation be treated in the same way.
Is one problem here that it's a parent donating to a child? What about the other way around -- a daughter donating ova to her mother who has experienced premature menopause? If we accept that gamete donation can be ethical in some circumstances, would it be ethical for a brother to donate sperm to a brother, or a sister donate ova to a sister? Or is any donation between close relatives unethical?
An obvious case of such ethical unacceptability would be a brother donating sperm for his sister's use. This would not be incest, because that requires sexual intercourse, but the vast majority of people would see it as ethically wrong, quite apart from the genetic risk involved for the resulting child. But how should we view these other "related donor" cases and do they all raise the same ethical issues?
For instance, is a man donating sperm for his son's use ethically different from a woman donating ova for her daughter's use? The wider question that raises is: Are there ethically relevant differences between male and female donation of gametes? And the even wider one: Is gamete donation itself ethically acceptable?
Let's start with the last question, whether gamete donation, in general, is ethically acceptable.
"Anticipated consent" is an emerging doctrine in ethics. It requires us to ask whether we can reasonably anticipate that the persons most affected by what we plan to do would, were they able to decide, be reasonably likely to give their consent. The answer we are now getting from many people conceived through gamete donation is that they would not have consented.
They believe that an ethical wrong was done to them -- especially if the donation was anonymous -- and that society was complicit in that wrong by providing its resources to make their conception through gamete donation possible. Some people respond that many children conceived naturally don't know who their father is or are reared in a family where their mother's husband is not their genetic father, so why is sperm donation an ethical problem?
The reason is society's intentional involvement in their conception in that way. This complicity requires society to ethically justify the outcome for the child. Because ova donation can never occur naturally and always requires technological intervention, unlike "private" sperm donation, society will necessarily be complicit in it, and therefore must ensure such ethical justification is present.
That being said, might there be differences between sperm donation and ova donation that are ethically relevant? Children conceived through sperm donation have life handed on to them through the natural process of conception and birth. That is not true of ova donation, because the gestational mother is not the biological mother, a situation that could never occur naturally.
Usually, the nearer we are to the natural in using the new science, the fewer ethical difficulties we are likely to encounter. This distinction is sometimes summed up as the difference between repairing nature when it fails and doing what is impossible in nature.
In a broad sense, all children are conceived by "sperm donation," which might explain why we have not analysed the ethics of such donation as closely as perhaps we should have. Sometimes, further scientific developments cause us to revisit practices that we have regarded as ethically settled and identify further ethical questions that need to be addressed.
I believe ova donation is doing that in relation to sperm donation, at least regarding the conditions under which it should be allowed. For instance, there is a growing international consensus that anonymous gamete donation is unethical and should be prohibited. To the contrary, the Canadian Assisted Human Reproduction Act makes it a crime, with heavy penalties, to disclose the identity of gamete donors without their informed consent.
The fertility industry -- a $5-billion (U.S.) per year business in the United States -- is strongly opposed to prohibiting either anonymous gamete donation or payment of gamete donors, because such prohibitions can decrease access to gametes. Yet, strikingly, altruism is used as a major marketing tool to recruit donors. I suggest that emphasis helps to suppress moral intuitions donors may experience about the ethics of what they are doing in relation to their resulting child. What is clear is that without payment, whether in cash or kind, many people -- in particular, women -- are not willing to donate.
Other, more general, questions I was asked in relation to freezing ova included whether women would now store ova as teenagers in order to attain their career goals before having babies in their 50s. The companion comment was invariably, "If men in their 70s can father a child (and usually Charlie Chaplin and Pierre Elliott Trudeau were mentioned as examples), what's wrong with a woman being a new mother at that age? Isn't preventing women from freezing their ova to use at any time during their lives, discrimination on the basis of sex and age?"
I would argue, again, that there is a difference ethically between that which happens naturally (old-age fatherhood) and that which is impossible naturally and requires a technological intervention to do an end run around nature (old-age motherhood).
Sometimes scientific advances solve some ethical problems rather than -- or, as well as -- creating new ones, and that is true of freezing ova. Just as we've been able to freeze sperm for young men whose fertility is threatened by cancer treatment, we can now freeze ova for young women in the same circumstances. That will avoid the ethically troublesome situation of having to create an embryo in order to preserve a young woman's opportunity to have her own genetic child and heartbreaking situations such as that of the British woman who stored embryos created with her partner's sperm before cancer treatment that left her infertile. Her partner later withdrew his consent for her use of the embryos and the European Court of Human Rights, the final court of appeal, consistent with all the other courts which heard the case, has just ordered them destroyed.
Ova freezing is just one more example that raises the broad question: How should we deal ethically with scientific advances in reproductive technologies? I propose that all these technologies must be ethically evaluated primarily through the lens of the children who will result from their use.
That lens requires that, at the very least, we first do no harm to those children; that we respect their fundamental human rights to come into being from natural biological origins; and that we act in their "best interests," in particular, in preserving their natural genetic relationships.
Except for concern about physical risks to children from using reproductive technologies, the focus up to now has been almost entirely on the rights of adults, who want to have a child, to use these technologies -- that is, only the adult lens has been used. That has caused a failure to consider, in the depth and breath required, both what ethics requires with respect to the children conceived through the use of reproductive technologies and the fundamental human rights of those children with respect to their coming into being.
Margaret Somerville is founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law. Her recent book is The Ethical Imagination:
Journeys of the Human Spirit (Anansi, 2006).
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A growing culture of fatherlessness
The legal dilemmas of erecting a wall between sperm donors and mothers.
YOU'D THINK that we have enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births and divorce. But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination, or AI.
While the number of kids born as a result of the procedure (about 1 million so far in the United States) is still quite small, AI is having a disproportionate cultural and legal effect and is advancing a cause once celebrated only in the most obscure radical journals: the dad-free family.
Today's sperm banks provide lengthy online catalogs of donors, containing such basic stats as height, hair color, eye color and education, as well as results from personality tests for an extra fee. The sophisticated marketing of sperm banks, which appeals to single women and lesbians as well as infertile married couples, has coincided with what I call the "unmarriage revolution" — that is, the decoupling of marriage and child-rearing. The California Cryobank, the country's largest sperm bank, estimates that about 40% of its customers are unmarried women. The Sperm Bank of California says that two-thirds of its clientele are lesbian couples.
In AI's early days, doctors worked to contain the potential ambiguities of paternity by signing birth certificates with the husband's name as father. Then in 1973, California and other states adopted the Uniform Parentage Act, which proposed that a woman's husband automatically be deemed the legal father of her AI children — assuming that he had consented to the procedure and that a doctor had performed the insemination of some other man's sperm. The donor dad was a legal cipher, just as he was a domestic one.
But with a growing number of AI cases involving single women and lesbian couples, the pretense of the donor's nonexistence is no longer tenable because there is no "other father." The issues then grow vastly more complicated: When is a sperm donor a father? Can his mother be the child's grandmother? Can a child have two mothers and no father?
Unfortunately, in the absence of any other authority, these questions have fallen to family court judges. The last label that these people imagine applying to themselves is "activist judge," but their decisions could be enshrining in law a profound cultural transformation that few Americans have had a chance to register, much less opine on.
The courts, in unwitting alliance with a fertility industry fiercely protective of anonymous sperm donation, have given their imprimatur to two nonsensical biological conditions: children who have no fathers and fathers who have no children. The old Uniform Parentage Act needed to resolve the potential problem of two fathers: the donor and the mother's husband. It should be obvious that in the case of a single or lesbian mother, where the donor is the only father, the act is not applicable.
But it hasn't proved obvious to most legal experts, who continue to be guided by the old formula: As long as a doctor performs the insemination or a sperm bank sells the sperm, the donor is not a father. This doesn't simply mean that the child is fatherless in the way that, say, an orphan is fatherless. Rather, according to the law, the child never had a father at all. The man involved was simply the originating site of organic material that was for sale, like a fish farm.
Legal scholars argue that we should reject biology as the basis of parentage in favor of "intentionality." It's the person — or persons — who planned the child who have parental rights and responsibilities. A sperm donor doesn't intend to become a parent, while the woman who uses his sperm does.
But intentionality is wildly inconsistent with the law's traditional presumption of paternal responsibility. Say a man has a drunken one-night stand. If the woman gets pregnant, the law sees him as a father, and he must pay child support for the next 18 years. But if a college student visits the local sperm bank twice a week for a year, produces a dozen children anonymously and pockets thousands of dollars, he can whistle his way back to econ class, no worries. Intentionality can't explain that legal disconnect.
As intentionality has supplanted biology, the law, by pretending nature doesn't exist, has pole-vaulted over reality. A family court in Burlington County, N.J., recently put two women on a state birth certificate. Some legal scholars are proposing that courts move beyond the "heterosexist model" entirely. Why not put three parents — or four, for that matter — on the birth certificate? The scholars had their way in January in Canada, when an Ontario court included a father, a mother and her lesbian partner on a birth certificate.
There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men reinforces the worst that women fear in men. Think of all the complaints you hear: Men can't commit, they're irresponsible, they don't take care of the kids. By going to a sperm bank, women are unwittingly paying men to be exactly what they object to. But why expect anything different? The very premise of AI is that, apart from their liquid DNA, we can will men out of children's lives.
It's not a good idea for society to erect a wall between children and their biological fathers — nor to encourage men to disown their kids. In several nations, including Britain and Sweden, sperm donors must agree to be identified if the child wishes, typically as of age 18. It would be a good idea for America to follow suit.
But let's not kid ourselves that such a rule would also put an end to fatherlessness — which is nourished by our cultural predilection for individual choice unconstrained by tradition, the needs of children, or nature itself.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Saying No To Junk Male
SPERM donors are becoming rare in WA.
The number of men wanting to become sperm donors has plummmeted since state laws changed to allow children conceived of donor sperm to have access to the identity of their biological father once they turn 16.
Waiting time for insemination with anonymous donor sperm has increased to nearly two years at some fertility clinics.
Bruce Belinge, reproductive biologist at the Concept fertility clinic, said changes to the law in December 2004 had made men more reluctant to become donors.
Each donor could be used to achieve only five pregnancies and ``our waiting list for access to donors has blown out beyond 12 months'', he said.
Helen Stapledon, 37, of Kingsley, who conceived her son Banjo with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, said she couldn't express how grateful she was to the donor.
Ms Stapledon, an accountant, said she approached a fertility clinic after deciding to become a single parent.
"I thought about it for quite a while and decided I didn't want to give up the idea of having children just because Mr Right hadn't come along,'' she said.
"I also didn't want to go into a relationship just to have a child.
"I didn't want a donor who I knew because, I guess, I didn't want someone else interfering. Also, if I do meet Mr Right, there's less baggage because there are no shared-custody issues.
"It doesn't bother me that Banjo may want to know his biological father in the future.
"I guess my overwhelming feeling is gratitude to the donor.
"Donors also have to agree to allow their sperm to be given to single women, so I'm extremely grateful he said yes to that.''
Dr Belinge said the profile of donors had changed.
"In the past, a lot of young guys were doing it for pocket money when they were going to university,'' he said.
"But the average donor now tends to be a bit more considered about his decision and have a more philanthropic approach. I think older men don't seem to be nearly as concerned about a donor child making contact with them.
"Evidence in other countries where donors have been identified shows that most donor children who contact their donor parent are not looking for anything more than an understanding of their roots - just to find out who they are and where they came from and perhaps a bit more information about their genetic parents and grandparents.''
Concept offers men $75 a donation. Dr Belinge said there were no thoughts of increasing the payment, but the clinic planned to increase its advertising to find more donors.
Steven Junk, scientific director at Fertility specialists of WA, said anonymous donors had become so scarce his clinic no longer canvassed for them and advised its clients to find their own donors.
"The law now is that the donor has to be identified once a child turns 16, so they may as well be identified now,'' he said.
"Many people find that while family members initially aren't willing to be donors, often they change their mind after counselling"
Friday, April 06, 2007
The donor cannot possibly have the emotional ties of real parents
I just wrote the following in response to an assumption by Beck, a member of the Yahoo 'spermdonors' group, that a donor cannot possibly have the emotional ties of real parents:
"...that donor cannot possibly have the emotional ties of real parents...It is those interactions that form the emotional bonds.
" (her quote)
Beck, I am in the position of both having raised three children over 25 years with a partner and also having met, almost six years ago now, two of the children I fathered as a sperm donor.
With both of these experiences at my disposal I can tell you quite categorically that what you state is wrong. In fact, the emotional ties I have with both sets of children are of equal intensity and importance; though perhaps even more so with the latter since I am constantly aware of the fact that they are the children who I effectively abandoned to be raised in 'a foreign land'.
If you think emotional ties and bonds are solely predicated on the mundane activities which accompany child-rearing then I think you are deluded: or maybe you really need to convince yourself of this for whatever reason? However, if you mean 'ties' in the sense that these activities promote the integration of a family's experience together - the shared ties that bind and hence form bonds, its gestalt perhaps - then I would at least allow you this. But, I think emotional bonds in themselves are transcendent of such activities: they exist along side them but not because of them.
I didn't need twenty tears of shared experiences, nor was I moved by recalling the accumulated dross of 7300 days or so of child-rearing, in order to experience the instantaneous and overwhelming emotional tidal wave of bonding which swirled over me when I met my two lost children for the first time. It was there in their very eyes, and in their long-unacknowledged longing to be re-united with their real father.
We didn't need to talk about this emotion. We all FELT
it. We all KNEW
that it was there.
We never had to sit down together and recount all the 'calming nightmares, bandaging bruises, sharing holidays, attending school plays, coaching teams, choosing schools and baby-sitters'
in order to better understand this bond which you talk about. Instead we sat down together and looked at all the family photographs in which I was absent: all the days of their upbringing of which I was not a part; and yet still I was: because I existed in them and they knew me, even though they didn't know precisely who I was nor why I was there, nor why they never saw themselves reflected in the man who raised them.
Yes, it was all about loss. But it was also about redemption: for in those first moments, and in all the moments since, my abandoned children and I have been reclaiming our lost relationship and learning to understand ourselves as reflected in the other: their recognizing 'me in them' and being able to re-write their identity accordingly: and my recognizing 'them in me' and hence being properly able to help them integrate me as their real father.
I am sorry, but it is for reasons such as this, that you Beck, and all the people who think like you, are misguided in the way in which you can so blithely dismiss the fundamental bonds which really tie children to their genetic parents. But then, you may simply accuse me of arguing about subtle energies which no doubt you will dismiss as intangible and, hence, not worthy of your obviously materialist inclination
However, "There are more things in heaven and earth
, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy
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