I’m still amazed at the discussion that developed in the comments over my last couple of posts. It’s been helpful to me to be pushed on my thinking. I’m grateful to those of you who took the time to write. I want to take one more run at the question of sperm donor anonymity and sperm donor parental status. Then I think I’ll move on for now, at least.
Ultimately the point I want to make is that donor anonymity and donor parental status are necessarily connected. If you want people to use known or identifiable donors, then you must provide that the donor is NOT a legal parent. If you insist on both identified donors and legal parental status for donors, then you make the use of sperm donors implausible.
I will try coming at this from a different direction this time. I’ll also try to be specific about the assumptions I’m making along the way so that you can figure out exactly where you disagree with, if you do indeed disagree.
I think the availability of donor sperm is generally a positive thing. It allows people who do not have access to sperm in its original packaging (a man) to have kids. This would include heterosexual couples where the man does not have viable sperm and also women seeking to raise children without the involvement of a man. The latter group includes both single women, lesbian or heterosexual, and lesbian couples.
(I know of course that some people will say that it is morally wrong to use donor sperm at all and some will say that it might be okay for a heterosexual couple but not for a lesbian couple or perhaps a single woman. There are many ways in which we could disagree here. I’m just stating where I start.)
Since I think donor sperm ought to be available to people, the next question for me is to consider the conditions under which it ought to be available. Many of the recent comments suggested that donor anonymity was problematic. Whether I personally find it problematic or not, it’s obvious that some children are caused real pain by not having access to donor information. In order to address this concern, maybe my next step would be to say that donor identification in some form should at least be available, possibly encouraged, and maybe even required.
The third question for me is what legal status the donor should have. And I do stress legal here.
One possibility is that we could recognize the donor as a legal father. My problem with that would be that it undermines the very point of making donor sperm available. None of the people I identified who might use donor sperm want the sperm donor around as a father.
Beyond that, to the extent donor sperm will continue to be used, recognizing the donor as a legal father surely encourages the use of anonymous donors. An unidentified sperm donor father cannot possibly exercise his rights. Thus, if the goal is to encourage (or even mandate) the identification of donors, then giving the donor parental rights is completely counter-productive.
Though I conclude that the donor ought not to be recognized as a parent this does not resolve the question of the legal status of the donor. It’s perfectly possible to create a new legal category for the donor. People in that category could have defined legal obligations or legal rights. I’m thinking particularly that some might want to articulate some obligations that the donor has vis-a-vis any child that results from his donation. (I’m not yet sure what rights these might be.)
Finally, but not because it is least important, you might want to consider rights of the children created via donor sperm. I’ve seen many suggest a right to identifying information about the donor. There are other possibilities, too, I’m sure. Of course, if there is a right to identifying information this means no more anonymous donors. And that, of course, will loop me back to my earlier point: if you think sperm donation is useful AND you think that children have a right to identifying information, then you have to set it up so that the donor is not a legal parent.