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Reproductive technology and the child's right to know
June 28, 2011 12:36 PM   Subscribe

The Supreme Court of British Columbia decided that the BC Adoption Act is unconstitutional "because it treats adopted children differently from children of sperm donors. Adopted children are provided information about their biological parents, whereas the children of donors are not."

The decision (full text) is still subject to appeal, but Canada would not be the first country to prohibit anonymous gamete donation, usually by mandating a child's right to seek information about their biological parent once they turn 18.

The appeal is expected to focus on the privacy rights of donors.

Alana S., the donor-conceived woman featured in Newsweek's coverage of the issue, started the website AnonymousUs to collect the stories of donors, donees, children of donors, and adoptees.

Especially when it comes to assisted fertility technologies, the idea that children suffer because of not knowing their biological origins, or that knowledge of those origins is or ought to be a human right, often comes out of conservative leaning groups and individuals. For example: as the Commission on the Future of Parenthood, whose study, funded by the Center for Children and Families at the Institute for American Values, found that "children conceived by sperm donation are more likely to suffer from isolation and depression, and are roughly twice as likely as biological children to struggle with substance abuse; and Margaret Somerville, a Australian-Canadian legal scholar and ethicist who has used that right to argue against the legalization of gay marriage.

In contrast, openness in adoption (among other reforms) is often supported from a feminist framework, with regards to both the rights of a biological mother and the best interests of the child.
posted by Salamandrous (60 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's clear from Somerville's argument against gay marriage that she has totally internalized the "nuclear family" as a normal universal. Which is, of course, totally false, and ruinous to her objective of identifying the optimal social structure for child-rearing. But then as I get further into that article it's clear she has some really bizarre social Darwinist tendencies, and she believes that gay couples are totally self-involved and incapable of love... and I get the feeling I should probably just avoid Somerville's "ethicist" preachings in the future.
posted by mek at 12:48 PM on June 28, 2011


The "study" link should probably be http://familyscholars.org/my-daddys-name-is-donor-2/

Here in the US, mandating closed adoptions is often a plank of the Republican platform. It strikes me that any opposition to anonymous sperm donation is really an opposition to single parenthood.
posted by muddgirl at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2011


So interesting, thank you for posting!

Here in the US, mandating closed adoptions is often a plank of the Republican platform.

Woah, really? I have never heard this before.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:55 PM on June 28, 2011


The solution to that dilemma seems to be to stop providing adopted kids with the information about their birth parents. The adoptive family is your family, genetics be damned.
posted by kafziel at 1:05 PM on June 28, 2011


Here in the US, mandating closed adoptions is often a plank of the Republican platform.

Is this just a "hide the shame" thing or is there more to it than that? Practices north of your border have been to move to more open regimes in recent years. Ontario has been taking baby steps recently on adoptions too, for instance.
posted by bonehead at 1:11 PM on June 28, 2011


The solution to that dilemma seems to be to stop providing adopted kids with the information about their birth parents. The adoptive family is your family, genetics be damned.

What about hereditary health conditions?
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:14 PM on June 28, 2011


This is a pretty weird ethical dilemma: it weighs the right for a person to learn who their biological father is against the reduced chance of that person ever existing, due to the reduction in how many men will donate sperm. Put in this way it seems pretty clear that anonymous donation should be permitted, but I doubt that there's any way under the law to take into account this sort of reasoning.
posted by topynate at 1:15 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Culture wars stuff aside, there's a legitimate moral (and public health) argument that if the information is readily available, children deserve to know who their parents are so they can know if they're at risk of disease, mental disorders, etc.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:16 PM on June 28, 2011


The solution to that dilemma seems to be to stop providing adopted kids with the information about their birth parents. The adoptive family is your family, genetics be damned.

Adopted children get to decide what family ties are important to them. Denying them that information because you think they should feel a certain way about the definition of "family" is cruel and unethical.

Telling someone who has been adopted how they "should" feel is bad enough without taking away their agency completely.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:16 PM on June 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


This is a great example of why courts should leave policy determinations to policymakers. As a result of the court's fixation on one particular interest - that of (some) children of sperm donors in knowing who their biological father is, this decision will dramatically reduce the number of men willing to donate sperm in the first place, thus making life significantly harder for couples in which the man in infertile, or lesbian couples who wish to have children using donated sperm. In other words, the decision's logic leads to the conclusion that it's better that no person exist at all than that a person exist and not know his or her biological father. There's a reason that the law was written the way it was - the legislature obviously thought the opposite - and narrowly focussing on one "right" while ignoring the broader policy and human context is going to do far more harm that good.

This stems from what I see as a deeply mistaken view of parentage that privileges biology above lived experience. Your father is the man who raised you, not the man whose sperm you come from. Similarly, with adopted children, your "real" parents are the ones who raised you, not the ones who gave birth to you. I can understand why people would be curious to know about their biological parents, but allowing people to satisfy that curiosity is to me a plaintly less compelling objective of social policy than ensuring that infertile couples can have children, or that parents who can't raise their children feel comfortable giving them up for adoption safely and anonymously without having to fear that their lives will be turned upside down 20 or 30 years later when a stranger comes knocking on the door. The elevation of biological parentage to a position of legal privilege was, in my mind, never so clearly demonstrated than when Ontario broke its promise to tens of thousands of parents who had given up their children for adoption by passing an Act that required birth parents - who had given away their children with the promise from the province that their privacy would be protected - to take proactive steps to prevent the disclosure of their names in the future. It was a truly gross violation of the province's covenant with birth parents, and meant that parents who had decided to go about their lives without paying attention in perpetuity to the legislative agenda of the Ontario government were subject to a violation of privacy that they had been promised would never happen.

Courts should stay out of these issues, because rights conflict and legislatures are the appropriate bodies to resolve those conflicts. And legislatures should honour their promises.
posted by Dasein at 1:17 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Especially when it comes to assisted fertility technologies, the idea that children suffer because of not knowing their biological origins, or that knowledge of those origins is or ought to be a human right, often comes out of conservative leaning groups and individuals.

This isn't quite right. It's not "especially," it's "only." As far as adoption goes, the opposite is generally true. Pro-adoption pro-life organizations, such as the Catholic Church and others, generally do not believe that adopted children have a right to learn the identities of their biological parents -- and they worry that creating in law such a right will discourage people from adopting. Note that my link provides an example of at least one conservative who doesn't believe in creating a "right" to know one's biological parents.

Many people are against assisted fertility techniques, and no doubt they see this (creating this right) as a way of discouraging these techniques, because they wish to discourage single parenthood or gay couples raising children.

muddgirl, do you have any links about Republican party platforms and adoption planks? I can't find anything.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2011


Once you exist, there is no reduced chance of your existing.

The question is, given that there are children who do not know, for example, their health histories but could (unlike children of international adoptions), is it better that the biological parents get to keep their privacy or that the children get to know their genes? I see the arguments both ways for people who donated sperm or eggs or adopted out their children on the thought that it would be kept a secret, though I tend to think that they were adults and shouldn't get to decide for their biological children forever, but not for adoption/donations going forward.

(Of course your adoptive family is your family, but that doesn't help much with your genetics.)
posted by jeather at 1:19 PM on June 28, 2011


Do you have a right to know who your biological parents are?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:24 PM on June 28, 2011


Woah, really? I have never heard this before.

I probably should have been more specific - this is definitely a state-by-state thing, since adoption is regulated at the state level. The Texas GOP platform "opposes mandatory open adoptions" rather than supporting closed adoptions (it's on page 10). (There's some other really good stuff in there, like removing custody of biological children from homosexuals) Open adoptions are far from mandatory in Texas, so that plank is very confusing to me, although adoptees can access their records via a court order after they reach the age of majority.
posted by muddgirl at 1:24 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Courts should stay out of these issues, because rights conflict and legislatures are the appropriate bodies to resolve those conflicts. And legislatures should honour their promises.

But a lot of time with issues like this the legislature just ignores it and puts it off. The court making a decision either way forces the policymakers to respond and decide on the right thing to do.
posted by Garm at 1:27 PM on June 28, 2011


Your father is the man who raised you, not the man whose sperm you come from. Similarly, with adopted children, your "real" parents are the ones who raised you, not the ones who gave birth to you.

This is NOT your decision to make. Who are you to tell adopted people who they are allowed to consider their parents and who doesn't qualify? Seriously, what do you think gives you (or anyone else) the right to tell people that they should have absolutely no say in determining who their family is, because you've already decided for them?
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:29 PM on June 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


The solution to that dilemma seems to be to stop providing adopted kids with the information about their birth parents. The adoptive family is your family, genetics be damned.

I don't see it mentioned so far, but this works out pretty horribly when you're at the doctor, there's something unknown wrong with you, and the doctor wants to know if you have a family history of a variety of illnesses.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:32 PM on June 28, 2011


But a lot of time with issues like this the legislature just ignores it and puts it off.

Not changing the status quo is not ignoring an issue or putting it off. It is making a decision that things are fine the way they are. This is an argument that is often made about activist courts - that they are doing what legislatures would not. That's almost never because governments wanted to do something and were just too scared or lazy to do it. Do nothing is, in fact, doing something.

This is NOT your decision to make.

Let me put it another way, then - you're free to feel that the people who raised you are not your parents, but in my view that doesn't give you the right to violate the promise of privacy under which someone chose to donate their sperm or give up their baby.
posted by Dasein at 1:34 PM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


What about hereditary health conditions?

Genetic testing?
posted by adamdschneider at 1:36 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it helps people to know this, when you use anonymous donor sperm through a sperm bank, you get lots of information about the donor--we know things like, he has one sister and she has blue eyes, that he was married at the time of donation. We also got a medical history, though it's so pristine that our theory is that he was a young guy who just didn't know much about his parents' and grandparents' health problems. But, you can get things like medical information without getting identity info, for what that's worth.

I just asked my two sons, who are 10 and 7, if they ever wonder about their donor. They said:

10-year-old: What? Huh? Sometimes I think about him, but mostly I don't.

7-year-old: I forget about him. Until you mention it. I just don't think about him at all.

We also have a daughter who will be 4 in a few weeks, and she is adopted. I don't know that this is at all rational, but it seems much more important to me to know things about her birthparents than to know things about the boys' sperm donor, and I think it's more likely that she will be curious as she gets older than that they will. For me, adoption and sperm donation are not emotionally equivalent. I do understand that it does feel important to some people who were conceived with donor sperm. But on some level, I kind of don't get it.
posted by not that girl at 1:41 PM on June 28, 2011


Genetic testing only works for those diseases we know the specific genes for. I'm adopted, and I did get a gene scan done, so I know I don't have the one really well-established breast cancer risk factor, but there are a lot of diseases that seem genetic but we don't know exactly how they work. I have next to no information about my biological parents (except they were both apparently much taller than me, goddammit) so gene-scan-of-dubious-value it is.

It's a tricky situation, though. I'd love to know more about my genetic history in the abstract sense - not just medically, but it'd be neat to know my biological family's ethnicities, history, etc - but I in no way want to complicate my life by actually meeting my biological parents. I have a perfectly good family and I don't need to add that drama in my life.

So it's nice that I theoretically have the option - I could get more detail from the agency my parents went through, if I really wanted, I believe. But it's also nice that I didn't have it growing up, and it doesn't work the other way - I am the one who gets to make the choice.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:43 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me put it another way, then - you're free to feel that the people who raised you are not your parents, but in my view that doesn't give you the right to violate the promise of privacy under which someone chose to donate their sperm or give up their baby.

Interesting that people keep framing this as birth/first parents wanting privacy. From what I've seen it's the opposite--people placing their child for adoption want an open adoption, contact, or at least to know how their child is doing. If you look at ads from prospective adoptive parents, they tend to mention or emphasize their willingness to have an open adoption.

The people who tend to chafe at open adoption, from what I can tell, are adoptive parents and/or people who want to maintain the fiction that the adoptive parents are the only real family and the birth/first parents don't exist.

People who are adopted don't seem to get listened to or considered much at all if their feelings are inconvenient or go against the dominant adoption narrative, and I think that sucks.

I can't say anything about sperm donors, except that I think that their right to privacy is outweighed by a person's right to know who their biological parents are.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Man, the Margaret Somerville interview is useless. "I talked to some people... who were unhappy... and felt a void... so I'm against gay marriage!"

I guess I wonder how much sperm donations, for instance, would really go down if anonymity wasn't guaranteed.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2011


From what I've seen it's the opposite--people placing their child for adoption want an open adoption, contact, or at least to know how their child is doing. If you look at ads from prospective adoptive parents, they tend to mention or emphasize their willingness to have an open adoption.

What's your data source for this?
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:48 PM on June 28, 2011


In Australia (or possibly just NSW) when they ended anonymity for donors the rates of donations fell pretty sharply.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:52 PM on June 28, 2011


From what I've seen it's the opposite--people placing their child for adoption want an open adoption, contact, or at least to know how their child is doing. If you look at ads from prospective adoptive parents, they tend to mention or emphasize their willingness to have an open adoption.

But that concept didn't even exist forty or fifty years ago - the question of opening closed records applies to adult adoptees whose birth mothers (often) married, had families, and never told a soul.
posted by moxiedoll at 1:52 PM on June 28, 2011


I'm a 42 year-old adult adoptee. I'm not a kid or a child, and people don't need to be pre-emptively protected from me before I ever contact them.

People who claim that birthmothers were promised privacy when giving up their kids for adoption don't know how US adoption works. In this county, when you sign away your parental right for adoption, you have no control over what happens to the child. Yes, if you're working with an agency, that agency acts as a go-between to get kids for adoptive parents. If you're promised anything, it's because the agency needs that kid to place in a home that wants him/her.

It's actually more common when you give up (or lose) your parental rights that you're signing over your kids to the state to be raised in foster care. And the kids' names usually aren't changed, and the birth parents usually can find them. It's not intended to be a secret.

So, the "secrecy" that people cite has primarily to do with the adoptive families. (Or did, before open adoption/open records started coming back into vogue in the late 20th century.) The "confidentiality" that people swear is necessary was instituted in the 50s and 60s, when teen birth rates began to rise and social mores weren't forgiving of white girls having babies without husbands. The secrets were kept on both sides--both to protect girls who'd been sequestered in maternity homes (e.g., Florence Crittendon, Edna Gladney, Children's Home Society) from the stigma, and also to make whole the adoptive family.

Do you know that most birth certificates of adoptees born from the 60s to the late 80s/early 90s are printed as if the adoptive parents actually gave birth to them? Mine says my mother (that's what I call my adoptive mother, after all) gave birth to me at 8:17am, in Johnston-Willis Hospital, in Richmond Virginia, with Dr. Gwen Hudson attending. It was a single, live birth. My mother had given birth to one previous live baby (my adoptive brother, 2 years older than me). Forceps were used. There were no significant defects. My father (my adoptive father) is listed. Their address is on there. In reality, Dr. Hudson never met my mother, who knew by age 12 she'd never bear a child.

But the illusion was complete. The adoption agency, upon transferring me to my parents, filed for this new "amended" birth certificate. The "secrecy" had way more to do with my adoptive family than it did my biological parents.

See Wake Up Little Susie by Rickie Solinger and The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler for more on this subject.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:57 PM on June 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


I kind of regret bringing adoption into this, because, while there are related issues, they're not the same. For example, a sperm donor isn't "giving up" a person. He's donating some genetic material with the potential of becoming a person. While the issue of medical histories is important, I also think there's some interest here in protecting the donor's privacy.

I wonder why egg donation isn't mentioned at all - from what I can tell egg donations can be open or closed. I guess it's just more rare.

the question of opening closed records applies to adult adoptees whose birth mothers (often) married, had families, and never told a soul

Have you read The Girls Who Went Away? Just because a birth mother moves on doesn't mean she wouldn't have supported an open adoption (and in some cases, mothers were falsly told that she would have contact with the child).
posted by muddgirl at 1:59 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my birth certificate (circa 1981) has my adoptive mother and father on it. There's no indication that they were never in the actual hospital.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:00 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My sister's birth certificate also has my parents on it, although she was adopted. This wasn't a choice on my parents' part, it was a necessary part of the adoption. (It was an open adoption, and they sent letters and photos for a few years until the birth mother moved and did not give a new address.)

A sperm donor is giving up very little, and AFAICT there is no huge shame in sperm donation like there was in unmarried women being pregnant, so I'm not entirely sure what needs to be protected there at the cost of any genetic information. I do not think anyone wants to legislate that sperm or egg donors or biological parents are required to meet their biological children and love them and introduce them to their families, just that the children should have their medical histories.
posted by jeather at 2:08 PM on June 28, 2011


Amended birth certificates are still the norm. I wrote about the issue on my blog awhile ago--it got me musing about the various ways birth certificates can be innacurate, and also, in the context of transracial adoption, how amended birth certificates might contribute to the sparseness of records for black people in the US.
posted by not that girl at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2011


I have read The Girls Who Went Away. It's an excellent, devastating book and it's one of the reasons I'm aware that the concept of "open adoption" didn't exist until the late 20th century.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems possible to provide all the medical history of the donor to the child without needing to actually identify the donor. Aren't donors required to submit pretty extensive medical histories as part of the process anyway? Even if it were only a snapshot at the time of the donation that is more than many people have who've had a parent die young. Beyond that it seems reasonable to ask donors update their records every few years.

So if medical history is the only reason you would think its an easy problem to solve.
posted by Long Way To Go at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2011


So if medical history is the only reason you would think its an easy problem to solve.

I believe the concern is that any extra burden (such as medical record updates) significantly reduces the amount of sperm donations.

Is there a concern about sperm shortage? I don't really know.
posted by muddgirl at 2:14 PM on June 28, 2011


So if medical history is the only reason you would think its an easy problem to solve.

People are bringing up the medical history thing because it's a specific, tangible issue, but if you look at the links -- the AnonymousUs site, etc. -- there's a lot more of "I want to know who I come from"/"I want to know who my family is" there. Appeals to emotion, which I do not think are likely to be assuaged through some kind of third-way compromise.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's pretty clear that the anonymity of sperm donors is based on public policy, not any right possessed by the sperm donors themselves. If donors (who are aware of and presumably welcome the chance of conception) have a right to privacy then certainly the same right should be due to men who father a child after being assured that conception was impossible.(*) But these fathers don't have such a right; in fact they are legally liable for child support. It would be crazy to suggest that an unwilling father has a weaker moral position than a wiling donor, so any difference in their treatment must be based on a desire to grant something to sperm donors and not from some inherent right.

(*) Accidents happen; sabotage happens; million-to-one chances happen. There's even at least one case of a child conceived from semen recovered from a condom that the father had discarded.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:33 PM on June 28, 2011


Is there a concern about sperm shortage? I don't really know.

That's such a good question. There is concern about sperm shortage in the sense that people get concerned that rulings like this will lead men to be less likely to donate, but I don't know if there is a real-world sperm shortage.
posted by not that girl at 2:34 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Half siblings getting lucky is a good reason to make sure your daddy isn't also your lover's daddy.
posted by Talez at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2011


Some information on sperm donor shortages in the U.K.

In the U.K., law was passed in 2005 ending sperm donor anonymity, and it isn't legal to pay donors for sperm. Also, 85% of the men who wish to donate are rejected because of poor semen quality.
posted by shoyu at 2:48 PM on June 28, 2011


I think it's pretty clear that the anonymity of sperm donors is based on public policy, not any right possessed by the sperm donors themselves. If donors (who are aware of and presumably welcome the chance of conception) have a right to privacy then certainly the same right should be due to men who father a child after being assured that conception was impossible.(*) But these fathers don't have such a right; in fact they are legally liable for child support. It would be crazy to suggest that an unwilling father has a weaker moral position than a wiling donor, so any difference in their treatment must be based on a desire to grant something to sperm donors and not from some inherent right.

There are, of course, instances where sperm donors have been forced to pay child support as well.
posted by kafziel at 2:50 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not knowing who my birth father is/was is a little disconcerting, but only when I look at the family portrait.

Of course, not knowing has its benefits too, you can imagine that your biological progenitors were down on their luck dukes or earls or something. Well, if you were born in Europe that is.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:52 PM on June 28, 2011


What's your data source for this?

When it comes to prospective adoptive parents, partly anecdotal, partly based on studies I've seen showing that the motivation for international adoption is often at least in part due to a desire to avoid contact with birth/first parents. Trying to search for more about modern attitudes in domestic adoption...here's one study I've found that states " the majority of families were quite hesitant about open adoptions, based primarily on the fear that birth parents would want the child back." That's what I've seen anecdotally as well but that's a small study of a very specific population. Not a lot out there, unfortunately.

When it comes to birth parents, I think it's obvious that any parent would want to be reassured of the well-being of their child over time. In terms of research, this PDF seems comprehensive, although I've yet to read through the articles they cited in their bibliography. Here are some quotes:
An overwhelming proportion of birthmothers contemporary have met the adoptive parents of their children – probably 90 percent or more – and almost all of the remaining birthmothers helped to choose the new parents through profiles. Contrary to the stereotypes that have been created about them, almost no women choosing adoption today seek anonymity or express a desire for no ongoing information or contact.

[...]

--Research on birthparents in the era of confidential (closed) adoptions suggests a significant proportion struggled – and sometimes continue to struggle – with chronic, unresolved grief. The primary factor bringing peace of mind is knowledge about their children’s well-being.
ƒ
--Current research on birthmothers concludes that being able to choose the adoptive family and having ongoing contact and/or knowledge results in lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind with their adoption decisions.

ƒ-- Women who have the highest grief levels are those who placed their children with the understanding that they would have ongoing information, but the arrangement was cut off. Such contact/information is the most important factor in facilitating birthparents’ adjustment, but only 13 states have laws to enforce post-adoption contact agreements in infant adoptions
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


At least the BC ruling applies to egg as well as sperm donation. Although the case itself was brought by a woman conceived with sperm donation, I think in the more general application of the ruling the judge uses the term 'gametes'.

Also, someone alluded to this, but the ruling is going forward only: past donors will not be revealed (at least as of now), and children conceived in the past will not have access to their identity.

In terms of the court overriding legislative intent, my understanding is that the court 'gave' Parliament something like 15 months to come up with a legislative solution that is constitutional - doesn't put sperm-donated children in a worst position than adopted children.

This is another link that I thought about posting but ended up not including is this story about Rabbi Einat Ramon. She was pretty pioneering as a female Rabbi in the Masorti movement in Israel, but she just came out strongly against anonymous sperm donation - partly out of the usual traditional family values + children's rights combo, and partly out of a concern over a Jewish variation on incest/illegitimacy. Actually she wants the only way to get sperm to be from a central bank where sperm from Israeli soldiers who die before having children is kept, and distributed to women with the permission and cooperation of the soldier's parents/surviving family, who are supposed to then have a role in the ensuing kid's life. It's a fascinating idea, on its own, though in the context of her entire position it seems just loony.

I didn't want to get too involved with the thread, but I think one of the really interesting things this case brought up was the weird juxtaposition where progressives seem to fail to apply progressive values about adoption to gamete donation, and conservatives seem to fail to adopt their conservative values about gamete donation to adoption.

I actually do think that there is a progressive, feminist argument to be made against anonymous gamete donation, and that the main policy argument against that I can see is the consequence of less available sperm. Which makes me sad for people who want children but for whatever reason don't have the simple classical route towards it (a position in which I am am realistically liable to find myself in). But I think progressive values go against commoditizing reproduction in ways that at least seriously risk sacrificing the interests of children so that adults can have access to babies. It's definitely an issue I personally wrestle with - I can't say that I feel completely clear on it even for myself.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


shoyu - your link didn't work for me, but I have adblocker and such so that might be the culprit.

In the U.K., law was passed in 2005 ending sperm donor anonymity

The law protects the donor until the child is 18, and assures that the donor has no financial or legal responsibility. I would love to hear the perspective of men who would donate sperm, but are dissuaded by losing anonymity in 18 years.

and it isn't legal to pay donors for sperm

I suspect this is probably the real kicker. I recognize that donating sperm is much, MUCH easier than donating eggs, but there is still a time commitment.
posted by muddgirl at 3:32 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


but I think one of the really interesting things this case brought up was the weird juxtaposition where progressives seem to fail to apply progressive values about adoption to gamete donation

As a progressive and a feminist, I guess my end point is "it's complicated." One progressive value is that sperm does not equal baby - they're two different things and shouldn't be treated the same.
posted by muddgirl at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2011


Or rather, gamete != baby.
posted by muddgirl at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2011


I imagine these sort of laws will lead to more international adoptions and medical tourism to obtain sperm. I'm sure there are tons of men in emerging economies willing to donate.
posted by melissam at 3:42 PM on June 28, 2011


Baby from adoption = baby from "donation".
posted by TSOL at 5:29 PM on June 28, 2011


Is there a sperm shortage?

Sort of. When we were looking for donors via sperm banks in Canada we found there were very few Canadian donors. This has to do with a law that was passed in 2004 making it impossible to financially reward anyone for anything to do with reproductive technology (eggs, sperm, surrogacy). So the sperm we purchased came up from the USA - most likely from a college town somewhere in the south east.

One of our children has an "open" donor while the other does not. Both of our young children know that they were created via donor sperm (well, as much as a 3 year old and 5 year old can!) We have photos of both of the donors that they can look at. I also check the donor sibling registry though any follow up or contact on this will come later, if the children are interested, in their teen years I'd imagine.

I sometimes wonder if, with face recognition technology improving all the time, our child will able to track down the "closed" donor if and when they decide to. I'd like to respect the donor's privacy but I'd also love to say thank you. I'm so grateful to both the men who donated their sperm.

The documentary Donor Unknown: Adventures in the Sperm Trade is worth checking out to see some of the children and families created via insemination from one particular donor.
posted by Cuke at 5:41 PM on June 28, 2011


not that girl: " amended birth certificates might contribute to the sparseness of records for black people in the US."

Like... whether or not they were born in Kenya?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:06 PM on June 28, 2011


I would never, ever donate sperm due to the possibility of it coming back to haunt me in 18 or 20 years (when I hope to have a family of my own, and a successful career that involves living in a suburb and wearing a suit). I know there's no financial responsibility, but I don't care. It's not worth $500 or so to have that hanging over your head forever.
posted by miyabo at 6:24 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Courts should not be able to "reach back in time" to undo contracts that were legal at the time without the consent of all parties to the contract. Otherwise contracts lose all meaning and value.
posted by Twang at 7:14 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


i find it interesting that so many people are worried about the ramifications for infertile and donor adults. as opposed to worrying about the ramifications for the children who are the result of this.

there is no human "right" to have a baby - sorry, but that's the plain truth. however children born of donor sperm/eggs have to this point had *no right* to know anything about where they came from, or what their future might look like. meanwhile, biological children and (nowadays) adoptive children are presumed to have the right to know their genetic parentage, to know something of their birth circumstances - we don't even question it.

but children born of donor genetic material are just supposed to live with a vague fiction of gaps and unknowns? to settle for a myth of creation from some benevolent person who, out of the goodness of their heart, was kind enough to ejaculate into a paper cup?

that's rubbish. i'm my parents only biological child - i have 4 brothers and sisters, all adopted. two of them have sought out their birth parents - not because their upbringing was lacking, or because they don't know who their "real" parents are, but because they had an innate need to know, to see someone who looks like them, has the same mannerisms, the same freckles. it's something i, as a biological child never had to even think about - and never realised the importance of, until i saw them standing side by side with their biological mothers. my brother, who has high blood pressure at a young age, now knows that this runs in his bloodline. my sister knows that her irrepressible cowlick is reflected back in all the females on the biomom side.

and two of my siblings will never get those answers because their birth parents are no longer on this earth. and i know that that leaves a big hole of a question mark in their heads and hearts.

so i'm in favour of any law that protects the needs of the kids - to have answers, for whatever reasons they might need.

the adults will just have to suck it up and deal.
posted by wayward vagabond at 10:10 PM on June 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


there is no human "right" to have a baby - sorry, but that's the plain truth. however children born of donor sperm/eggs have to this point had *no right* to know anything about where they came from, or what their future might look like. meanwhile, biological children and (nowadays) adoptive children are presumed to have the right to know their genetic parentage, to know something of their birth circumstances - we don't even question it.

If you'd read the thread, you'd notice a lot of people *do* question that right as far as adoptive children.

It's all well and good that your adoptive siblings "needed to know", but that really doesn't matter as far as the birth parents go. If they don't want someone showing up eighteen years later saying they're their real parents, they should be able to put protections in place to avoid that.
posted by kafziel at 11:37 PM on June 28, 2011


i find it interesting that so many people are worried about the ramifications for infertile and donor adults. as opposed to worrying about the ramifications for the children who are the result of this. .....

I also find this odd. I'm afraid I just can't get behind the "right" to anonymity in sperm donation. Basically this ends up being the "right" to help father many many offspring. And none of those resulting people have the "right" to know their genetic heritage? If there is a resulting shortage of sperm, so be it. Also, I would think the quality of donors would be higher if there wasn't the opportunity to donate anonymously.

but children born of donor genetic material are just supposed to live with a vague fiction of gaps and unknowns? to settle for a myth of creation from some benevolent person who, out of the goodness of their heart, was kind enough to ejaculate into a paper cup?
that's rubbish. i'm my parents only biological child - i have 4 brothers and sisters, all adopted. two of them have sought out their birth parents - not because their upbringing was lacking, or because they don't know who their "real" parents are, but because they had an innate need to know, to see someone who looks like them, has the same mannerisms, the same freckles. it's something i, as a biological child never had to even think about - and never realised the importance of, until i saw them standing side by side with their biological mothers. my brother, who has high blood pressure at a young age, now knows that this runs in his bloodline. my sister knows that her irrepressible cowlick is reflected back in all the females on the biomom side.

and two of my siblings will never get those answers because their birth parents are no longer on this earth. and i know that that leaves a big hole of a question mark in their heads and hearts.

so i'm in favour of any law that protects the needs of the kids - to have answers, for whatever reasons they might need.

the adults will just have to suck it up and deal.

posted by wayward vagabond at 10:10 PM on June 28


I am adopted and this really resonates with me. Even though I was raised in a supportive, loving home I still had a really desperate need to see someone who actually looked like me. I eventually met my biological mother's side of the family and feel somewhat more complete and comfortable in myself now knowing something about what I am made of and having met people who look like me. There is the health angle, like now I know that I have a close relative with a mental illness that has genetic components, but there is also something to be said about knowing that creativity runs in the family and that I'm 1/4 Ukrainian.

It's all well and good that your adoptive siblings "needed to know", but that really doesn't matter as far as the birth parents go. If they don't want someone showing up eighteen years later saying they're their real parents, they should be able to put protections in place to avoid that.
posted by kafziel at 11:37 PM on June 28


Actually, it does matter. There's no right to pretend you never gave birth. Sorry. If you gave birth to someone, you're going to have to accept that you made a person and they might be interested to know even the barest bit of information about the person who made them.
posted by smartypantz at 11:56 PM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


shoyu writes "In the U.K., law was passed in 2005 ending sperm donor anonymity, and it isn't legal to pay donors for sperm. "

This makes sense considering the lack of monetary compensation. Without pay and because the donors wouldn't know if and who made use of their donation unless their biological off-spring contact the donor it could be perceived that donors are donating, um, recreationally. The vast majority of donors are probably people who know people needing sperm.

I had the thought that the only way to combat lack of donors would be to adopt the methodology of blood drives. I can't imagine that will ever happen, especially the corporate competition.

Twang writes "Courts should not be able to 'reach back in time' to undo contracts that were legal at the time without the consent of all parties to the contract. Otherwise contracts lose all meaning and value."

Courts do this all the time. It is unavoidable in a system where courts are essentially 100% reactive rather than pro-active. IE: very few courts issue rulings on what ifs.
posted by Mitheral at 12:57 AM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wayward vagabond, I'm guessing you're in the UK or Canada based on your use of "rubbish" and your assertion that adoptees now have much greater access to records than before? Here in the US, 40+ states maintain--fiercely guard, even--their closed records laws pertaining to past adoptions.

For now, anyway. The tide is very slowly changing, with a few states having recognized birth identity as a human rights issue--as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Which the US refuses to sign.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:25 AM on June 29, 2011


here's a thought: perhaps a sperm donor shortage would actually help increase our current piss-poor rates of adoption for children languishing in the system, and needing permanent loving families.

open, of course.
posted by wayward vagabond at 2:18 AM on June 29, 2011


Courts should not be able to "reach back in time" to undo contracts that were legal at the time without the consent of all parties to the contract. Otherwise contracts lose all meaning and value.

As Mitheral said, they do all they time and they should. Why exactly would a person sue if they had no chance of winning? And if they have a chance of winning, according to your proposal, why would they have signed the illegal contract?
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:26 AM on June 29, 2011


Perhaps they do in other countries, but US adoptions do not involve contracts of privacy or promises of privacy. I really wish uninformed people would stop repeating this untruth.

Most US domestic adoptions work like this:
1. You give up your child.
2. Child keeps his name/identity.
3. Child goes to foster care.
4. [Optional] Child is adopted. The adoption papers include a name change and a judge's order to seal the original birth certificate (in many US states, except of course for the ones who don't do it anymore).

Step 4 does not happen until the child is adopted by someone else. Which can be months or years after step 1. There is no privacy or secrecy until the adoptive family (in an agreed-upon or mandated closed adoption) comes along. Therefore, the biological parents are not the ones being "protected" in these scenarios.

In cases of adoptions occurring before about 1990 in the US, the promises of anonymity are mostly alleged. Where they did exist, they were used as tools by adoption agencies and attorneys to entice frightened women into giving up their babies.

Read up on US adoption history before continuing to make such claims, please. One place to start is with testimony of birthmothers during the campaign to open adoption records in Oregon. Research 1998's Oregon Measure 58, which passed. To quote one of 500 birthmothers who took out an ad in support of the measure that year: "I was not promised anonymity then, and I do not want it now."
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:58 AM on June 29, 2011


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