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Sunday, May 16, 2010

A mother considering artificial insemination......

During a brunch in the city, I and three other women discussed life and family and somehow got to the nature of my conception. Halfway into the meal, one of the women, a friend of a friend, shared that she was undergoing IVF treatments with donor sperm. It was like someone ran up to the table and hit me in the back of the head. I was overwhelmed.

Earlier in the meal and prior to her revelation, she had been overly interested in my experience as donor-conceived. While I answered her questions honestly I could sense their was a "motivation" for her interest that made me uncomfortable.  She looked very intensely into my eyes.  When I answered a questions it was rapidly followed by another. I later realized that, in some ways, she perceived me to be her unborn child 30 years from now.  

I imagine if my mother had the chance to speak to someone like me prior to conceiving via anonymous AI, she would have been very similar. However at brunch I found it troubling to listen to this aspiring mom and I was surprised at my impression.  As she sat beside me reviewing her latest trips to the doctor, her motivations, her history, it sounded incredibly selfish. She was in her late thirties and single after divorce. She saw her time as "running out" and without a partner she turned to artificial insemination. I tried to shake my head with familiar understanding but I felt a surge of emotion just beneath my calm.

At 29, I understand the aching desire to have a family and pressure to conceive. With that said, I don't think it gives me the right to deny a child the right to know their genetic lineage through via anonymous AI. As these thoughts ran through my head I felt the grip tighten on my fork with the frustration rising inside me. I looked down at my plate as she went on speaking to all the woman at the table.

"....I wish I had started earlier...people said I had all this time...I feel lonely in this... I hope I conceive soon....I have been waiting so long....I really want this.....I......I ......."she went on.

To calm myself down I had taken to counting the number of times she said "I." 27 actually. She focused alot on the "right to know" status of her sperm bank . Like a soothing mantra, she said it over and over.

"It's a right to know sperm bank.....since it's right to know I feel better...the right to know," she said.

Suddenly I could feel that despite the fact she was talking, everyone was looking at me. My face was flushed and I stumbled for words. "I wouldn't do it" I blurted out.

It was one of those, "did-I-really-just say-that?" moments, if you know what I mean.

She looked at me with a mixture of surprise and disappointment, "What do you mean?"

"I mean I wouldn't do it," I said and paused. "I don't think you have any idea how troubling it can be later on."

We went on to discuss why I felt this way. She raised some valid points as to why my situation was different and how the "right to know" sperm bank would provide her child with important genetic information and medical history. I wanted to be considerate but I couldn't help thinking to myself "medical history?" that is all YOU want to know about the donor...but your child may want more. Your child may want to see the crook of his smile or understand the subtleties of his personality which she shares...."

While I think she took my points to heart I could feel a certain resistance to truly engaging anyone who disagreed with her. I think her desparation to have a child...that instinctual "bell" that rings in the back of a woman's mind was ringing too loud for her to truly weigh the reality of her future child's exisitence.

I believe this desperation, this almost carnal push to procreate, is the driving force of the artificial insemination business. Simultaneously, it is the most erosive force against the rights of donor offspring.

Having a child is not a basic human right; it is a privilege. Moreover, there are many ways to conceive a child that do not strip them of their genetic past such as non-anonymous sperm donation. I would argue that, in contrast to having children, we all have an inalienable "right" to know our biological parents and that right cannot and should not be signed away by another individual endeavoring to have the privilege of being a parent.


  1. I am not sure this is correct because most of the anguish expressed by donor offspring seems to be coming from anonymous donors.
    Reproduction is not a privelege either, it is a natural human (and animal) function, and necessary for the continuation of society.
    A single woman is no more selfish than any other parent who conceives a child in less than perfect circumstances.

  2. But something you might wish to warn your friend, which is giving me great pause in inseminating myself, is that she better read the fine print of the "right to know" sperm banks. I've noticed in two sperm banks, the fine print states "We reserve the right to withold the information at our discretion." "We can not be held liable if the donon changes his mind, or fails to keep us informed of name change, last known address, etc...."

    But of course, they threaten that YOU will be held legally culpable if you dare to seek him out.

  3. Kaisarita -

    I disagree adamantly with your first comment for a few key reasons.
    1 - Regarding "donor anguish"-- Donor offspring are the only truly innocent parties in artificial insemination scenario as we are given no choice or voice in a decision which often results in the lifetime loss of our genetic heritage and half of our true identity. The publicized anger may be coming from donors and recipients but that is because donor offspring such as myself are forced into secrecy due to the undue shame and pain linked to the "secret" of our creation. We keep the secret for our parents fearing we will hurt them by simply wanting to know who we are.
    2- Regarding "privilege" Having a child is by no means a human right and therefore a privilege. There are many members of our population born without the ability to produce children. Are hermaphrodites and those born sterile like my father, therefore not human? Children are not a necessity for survival, like food and shelter. Surely there human race would not die off if we outlawed anonymous sperm donation - people are starving in Africa from overpopulation for goodness sake. Having a child is a great gift and one that should be taken seriously because you are entrusted with the welfare of a helpless human being who cannot defend their rights. I have no qualms with assisted reproduction or fertility treatment. What I have issue with is sacrificing your future child's rights (to know their heritage) because you have an urgent desire for a child. Why not

    a- adopt a child OR
    b- get a donation from someone you know, who, while not a vital part of your child's life can at least be know.

    Lastly your second comments elaborate on my point that this is an extremely selfish scenario. In every sperm bank document I have had reviewed there is ample discussion of the rights of the parents and nothing of the rights of the child.

    As with everything in life we have to compromise, so while you may not like the idea of knowing a donor, adopting, or maybe having a family member donate sperm its a necessary action in putting your child's lifetime happiness before your own.

  4. excuse that's what I meant to write, I meant the primary anguish is coming from the children of anonymous donors, not the donors themselves.
    However, I have not seen such anguish coming from children of ID= release donors.

  5. Regarding getting a sperm "donation" from someone you know, very few men will be willing to do that. (You're best bet is to practice unsafe sex without discussing it with them first, or steal the sperm out of the condom. Which is a separate ethical issue from this one...)
    The reason is, because once a father is known, he's no longer a sperm donor, he's a father. He knows it, you know it and your kid will know it.
    And men, who do not feel the clock ticking like women do, aren't all that interested in conceiving someone who they don't want to marry, or love enough to cloud their judgement.

  6. First my bias: I'm a "DI Dad," my wife having conceived my son with donor sperm; he's 4 now, and already knows his story on a simple level but obviously has much more to grasp as he matures. My primary comment is that no child, conceived in any fashion, is given any choice as to any of the circumstances into which he or she will be born, and I suggest that the decision whether to use donor conception is just one of many things to consider when deciding whether to cause a child to be born. The lack of connection to one biological parent -- while not something that necessarily torments every DC child as it does you -- clearly is a negative factor should figure into any responsible parent's equation in deciding whether to have children. Yet while most people will be conceived by two biological parents' engagement in a heterosexual act, many of those born from such acts do not find themselves in circumstances they would have agreed to be born into (and none were asked): a very small percentage will even be the unwanted result of rape or one-night stands, or born to only a single parent because the dad has since died or the mom has died during childbirth. A much larger percentage will be born to poverty, disinterested parents, a mom who no longer sees a deadbeat dad who's in the wind, or just bad parents who, together or not, simply do not love their children for whatever reason or love them but cannot or will not do right by them. By contrast, my son has two parents who love him more than themselves or each other, and enough money to give him opportunities in life. He appears to be happy and healthy, and has recently been "diagnosed" as profoundly gifted. He is clearly better off than many other children no matter how they were conceived (and in my opinion, better off than most). One part of his life that is not perfect is that he has a biological father whom he may never know – and while this is not guaranteed to become a hurtful circumstance for him, it may, and it is not terribly likely to be a positive. What the future holds we have yet to see; my intent is to learn as much as I can about DC issues so that I can better support him with regard to whatever interest he develops in the issue, be it minor or all-consuming as it obviously is with you. I am truly sorry for how tormented you are by your origin, and I hope my son never feels that pain; if he does, I want to be there with him to confront it. But in my opinion, opponents of DC go too far in arguing that it should not be allowed. All of that being said, I do agree wholeheartedly with one thing you have argued: When parents decide to have children, it is usually a very selfish thought process, and they rarely consider things from the viewpoint of the child who might be born as a result of their actions. I don't know that you can change that, because people who want to become parents are not likely to be talked out of it by the hypothetical objections of a child not yet conceived -- whether those objections be that the parents are not wealthy enough to offer a good life, are not mature enough to sacrifice enough of their selfishness to care properly for a child, or are not both biologically related to the child. However, knowing what I know now, I agree that I should have thought more about DC issues before using a donor. I think I still would have done it, but I likely would have chosen an ID-release donor, and whatever I'd have done, I'd have done it with more solemnity.

  7. DI Dad I found the comparisons you drew between children whose parents are anonymous and children born into other disadvantaged circumstances interesting, I had not thought of it that way previously.

    It started me thinking about other rarely heard aspects of commercial conception that I think ought to be considered by people contemplating anonymous conception.

    If 25 women were inseminated with a man's sperm but only 10 successfully conceived, that man might have some health issues to keep an eye on and he should be told. So should women paying the clinic to have him father their child since only 50% of women inseminated with his sperm successfully conceived. Anonymity does not allow for the man to be informed how many attempts were made vs. how many were successful.

    If 3 of those pregnancies ended in miscarriage during the second trimester, this information would also be relevant to the man's own personal health history as well as to any women who might select him to father their children. Anonymity does not allow for the man or his potential partner to be informed if each pregnancy resulted in a live birth.

    If 3 of his 7 children were delivered premature and 1 died within a week of being born, this information becomes very relevant health history. This information may also impact the reproductive choices of women paying the clinic to arrange for an anonymous man to father their children. Anonymity does not allow for the man or his potential partner know the health of his children at birth.

    If all 6 surviving children were on target developmentally by the end of their first year, but fell behind in the second and third years of life, this would also be relevant to the father and to any women who might not want to select him to father their children. Anonymity does not allow for the father to be kept informed of the physical and developmental progress his children are making again stifiling his ability to make sound reproductive choices and sound choices in raising children himself. At this point the mother's of his kids are negatively impacted because under normal circumstances all the brothers and sisters would have the same pediatrician and the parents would be proactive in children who had not exhibited problems yet so that at least some of the kids would have benefited from the difficult experiences of their other siblings. This is even the case when the parents are divorced and married to other people. This exercise in practical application of knowledge is what allows humans to evolve and grow stronger. People that choose anonymous men and women to help create children for them to raise are choosing to raise children who are deeply deprived of building blocks for a healthy existence. Love and money can't do a damn thing about that.

    Isolating a child from his siblings from birth forward is incredibly foolish and short sighted. There is no reason other than personal choice to compromise children's safety letting people raise children in a state of blissful deliberate ignorance as if the child was a member of their family and their family alone. Medical science collects information about the parents of a child at birth for good reason and it has nothing too do with legal custody. I don't honestly think people paying for these arrangements are thinking past the theme in the nursery wall paper.

  8. People who choose to be part of large fractured families like the ones created in commercial conception arrangements need to choose collaborative child rearing methods where all of the people raising the children are in contact from birth throughout the children's lives. Its the only way to duplicate the normal level of knowledge that their parent should have. Finally making sure that the absent parent is known to and by each child and that the other members of the absent parents family are known to and know about all the children would take the questions, the shame and the hesitation out of whether or not they were really an accepted member of their own family despite their parents lack of responsibility for their upbringing.

    If its going to happen I think the law needs to hold participants accountable for the outcome of their decisions. Privacy needs to go out the window and the best interests of all the siblings needs to be everyone's chief concern. If people think the stigma of such an arrangement is too much to handle then don't do it.

    DI Dad is not ashamed - not caving to that stigma. If there was a way for him to collaborate with the parents of the other siblings and with the absent parent and their other family members I bet he would do that no problem because its best for the child. Wish everyone contemplating this kind of family would be so open minded.

    Good for him in speaking out.

  9. DI Dad, like all parents, is undergoing a learning process. Whereas four years ago, he did not know his unborn child, now he does so he has the emotional wellbeing of his child to consider. Before it was all hypothetical, now it is a real person we're talking about. What a difference that can make! The rights of the child cannot be signed away and the courts in B.C. have set a precedent in the right direction!

  10. All good points and I agree that many DI parents are undergoing a "learning process." I am very close to my mom and by no means insensitive to the heartbreak infertility issues can cause. My only concern is that the "learning process" needs to occur pre-insemination, so parents can fully inderstand the consequences of anonymous donation completely before they opt to move forward.

    Thanks for the great comment! I look forward to more.

  11. Vinnie here. I agree with Anonymous and Girl Conceived that I am going through a learning process, as of course all parents and children do. And in fact, I am pretty sure that I'd have made different choices had I known then what I know now -- but I can't say I would not do DI again, and I don't regret what I did because it resulted in the son I love so much coming into existence when otherwise he would not. But I certainly would have chosen a known donor had I known how important that can be to some (and may one day be to my son). My point was not that I made all the right choices, or that everyone should do what I did, but just that I made the best choices I could from what I knew and in my circumstances. This is what all parents must do, and -- whether biological or not, whatever the method -- no parent brings a kid into perfect circumstances, and no kid gets to rubber-stamp those circumstances. And Marilynn: yes, I have sought out and found a biological half-sibling of my son's. We have met, we like the whole family, and we intend to stay in touch so that my son and his biological half-sister can get to know each other as they grow up and make of their connection what they will. I also hope that my son one day is able to meet the donor, but because the donor was promised anonymity, I think that maybe it has to be my son, when he is old enough and if he cares to, who decides how to handle that possible contact -- since my son made no promises to anyone, he would not be violating any moral obligation by reaching out. Also, what significance my son will place on the biological connection remains to be seen, as it varies to everyone, and that is for my son to determine as he grows up. He's 5 now, and he seems to understand his story quite well now, but he is not yet that interested in it. I will support him in approaching that issue however he sees fit when the time is right. I certainly come at this from a different angle than the rest of you, but I do think we agree on one key principle: openness and full disclosure is more desirable a goal than deception and anonymity, and I hope it is the wave of the future in the US.

  12. And GC (Vinnie again, can't get Google to cooperate so it has me anonymous) -- yes, the learning process absolutely should begin before insemination. We were not even told there was an ID-release option! As a general matter, parents rarely know as much as they ought to before conceiving (even the traditional way), and where there is an established procedure for assisting reproduction, it would be easy to include an educational component as a prerequisite (and in fact, many hospitals have an educational component as a prerequisite for birthing any child there, so why not for using assisted reproduction as well?).


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