Recently there has been a lot of conversation on the blog about anonymous donors. Sometimes it’s clear that people have meant to use the term inclusively, to cover both egg donors and sperm donors. But sometimes it seems to have been more specifically about sperm donors, as when sperm donors were compared with “deadbeat dads.”
It seems to me that in some respects whatever concerns there are about anonymous donors should be the same for sperm donors and egg donors. In essence, they donate the same thing–genetic material necessary to create a child. To the extent it seems like a problem, in both cases a child might not be able to trace back his or her genetic lineage.
Despite this similarity, the conversation tended to focus fairly specifically on sperm donors from time to time, while it never migrated specifically to egg donors.
I think it likely the conversation drifted to a focus on sperm donors because sperm donation is much more common and has a much longer history than egg donation. There are many more children of sperm donors out there than of egg donors, and many more of them are old enough to offer their views. To the extent people view reality through the lens of their own experiences, it makes sense that the conversation might be about sperm donors. But I suspect virtually all of the comments would apply equally to egg donors.
At the same time, I think it is important to be attentive to gender here. Men and women are differentially situated when it comes to reproduction and child-bearing. So, for example, it seems to me reasonable to compare a sperm donor to a man who engages in a one-night-stand, at least for purposes of discussion. (I’m not saying here that you’d necessarily treat them the same, but I think it is fair to compare them.) In both instances you end up with a child who has no contact with the man who provided the sperm that created the embryo.
By contrast, I don’t think you can reasonably compare an egg donor to a man who engages in a one-night stand. An egg donor is doing something that doesn’t really have any historical analog. Only recently has technology allowed us to separate the production of an egg from pregnancy/birth and created the role of egg donor. Apart from instances where egg donation is used, there are no children walking around who have lost contact with the woman who provided the egg (but was not pregnant).
Further, the process of sperm donation and the process of egg donation are obviously different. Egg donors undergo a course of drug therapy to encourage super-ovulation and then their eggs are “harvested” through a moderately invasive procedure. Nothing like this happens to sperm donors. Given this difference I would expect that sperm donors are far more likely to decide to become donors relatively casually, while egg donors are more likely to consider their choices more carefully. I’m not sure what follows from this difference, but it seems to me noteworthy, at least for the moment.
Finally, sperm donors are men and egg donors are women. That’s obvious, of course, but it might be important to consider it anyway. Our image of a mother is different from that of a father. Thus, it’s one thing to say that a sperm donor is a father, but it is another thing to say that an egg donor is a mother. A sperm donor has potentially fulfilled the essence of a father’s role in creation of a child. An egg donor has only fulfilled on of two roles–the second being pregnancy.
I offer no grand conclusion here. I’m not ready to do that yet. But I think it is worth thinking about how gender might complicate our picture here.