The Pursuit of Dialog and the Dangers of Certainty

About a month ago I wrote about a really interesting little essay on the Motherlode blog.   It was by Tamsin Eva and was about her experience as a parent of a donor-conceived child.   Since then I’ve followed her blog–The D List–and thus I came across this post a few days ago.

Two things really struck me.   One was her statement:

 I used to think we were like a lesbian couple because we always knew we couldn’t conceive kids together and would need a donor. Now I feel like a lesbian couple, more because we live in a supportive bubble and I’ve had to move past caring what anyone thinks anyway.

(Perhaps I need to be clear here that Eva is married to a man.)   I often think of the differences between a straight couple using third-party sperm and a lesbian couple doing the same thing.  In so many ways I think it’s less complicated for lesbians.   A man might feel that he had failed in some fundamental way if he were unable to produce viable sperm, but surely a woman wouldn’t?  It’s hardly her job to produce sperm.   A straight couple might be tempted not to tell their children that they were conceived with third party sperm, but surely a lesbian couple has no choice in the matter.

Given that perspective Eva’s observation is a refreshing alternative view.   It, too, is worth thinking about.

But more important, I think, is the part that comes after that.  After Eva’s essay was published in Motherlode she was subjected to what she describes as “the blunt force of vicious comments.”   And in response, she’s ready to shut down dialog.

I cannot say that I blame her.  She took a risk, opened the discussion an intensely personal way and was met, at least in part, by abuse and scorn.    But at the same time I lament her decision.   We (as a society) are facing a myriad of difficult questions around the issues of ART.  We will only face more in the coming years.    How are we going to resolve anything if we cannot talk to each other?  But how can you expect people to talk if others aren’t listening respectfully?

In some ways I think the problem here is certainty.  There are people for whom these issues are easy and they are just certain that they are right.   Because they are sure they are right they are quick to judge others, often without complete knowledge of circumstances.   It really makes no difference which side you are on, if you are sure you are right and therefore quick to judge.

I suppose that a different way of saying this is that if you are sure you are right you are often unable to listen carefully to someone who disagrees with you.   If you listen, you listen for the moment you can tear in and make your point.

I know perfectly well that I have clear views here.   I’m not troubled by the use of third-party sperm.  But I also know that there are many people who are deeply troubled by that practice and some who have been harmed by it.   Thus I hope that I can create a space where people who disagree with me feel that they, too, can be heard.

I take this posting of Eva’s as a cautionary tale.  If we want to have this conversation (and I do) then I think we all have to be especially cautious and respectful and perhaps not quite so sure about things.

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4 responses to “The Pursuit of Dialog and the Dangers of Certainty

  1. Well some opinions are right and some opinions are wrong. We do live in a world where some things have to be taken for fact just in order to get along. Like “did you come to a full and complete stop before entering the intersection and killing the dog?” We can have all sorts of opinions about the extenuating circumstances and whether or not the driver was malicious or negligent or derelict, and whether the driver deserves to get off scott free, or do hard time, whether or not the driver should loose their license. But we cannot even have THAT discussion with all its navel gazing and hand holding echange of ideas and opinions until we call them on the carpet for blowing the stop sign and hitting the dog. Dog’s dead.

    Its true that the laws that protect other minors do not protect donor offspring and other children of unmarried parents. Its true that benefits reserved for family members do not extend to genetic family relationships if they are not consistent with information recorded on birth certificates. Its true these things might not bother the offspring or the family members effected but it is also true that they should not be subjected to those conditions in order to better serve the people who paid to have them created.

    I oftern read statements about why Art is preferred to adoption and it generally comes down to the pregnancy experience or being there before birth to control the environment so that the genetic parent has no influence or contact with the growing fetus or the growing infant – they say that this way the person will never feel abandoned to make themselves feel better. They say that because they are the ones that selected the people who would be reproducing that they actually conceived of the child, the child was their idea therefore the child is all theirs. Its like watching a Frankenstein movie.

    There is no room for opinions on the facts, they are gambling with the chips of the children they are creating and with the relatives of the gamete donor. They are betting that the children created and their estranged relatives won’t be harmed by not being raised in their own families and that if they are harmed it will be virtually impossible to prove fault or establish liability therefore the risk of continuing the practice is rather low for the industry and the consumers and any problems experienced by the offspring or their relatives is just collateral damage in the battle against biology to become parents.

    What is there to be more open minded about exactly? I can empathize with their reasoning without endorsing their actions as they move to sever other people’s ties to genetic family but not their own. Open minded? All I ever get back in response to lists of losses is either the reason why they had no other choice but to buy gametes or that biological parents are not always that great or that nobody knows how the offspring will feel once they are grown up. Oh the other response to lists of losses is that we need to do more studies. No we don’t, stealing is wrong and people don’t like having their stuff taken. Study theft until the cows come home. Its like saying “I don’t know how my this person will feel if I show up late to our appointment, it may matter to them, it may not….there is just no telling…” There is a safer bet in those situations that is universally accepted – you take the road that does not waste something of the other person like their time or all their relatives. Its not like ART is an accident like missing a bus you have to pay lots of money to get in that Limo. There is no excuse,

    Opinion Shminion

    • You don’t really mean that first sentence, do you? Opinions aren’t facts. You can agree with or disagree with opinions. You can consider some to be extreme or potentially dangerous. But I’m not at all sure an opinion can be either right or wrong.

      If it is hard to see that in this context, think about movies. If I say “In my opinion To Kill A Mockingbird is a great movie” can you say whether I’m right or wrong? I don’t think so. You can say whether you agree or disagree. You can ask me to elaborate on why I have that opinion. But in the end, I think I’m entitled to my opinion just as I think you are entitled to yours.

      In a similar vein, I think value judgments lie at the heart of a lot of the debates over parenthood, including debates over ART. Some people believe that as nature decreed that a man and a woman are needed to create a child, so each child must have one and only one mother and one and only one father and that they are defined by genetics. This is, in the view of some people, as nature (or perhaps God) made us. I’d call that a value judgment or an opinion. I disagree with it–and I will do my best to persuade people to change their minds. But I try to stop short of saying that it is “wrong”–in the sense that it is wrong to say that the sun rises in the north.

      Perhaps one core problem here is that we don’t even agree on which things are facts. I suspect that some of the assertions you make are things I consider to be opinions while you consider them to be facts. I’m thinking here of things like the paramount importance of the genetic connection. I’d say this is your opinion and you might say it’s a fact. There’s a whole meta-discussion we could have about how one tells facts from opinions.

      I’m not sure I understand your dog example. Okay–so we might first need to establish who drove the car who hit the dog. That’s in the nature of a fact that at least in theory can be known. But I wouldn’t call someone on the carpet (as you say) before finding out the circumstances. Isn’t the whole point that if we find there are extenuating circumstances then we don’t call them on the carpet? (Or maybe we just give different meaning to “call on the carpet?”)

  2. “After Eva’s essay was published in Motherlode she was subjected to what she describes as “the blunt force of vicious comments.” And in response, she’s ready to shut down dialog.”

    I understand her experience & her thinking. Heck, we have Bryan Fischer, a man whose radio show has about 1 million listeners, comparing children to slaves and suggesting that children with gay parents should be kidnapped and that gay parenting is akin to child abuse.

    I suggest that Eva learn to let the vicious comments go. Some people don’t approve of our decision to have children, much less to use gestational surrogacy. However, I have no regrets. I have a wonderful family and two fantastic children who wouldn’t exist had it not been for ART. So, I learned not to care what the naysayers say. I know we made the right decision for us and our children and what others have to say may be important to them and they should be heard & allowed to express their opinion but once they’ve uttered it, I chunk it in the circular file where I think it belongs.

    • I don’t really mean this to turn into a discussion about what Eva should do as an individual, but I generally agree with you. As long as the naysayers don’t have actual power to impose their opinions on you, life is a lot easier if you let it go. I think perhaps she was talking less about the commenters and the radio hosts and more about those you keep close to you. It certainly seems reasonable to me to choose friends who do not condemn you or undermine your family.

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