Sperm Donors and Fathers

This story appeared in what was once our local paper and is now internet only.   (And it looks like they picked it up from Redbook.)  It’s a fine account of one’s man discovery that he and his wife needed to use a sperm donor and his thoughts about that process.  

I don’t suppose I have all that much to add to it, though it ties back to lengthy discussions on this blog about sperm donors (anonymous and otherwise.)     Like many people who have written here, Gary Blitt wasn’t sure how he’d feel about a child conceived with donor sperm.   But as time passes, there’s no question that he is his daughter’s father.  He’ll be the one to teach her to read box scores and change the diapers.  

Perhaps it is true, as he says, that his sperm wouldn’t even have been as good as the donor’s was.   But what is more important to me, at least, as that every day in real life he is the father of this child.  

In all likelihood he has legal status as a parent, since he is married to the woman who gave birth.   This is an instance where the law gets it right.  

Now I cannot tell you if he and his wife used an anonymous donor or a donor who might some day be identifiable.   Maybe that’s a question worth considering and maybe we should shape the law so that it encourages the latter choice.    But I don’t have any doubts that, anonymous donor or not, he’s the kid’s father.

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17 responses to “Sperm Donors and Fathers

  1. The man that you describe in your post is certainly doing a wonderful job. This is not, however, the same as saying that he is the father of the child.

    Sperm donation has taught us, how important the biological connection is. When couples are asked why they chose sperm donation, rather than adoption, they usually don’t mention the practical difficulties, but say that they want at least one of them to be biologically connected to the child. If they want more than one child, it is important to them to use the same sperm donor, so that the children will be full siblings and therefore more attached to each other.

    The biological connection is no less important to the child, than it is to its parents. Very few parents tell their child that is the product of a sperm donation. When the truth comes out, it is usually in connection with a family conflict or a divorce. It can be devastating to the child.

    It is tempting to use the word “father”, for a man who nurtures a child, as if it was his own, but it is not honest. It would be nice if it was like in the old Beatles song: “Love is all you need”, but the truth is that people also need an identity, which good or bad, is something quite different from love.

    • I wonder what you would call him?

      Surely he ought to be a legal parent of the child? Suppose the child needed medical care? He ought to be authorized to consent. Or if the child wanted to be enrolled in school, he should be allowed to sign the needed papers. It makes no sense to me to say that (assuming the donor were known) an absent figure would be the one with power to make these decisions.

      Beyond legal parent, I think I know we disagree. I say he is the father of that child. I know you say the sperm donor is the father, but even here, I wonder what you would call Gary Blitt–what title does he get?

      I worry about the harm your terminology might do to the child here. In her world, “father” has a certain meaning. Many kids she knows have fathers. From her point of view, Gary Blitt seems to be the same as those other dads. But you tell her she should not call him that, that he is not real. What can this do but make her feel there is something wrong with her family, her home?

      I’m inclined to agree that they might want to tell her, at some point (possibly at several points) about how they used a sperm donor. And given the story in Redbook I imagine that they will or they have. I’m sure at different times she’ll have different questions, and they should answer them.

      Perhaps she’ll want to know more about her donor, maybe want to meet him. Perhaps she will not, though. That lies ahead.

  2. Only biological parents give you “an identity”? Seems odd. There are people without identities? If this is true, then the people without biological parents or siblings would be truly lost, but they aren’t. Instead of running down non-bio relationships, we may as well work on building them up, since they are unavoidable anyway.

  3. Philip, you say: “Instead of running down non-bio relationships, we may as well work on building them up, since they are unavoidable anyway.”

    Hey, What about working hard on outlawing non-bio parenthood except for adoption. That seems a much better suggestion to me. If a crime is being committed, rather than make the criminal act legal oner should introduce more policing. Clearly, a moral crime is being permitted through the unrestricted use of donor gametes especially allowing anonymity, so let’s put brakes on the practice and police the system.

  4. OK, if you’re going to make sperm donation a crime, you may as well make single parenthood altogether a crime, since that also may entail no bio-parent. You’re gonna need a bigger jail.

  5. Philip: You say: There are people without identities? If this is true, then the people without biological parents or siblings would be truly lost, but they aren’t.

    There are not people without biological parents, but there are people searching for them. Many of these people have problems with their identity.

    Let me give you an example. One of my daughters girl friends was told by her mother, when she was 17, that she was the product of a sperm donation. Her parents had divorced and the mother resented that her daughter didn’t get along with her new partner. 6 years later she has still not recovered from the shock. Now, she only has contact with her Daddy, who keeps telling her that it doesn’t matter, but to no avail. He can give her his love, but he can’t restore her stolen identity.

    When you buy sperm, you can get almost all what you wish, but identity is not included in the price tag.

  6. Philip,
    Perhaps if you see how important genetic/bio identity is from the POV of adoption it might better help you to understand how equally important this is to some/many donor conceived:
    http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/assisted_overview_article.php

    • I think it is a mistake to broadly conflate adoption and assisted conception. There are both similarities and differences to explore. It’s something I hope to get to here, perhaps soon.

      More generally, there’s no question in my mind that genetic heritage is part of some people’s identity. I don’t know that this is inherent, though. That is, genetic heritage may be important because various cultures give it weight. I’m not sure it’s importance is “natural.”

  7. It doesn’t matter whether its importance is natural. The fact is it *is* important.

    And it doesn’t matter whether it just applies to *some* donor-conceived people or *all* donor conceived people. Since you can’t predict in advance which human beings it will be important to you are depriving some the freedom of making their own choice to connect with their mothers and fathers.

  8. I agree with Tom that it does not matter whether a desire is natural or socially constructed. Most human rights as freedom of speech, non-discrimination, or the right to fair trial are not inherent to humans and despite that fundamental rights. Law decides the way we want to construct society.

    Maybe you are interested in a judgement of the German Federal Constitutional Court from 1989, which says that the knowledge of one’s ancestry is part of the German constitution’s basic rights. I have translated the essential paragraph:

    The right to free evolvement of personality and human dignity secures to each individual an autonomous area of private lifestyle, in which he can develop and preserve his individuality. Understanding and evolvement of individuality are however closely attached to the knowledge of the facts which constitute them. To these ranks amongst others ancestry. Ancestry does not only constitute the genetic equipment of an individual and thus forms his personality. Irrespective of that it adopts a key position for the finding of individuality and self image in the individual’s conscience. To that extent, the personal value of knowledge does not depend on the degree of clarification, which biology is currently able to procure about human predispositions and which may be important for his or her way of life. The finding of individuality and self image is a rather multilayered process, in which biologically secured findings are by no means solely decisive. As an attribute of individuality, ancestry is a part of personality, and an individual’s knowledge of his or her ancestry offers irrespectively of the degree of scientific results important links to the understanding and evolvement of the own individuality. Therefore, the personal rights include the knowledge of one’s ancestry.

    • I agree that in the end it doesn’t really matter whether the desire to know one’s ancestry is inherent or constructed. It’s just an interesting question (to me at least.)

      There are aspects of the some/all question that do matter to me, I think. Not so much whether it is some or all per se–it’s likely we all agree that it is some and not all? But subsidiary questions like when is it important to know about one’s linegage, what exactly is it important to know, etc.

  9. There is no way to answer this question because there will be different reasons why people want/need to know this information for different reasons. From a legal/equal justice standpoint it is a matter of freedom of information and equal choice. Institutionalized anonymity does create emotional/psychological harm to many and goes against the “Hippocratic Oath” to do no harm. I’ve written more about this here in response to an article written by Cheryl Miller in the “Hit and Run” section of Reason Magazine http://www.donorsiblingregistry.com/DSRblog/?p=72:

    “While Cheryl Miller notes that would-be-parent’s desire for a child is not a “whim”, I equally argue that a person’s desire for identity and meaningful connection to half (or all) of their genetic roots and ancestry is not a “whim” or mere “curiosity”. This is just as much a natural biologically rooted and emotional/psychological predisposition as a desire for a child. Not all people feel the desire for a genetically related child to fulfill their needs, just as not all people feel the desire to know the identity of their biological father and/or be allowed to have meaningful connections with their genetic roots and ancestry to fill their needs. Each individual will feel differently but one should not trump another.

    Some like to argue that these disconnects happen all the time in other unintended ways, but this equally does not justify giving professionals, institutions and the gamete industry the legal power to withhold information from the very people they help to create.

    The Hippocratic Oath, “Do no harm”, needs to apply to all interested parties in these complicated family formations. Let’s not forget that this should and must, first and foremost, apply towards the very people (and their children) that they are all intentionally collaborating together to bring into this world – People who might have a deep biologically rooted, emotional and psychological need to know this information for their sense of personal identity, belonging, connection and emotional well being; not only for themselves but for their own children as well.

    Who is to say that biology does or doesn’t matter in our personal definition of family and identity? Let’s try to move forward in a way that that respects everyone’s choice while putting emphasis on the yet to be conceived offspring’s anticipated consent.”

    • Would it be adequate to give a child the right to have information about gamete donor/provider identity, at the child’s election, at some point? And would that point be ten years old? Fifteen years old? Eighteen years old?

      • 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 YES!!!!! Adequate being an appropriate term. Information as early as possible or as soon as that child expresses an interest would be ideal but other countries have, randomly IMHO, given this “right” to identifying information at 16 and 18.

  10. Philip!

    Yes, there are people who have no identities, and yes, it’s odd. But don’t worry, we end up getting counselling. Another happy ending! lol

    • Even the identity of no identity is an identity. For all the adopted folks who can never find out who their biological parents were – there are different expressions of identity, and you have one. Even in health and genetics. Your biological mother’s DNA can tell you of an elevated risk for breast cancer; and the prevalence of a disease in the land of your birth can give you a similar kind of information.

  11. “The identity of no identity” as you put it has led adopted folks who can never find out who thier biological parents to unapologetically take a different route and formed Bastard Nation, and organise Philadelphia Adoptee Rights Day, so you can see that the “different expressions of identity” you write about are being dealt with by asking for honest birth cxertificates. Have you thought of counselling for your issues? In health and genetics, a biological mother’s DNA can tell of an elevated risk of breast cancer, but DNA won’t help two DI-adults committing incest because their backgrounds are kept secret from them, in these instances if they meet then spontaneously hot up and make love and a baby comes then that child is the product of incest and this hazard worsens when/if the donor/vendor participates in IVF more than once and the hazard is even more profound when the donor/vendor’s relatives are introduced to the hazard, as related siblings or cousins of the donor/vendor are also out there that means incest could happen here too. There are over forty genetically inherited diseases, the possibility breast cancer you refer to is only one, and some illnesses need both sides of the family for check-ups and/or cures.

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