My last post, which was quite modest, really, sparked a discussion about anonymous gamete (that’s sperm and egg) donors. Reading the comments made me think about the topic again. It’s come up in comments from time to time before and there are a few posts on the subject back there as well.
I think it is time to revisit the topic and lay out my thinking on it a bit more clearly. I know, of course, that plenty of people will disagree with me. And I’ll start by stating an underlying assumption that is critical to what follows: I do not believe gamete donors are or should be seen as parents.
That’s something I have discussed at length on many occasions. (Here’s one link, but if you just nose around under the “sperm donor” tag you’ll find plenty of others.) I think of all the parents–and perhaps particularly all the fathers–I know who work so hard to create and sustain their families, and it frankly offends me to place someone who does nothing more than give up some sperm in the same category.
I think it is critical for me to lay out my assumption that donors are not parents first because I suspect that this is where I part company from many of those who disagree. I actually wonder whether there is anyone out there who thinks that sperm donors are not fathers and, at the same time, thinks anonymous donation should be banned. (The same goes for egg donors, but sperm donation is both significantly more common and substantially less invasive for the donor, and so makes my point better.)
There’s actually also a substantial irony here. I find it much easier to consider provisions that would strongly encourage, if not require, some form of donor identification if we are very clear that donors are not parents. In other words, the insistence that donors are parents actually creates obstacles to the desired end–the abolition of gamete donor anonymity.
Let me illustrate what I mean. Suppose a single woman wants to raise a child. If a donor is not a parent, then perhaps she would agree to using a donor who could be identified in the future. The donor could not threaten the integrity of her family (the mother/child unit) or her autonomy (she’d still be the only parent.) On the other hand, if you tell her that the donor will be a parent, then she has reason to seek an unknown and unknowable donor, because that is the only way she can protect herself from having the donor intrude into her life.
Of course I see that one response is that the single woman has no right to raise a child alone as a single parent. But why doesn’t she? I think the argument that she doesn’t must loop back to some assertion that all children have two parents, defined by genetics. And that’s contrary to my initial assumption. (You can run through exactly this argument for lesbian couples, too.)
In the end, it seems to me that the donor=parent question is hopelessly snarled up with the anonymity question. And curiously, the more I take seriously the arguments that donors should be identified (arguments generally focussed on the well-being of children), the more I am persuaded that we must first be very clear that these donors are not parents.