Just because the tabloids are all over every aspect of the Michael Jackson story doesn’t mean there aren’t a few interesting points that could actually make one think. I’ve written about Michael Jackson’s children and the legal questions presented there a couple of times. (I didn’t post when permanant custody of the kids was awarded to Katherine Jackson, their grandmother, but a court order to that effect was issued last week.)
So here is the next twist in the saga–one that was almost inevitable given the fact that it has been widely rumored that Michael Jackson was not genetically related to his children. Mark Lester–he played Oliver Twist in the musical Oliver! and I do vividly recall him singing “Who Will Buy,”–says that he donated sperm for Jackson and may well be genetically related to at least the middle child and only girl, Paris. (As the article notes, there has also been speculation that Arnold Klein, Jackson’s dermatologist, as to the source of the sperm.) This leads to the inevitable headlines about Lester and/or Klein claiming paternity or perhaps being the father of Michael Jackson’s children.
Let’s just assume the genetic link between Lester and Paris for the sake of discussion. There’s two separate questions here.
One is a legal question: Would law recognize Lester as the father of Paris?
In most places, the lack of a genetic link would be irrelevant to his Jackson’s status as a parent, at least as to the two older children. He was married to their mother at the time she gave birth and if they were concieved using donor sperm, it was fairly clearly with his agreement. Under these circumstances, in most of the US Jackson would be the legal father to the kids and the donor would have no legal relationship. I’m not sure about UK law (in Lester’s version of the facts, it seems the insemination occurred there), but I’d guess it is consistent with this. This seems a reasonable result to me–there’s no indication that Lester was anything other than a helpful donor.
(I recently wrote about a DC law that extends this presumption to unmarried couples and even to non-couples. That’s another important story, but not really important right here.)
The second question is social/cultural. Should we consider Lester to be the father of Paris? There’s no indication he played any sort of parental role, though he is her godfather. There’s no indication he has cared for or nurtured the child. Under the circumstances as I understand them, Id’ say it’s a mistake to call him the father of Paris. If you’re a consistent reader of this blog you’ll know that DNA is not what makes a person a parent, as far as I am concerned.
I understand, of course, that the media is a business and that snappy headlines sell papers (or drive traffic to websites–see my own headline here.) But stories about the father’s of Michael Jackson’s children don’t advance any organized thinking about the problem. There are actually some serious questions here–Who are the parents of Michael Jackson’s children? Who should care for these children now?
These questions are easier to sort out if we are a bit more careful about language. Lester or Klein may well be sperm donors. The question is what role they should play in the kids’ lives now and whether any role they do play is the result of the genetic link or whether it rests on some other basis.