I realized today that the last two posts actually fit together in a rather interesting way. Perhaps this is not immediately obvious. The first deals with an IVF mistake in the UK–the wrong sperm was used to fertilize an egg. The second deals with a dispute between two men about who is the legal father of a child.
(Actually, before I take off on this I wanted to flag this subsequent story from the UK. It’s from the Sun, always slightly hysterical in its approach to journalism.)
Both of the last posts illustrate the importance we place on the genetic link, on DNA. For example, the problem in the case of the wrong sperm is that the couple nearly had a child that would not have been genetically linked to the male partner. There’s no sign that a child, had a child resulted, would have been in any way unhealthy.
Indeed, the Sun article I just linked to seems to encourage people who have used IVF to have kids to eye their children just a tad more suspiciously–whose DNA is that in there, anyway? Assuming here that all the sperm were relatively healthy, the only way you can see the horror of the “wrong sperm” problem is by focusing on the overriding importance of DNA.
Similarly, in the case of the competing fathers, one’s claim rests nearly entirely on his genetic connection to the child. If DNA were not important, we wouldn’t think of him as a possible father for a minute.
So both stories really depend on our understanding how much DNA matters. There’s no real effort to explain why it matters so much in either of the stories. It’s simply a given that it does. This, I think, must be culturally determined. I don’t know what sorts of studies have been done, but I wonder if there are cultures, either today or in history, where the genetic link is not so prized.
And here’s a hypothetical to think about. Suppose a single woman purchases some sperm, either to fertilize an egg for IVF or to use in assisted insemination. If there’s a mix-up at the sperm bank and they send donor 141 instead of 114, you’ve got a variation on the wrong sperm case from the UK. Is this the same, or is it slightly different?
On the one hand, the sperm she got is not the sperm she wanted. On the other hand, both the intended and the supplied samples are both from complete strangers–people unknown to her. That might mean that the measure of the harm done by providing the wrong sperm is less? Additionally, where in the UK story the intended donor (the male partner of each couple) might well be aggrieved by the mistake, in my hypothetical, surely donor 114 has nothing to complain about.
I find this example interesting to think about. Suppose 141 was a classical musician and that was part of why she chose him. She’ll certainly be disappointed, but there’s no guarantee that the genetic offspring of a classical musician will herself or himself be musical. What exactly is the harm done and to whom?
Obviously if the mistake is detected in time, she could simply ask that the correct material be provided, as one might with Lands’ End. But what if insemination, say, had already occurred? How would we relate to the harm done to her then? Just something to think about.