Still Thinking about Donor Conceived Children: What Causes Harm?

This post is spurred in part by some of the comments on yesterday’s post.   That post was itself an extension of the two that preceded it.  All of which is to say you might want to start a bit further back before reading here. 

The Family Scholar’s paper I’ve discussed focusses on the well-being of the donor-conceived.   A number of the questions (they are included at the end of the report, around pages 88-94, for instance) ask about how the respondent feels.   It’s here you will find information such as that 8% feel like “a freak of nature” while 26% feel “special” and 43% feel it is “not a big deal.”  (It appears to me that this was a question where you could check all that apply, so the percentages recorded in all the answers total more than 100%.   “Not a big deal” scores the highest percentage of all the possible answers.)    

What I suggested last time was that the way people feel about being donor conceived is probably affected by (if not determined by) the reactions of those around them and by the image of the donor conceived within the general culture.   I think this is relatively uncontroversial:  If a person is or feels stigmatized because of some characteristic, it generally makes the person feel bad.    

Stigmatization is not always a bad thing.   It’s a powerful social force and, like many forces, it can be used for good or for ill.   For instance, I think it is a good idea to stigmatize driving while intoxicated and also teen-age smoking.   Yes, it might make some people feel bad about themselves, but I think that helps deter behavior which I’d say is objectively dangerous and undesirable. 

I should also note that there are of course degrees of stigmatization, and perhaps there is also a sort of negative social judgment that falls short of being called stigma.   Perhaps the language I am using here is not quite sufficiently refined, but it is the best I can do at the moment.    I think the general points hold.  

To return to the topic at hand, I think one critical question is whether there is anything inherently undesirable about using third-party gametes.   If there is, then stigmatizing their use will reduce undesirable conduct, which you would say was a good thing.  

But I don’t think you can simply argue that using third party gametes is undesirable because people produced via third party gametes feel bad about the circumstances of their creation.  They may feel bad, in whole or in part,  because of the social judgment that the use of third-party gametes is a bad thing.    Certainly to the extent they do feel bad, stigmatization cannot be helping.   If you altered the initial judgment that the practice was wrong, you’d find that at least to some degree, people conceived via third party gametes would feel better about the circumstances of their conception and about themselves.  

I will offer a concrete example of the what I’m referring to.   Please note that I do not mean to suggest that the people who I’m about to discuss are similar to the donor-conceived.   I only mean to use this as an illustration of the extent to which reasoning could be circular. 

Thirty years ago it was widely said that being lesbian or gay was unhealthy, or sick, or immoral or otherwise bad.   There were few if any positive role models for young lesbian and gay people.  And many people who were lesbian or gay felt bad about themselves.  (You can find studies that reflect this.)   As social attitudes changed (as being lesbian/gay became destigmatized) people had less reason to feel bad about themselves.   They no longer were lead to believe they were sick.   Instead, there was increasing understanding that they were normal, though perhaps different.   As a result, indicators of the general psychological well-being of lesbian/gay people rose. 

Thirty years ago you could have used the fact that lesbians and gay men felt bad about themselves to argue that being lesbian or gay was bad or unhealthy.   But you’d just be closing the circle–observing the effect created by the initial judgment. 

I’m not suggesting that we ignore the harm that is reflected in the studies, though it is worth remembering, as the report notes, that a substantial number of donor conceived people don’t appear to be suffering any harm.  But we cannot address the harm until we know its cause.   I don’t know how to unearth the cause of the harm–how to identify how much of it might be caused by shame, secrecy, social ostracization and the like.    But I wonder sometimes if blanket assertions made about the absolute importance of knowing genetic lineage or the superiority of genetic parenthood  may be part of the problem.

49 responses to “Still Thinking about Donor Conceived Children: What Causes Harm?

  1. Marilynn Huff

    I think most people would say they’d feel squimish about having any kind of romantic encounter with a blood relative even if there was no chance of conception. For instance I doubt most gay or lesbian people would fell comfortable dating a sibling, parent, grandparent, cousin aunt or uncle. That is of course a social taboo, but most people buy in to it. Then of course there is the very real likelyhood that a child born of anonymous conception will end up dating and having sex with a relative of the opposite sex because of the large numbers of offspring conceived by men in small geographic areas. The offspring will be in the same age group, they’ll be the same race, have similar likes and dislikes, be of similar economic status and their parents are likely to get along real well because after all they chose the same guy to have children with.
    In the end the practice of anonymous conception is a huge public health issue as it makes keeping track of who is reproducing and who isnt impossible because its legal to lie on official documents like birth certificates.

    As an aside I’m noticing that the term 3rd party gamets makes no sense in the same way “donor-conceived” makes no sense:
    Two people mated together conceive offspring together and become the parents of their offspring; the male is the father of their offspring and the female is the mother of the offspring. There is no “third party” contributing gamets. There is no “third party” reproduction. Two people reproduce their genes. The third party is the person paying one of the parents to go away so that they can pretend that they are the parent of their spouse or significant other’s child with the anonymous person.
    Isnt it kind of gross that the law recognizes people who “commission creation” of babies as parents to those babies?

    • In part I think you are just wedded to the idea that the providers of the genetic materials MUST be the parents. While I’ll surely concede that’s one possible view, it’s clear to me that it is not the only view. Indeed, it is not the view embraced by law. I suspect if I asked you why the male who provides sperm MUST be the parent you’d tell me something along the lines of “that’s just the way it is.” This is essentially an appeal to some form of natural law.

      There are natural laws. Why does a hammer fall if I let it go? Gravity–which is a law of nature. There are laws of nature involved in creating children. Every child must begin with genetic material provided from a man and genetic material provided from a woman. Just like gravity–it has to be that way. But the rule about who is a parent (in either a legal or social sense) or who is a father (in either a legal or a social sense) is nothing like the law of gravity. It’s clearly a human construction. We may choose to recognize the person who provides the sperm as a father or we can choose not to. (Remember that in the middle ages a child born outside of marriage had no parents at all, although the laws of biology were the same.)

      Thus, to me when you say “the male is the father” you just telling me your preferred set of assumptions/beliefs. I don’t think of it a truth I must accept. You could, of cousre, make an argument that the male should be recognized as the father. And I think we’ve had bits of that discussions in several places.

      • Every child must begin with genetic material provided from a man and genetic material provided from a woman. Just like gravity–it has to be that way.

        It has to be that way if no technology is used, but if technology is used, children could be created from SCNT cloning, from DNA Synthesis, from stem-cell derived modified “female sperm” and “male eggs”, and from various gene splicing and engineering techniques.

        Do you have a view on whether those things should be allowed or not? You don’t need any more information, because the question is non-specific to any particular method. I’m just asking if you agree with the IAV’s recommendation that we prohibit attempts at creating a child by any means other than joining the un-tampered with gametes of an identified male and female. (Forget the identified part for now, do you agree with the rest?)

        And, no, she is saying that it is a biological fact that the male is the father, one of the parents. That doesn’t mean he automatically gets custody or guardianship. The state can sometimes take children away from biological parents at birth, but they remain the parents, mother and father, of that baby forever, even if the baby never meets them once.

        • marilynn huff

          John Howard, some of what you say I like, some I do not. There was no room to reply to something you said on another thread about the child’s progenators never being allowed to see the child because they were reckless in creating the child. I would like to give you pause for thought on that. I reunite families – lots and lots of families for free because I truly believe that its never too late for a parent to make it up to their child. I don’t believe that anyone should prevent a parent or the parent’s family from becoming involved in the life of the child (to the extent that the child is safe from physical harm). Nothing is more beautiful than seeing a 65 year-old former dead beat dad, revel in the beauty of his daughter for the first time 37 years after her birth – watch him throw everything he has into being there for her and her son. Nothing is better than seeing a former drug addicted mom beg for her middle aged childs forgiveness and get it so that they can start over. People screw up, let them make it up to their kids. If there is a god, he moves heaven and earth for a repentant parent. If there is not a god, repentant parents are certainly gods to their children I think the law should always allow people to meet their makers.

          • OK, how about, after the people who intentionally created a child from unmarried gametes get out of jail (maybe 10 or 20 years) they would be allowed to see their child.

            I don’t think we should let people get away with adultery. We don’t let bank robbers keep the money, and we shouldn’t let people who intentionally conceived a child out of wedlock get away with it either.

            Deadbeat dads go to jail, and get to see their kids when they get out. Same should apply to others who intentionally deprive a child of their right to know and be raised by their progenitors (unless the progenitors are unfit of course).

            • marilynn huff

              Oh well John if adultery were criminalized, there would be no judges to preside over trials, no lawyers to try them, nobody on capitol hill, nobody preaching sermons on sundays, nobody to walk your dog, clean your pool etc etc. I believe in marriage. My husband has cheated on me and I certainly would not want him arrested where he could not provide for our child – being unfaithful to me does not make him a bad dad, it makes him a lousy husband and I’m maybe not such a great wife. I do think that manufacturing orphans takes a special kind of recklessness though. I would not lock them up but I sure want to throw a glass of cold water in their face to wake them up.
              Also growing up in San Francisco I can say that children with gay and lesbian parents turn out just fine, perfectly well adjusted law abiding productive members of society. Being that they grew up here in a very tollerant place none of the kids at school poked fun of the fact that their mom had a girlfriend or dad had a boyfriend, but to be clear my friends called their mom “mom” and their dad “dad” and their significant others by their first names – they did not call the significant others mom or dad. Similar to step relationships – few of them still speak to those significant others since most of the relationships have disolved in the past 30 years. A couple of my friends mothers have stayed with the same woman in the past three decades – those bonds are closer because of time.

      • Remember that in the middle ages a child born outside of marriage had no parents at all, although the laws of biology were the same.

        That is some revisionism, isn’t it? The child may have been removed from the mother and raised by nuns in an orphanage or something, and maybe the nuns never kept records of who the mother was, or who the father was, but it was understood that the child’s parents were not part of the child’s life now. I don’t think they used the word “parents” to describe the nuns who ran the orphanages or whoever wound up raising them.

        • No, I don’t think it is revisionism. The child was filius nullius which means the child of no one. They had no legal parents at all. No one removed the child from the mother. In their view, there was no mother. The nuns weren’t parents either. There we no parents. The man who provided the sperm and the woman who gave birth to the child had no recognized legal or social relationship to the child.

          There was a point somewhat after this at which a child born out of wedlock had a mother but no father. That was true even if everyone knew who the man involved in the conception of the child was. He just wasn’t a father. We’d probably call him that, but they didn’t.

          What I mean this to show is that “parent” is a created category. In the world these kids were born into it was possible to have no parents at all. That’s not because biology was different. It’s because of the way people organized their ideas.

          • Argh, they certainly had both a mother and father and those people were the parents. They were just separated from them legally and socially, they were not responsible for the child, the child had no right to any inheritance from anyone. But it was not as if the child was dropped by a stork.

            Sounds like you want to go back to the middle ages, when everyone is filius nullius?

            • I do not wish to return to the middle ages–not one tiny bit.

              I might well agree with you that these children did have parents. Surely I’d say they should have.

              But my point is not what I think or what you think. My point is that if you talked to people at the time you would be told these children had no parents. No legal parents. No social parents. No parents. Which demonstrates that “parent” is not a term with a fixed meaning. It’s given meaning–legal meaning and social meaning–in particular times and particular places.

              • In the middle ages it was also completely acceptable to buy and sell people as slaves and to deprive women of any rights of inheritance and possessions. Thus, according to you Julie, does this prove that the notion of people as being free and equal rights for men and women is just a social construct and hence you would feel it right and appropriate for the law to again deny people the fundamental human right to live life free of involuntary servitude.

          • You don’t prove anything by bringing up the middle ages, except that the church was just hell bent as some of us on denying biology because of their sexual ideology- it just wasn’t the same ideology.

            Surely you don’t expect us to believe that children- or anyone for that matter- were better off for it.

            • (The church was known to oppress scientists and promulgate misinformation in many other ways too, as is well known…)

            • The middle ages are simply a different time and a different place where different ideas about who was a parent (legal and social) governed. I’m not suggesting it was a better time or a better place. It just illustrates that the rules for who is a parent (both legal and social) have changed over time.

              And by the way, I don’t think this is like the rejection of the pre-Copernican earth-centered view of the universe where a better understanding of science allowed us to better understand the natural world. They knew a woman had given birth to the child. They just chose not to give it social or legal meaning.

          • Julie,

            Thank you for the above example. It’s a wonderful illustration of the historical construction of legal parenthood.

            It is difficult to translate complex ideas into sentences that can be consumed by readers. But you do it on a near-daily basis on this blog. I greatly admire the work and care that you put into your posts. And I value what I have learned from your interesting questions and incisive analysis.

            As an aside — I’ve come to agree with your position regarding surrogacy. Logically, it follows that acts trump intention.

            In any case, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for the benefit I have received as a result of your writings.

            • I appreciate your thoughts. I think the ideas in family law–and perhaps especially in this little realm of family law–are both complicated and critical. At the same time, it isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require advanced degrees. It requires (in my view) a lot of very careful consideration with a lot of attention to language. That’s what I work at.

              I am always left (and I think I’ll always be left) with places where I cannot quite work it out. But the exercise of thinking carefully and listening to others does bring some clarity, I hope. And in that spirit, on I go.

      • Julie I beg to differ. It is you who are wedded to an ideology in place of biological fact.
        The reproductive process is not a matter of faith. It is not even a matter of perspective. Only two people can reproduce, and therefore Marilyn is correct that the term “third party gametes” is a misnomer, speaking as it does, about reproduction and not about the social role of a parent.

        At times you have stated that you only wish to talk about the LEGAL role of parenthood, but more often than not, you only backslide into the ideologically based denial of scientific fact.

        If you must deny scientific fact in order for your legal position to hold weight, perhaps there is something not so solid in your legal position? And yet you don’t have to go that way; you could continue to maintain that legal parenthood can be separate from biological parenthood, so I don’t quite understand why.

        • I’m sorry if I have not been consistent (and I am quite sure I have not, though I do try.) And I happen to be rather a fan of science, so I do not mean to be denying science at all.

          There are fixed scientific truths (which I suppose we might unfix in the future–but not quite yet.) Each of us begins with genetic material from two forebears, one male and one female. I think this far we all agree.

          And here is where I think we disagree–what should follow from that scientific truth?

          One can say that what follows is that those people who provided the genetic material should be recognized as the holders of the legal rights or should be recognized as those with responsiblities or should be recognized as the social parents. You can make an argument that this ensures that every child has two parents, one male and one female, as indeed it does. You can assert that this gives an easy way to know for sure who are parents and who are not parents. And you can assert that other people in other times and other places have made the same choice. You can even argue (I am not saying that you in particular do) that some divine creator intended this to be so.

          But none of these latter assertions are scientific. They are arguments in support of a result. And as I hope this blog has shown there are competing arguments. Specifically the point here is that at certain times and certain places these people have not been recognized as parents–not in law and not in society either.

          I do not think anyone can or should say one of us is right and the other wrong, by the way. These are in the end just assertions about what is better and why it is better and how the world or society or the law should be. We just have different views about this, which is what makes life interesting a lot of the time.

          • Julie I do not read your position that way. You back into it when challenged. But otherwise you refuse to acknowledge the concept of biological parenthood, you will not even use the phrase!

            Why is that necessary if all you want to say is that not all biological “forbears” should have legal parental status?

            You do not say “a sperm donor is not a legal father.” No, you say “a sperm donor is not a father,” categorically and without qualification.

            This is an activist use of language, not the use of language as is commonly used, a use of language to reflect social reality as you would like it to be, but not how it is.

            If your goal was simple clarity instead of enforcing ideology, you would use the unambiguous term “biological parent”. The unqualified term parent is highly ambiguous. It is so ambiguous, that is why you have a whole blog full of court cases about it!

            A scientist in any other discipline would have no such issues. Take a zoologist for example. We all know that chimps have no fathers in the social sense of the words. Would that ever stop a zoologist from using the world biological father in that context?

            • It’s true I try to avoid the phrase “biological father” and the other analogous phrases. Here is why: There are, to my mind, two forms of parents. There are those who are legal parents (and I do try to keep most of the focus on law) and there are those who are social parents (people who actually participate in a child’s life like a parent.) I recognize that this latter category is difficult to define and perhaps we wouldn’t agree all the time about who were social parents. But I think a lot of the time we would agree, or perhaps I should say many of us would agree much of the time?

              A person with a genetic relationship with the child may be a legal parent. Indeed, they often are. But they are not always–there are those cases where a married heterosexual couple can close out a man who is biologically related to the child–some have been discussed here.

              A person with a genetic relationship with the child may be a social parent. Often they are. But they are not always. The guy closed out above, the man who leaves after a one-night-stand, other circumstances discussed here.

              And of course a person with a genetic relationship with the child may be both a social and a legal parent. A married man who is genetically related to a child he is raising in a nuclear family like setting is both and that’s hardly uncommon.

              Since I’m most interested in who are legal parents and also interested in the overlap or disjunction of legal parents and social parents, these terms are important to me. I avoid the term biological parent because to my mind the inclusion of the word “parent” makes it harder for me to be clear (or at least, I think it does. You may think I am wrong.) I prefer something like “genetic forebear” or “progenitor” because then I think I can more readily ask the question “Is the genetic forebear a (legal)(social) parent?” To ask “is the biological parent a parent?” seems to me less clear.

              I agree with you that “parent” is ambiguous, and this is partly the problem I have. I think this goes to the heart of our disagreement. Words like “father” and “mother” are powerful. If one says (as I think you would say) “the sperm donor is a biological father” then he is recognized as some sort of father. From there the argument can be made that as a father he has some sort of rights–who would deny a father the right to see his child? To participate in decision making about the child and so on. Thus, I think getting him into the “father” category, even if it he is the modified “biological father” gives him greater weight and greater importance.

              Now I’m quite sure that I’ve been less than consistent in using the terminology I just outlined. I think it’s too late for me to go back and fix all the places I’ve made mistakes. I will try to be more careful and more precise in the future. But I don’t think there’s anything dishonest or inconsistent in the taxonomy I’m offering. I understand that you may not want to use it and of course, you need not. The critical thing is that we understand each other’s terminology so that we can intelligibly converse.

              To that end, is it the case that where I would say “progenitor” or “genetic forebear” or some similar construction you will say “biological father?” Can we agree that while a biological father (as you use it) can be a legal parent, a social parent or both, he can also be neither? (I’m not asking you to agree that it should be this one–only that it is possible for it to be this way.) If we cannot agree to this latter point, can we find some other term to reference the broad category of men who provide sperm for conception? I want some term for that broad category so that we can discuss what rights/role people should have by virtue of being in that category.

              I’m not sure about the terminology used in zoology or other related fields, but I’m also not sure how much that matters.

              • My objection to the term forbear instead of the completelly unambigous and widely used by both scholars and laypeople term -biological father,
                -is that is reinforces denial.

                If someone is a biological parent, why object to calling him such? If you doon’t think that is enough to warrant granting him additional consideration, then it shouldn’t matter to you.

                If on the other hand, you do think it warrants additional consideration, than how dare try to cover it up with specially constructed terminology?

                No cover up.

              • I certainly agree that a progenitor can be neither a “social parent” or “legal parent”, indeed I would say that any progenitor who intentionally conceived the child out of wedlock with the other progenitor should be considered an unfit parent and not be allowed to see that child ever again. The child should be placed with fit guardians, though the birth certificate should still list the mother and father so the child can know who its true parents are.

                We routinely remove parenting rights from unfit parents, even if they are married and the biological parents. We don’t have to suddenly call those people progenitors.

              • Obviously that would apply to everyone involved in the conception, not just the progenitors but also the people who intend to raise the child. They are essentially kidnappers and obviously kidnappers shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

            • Kisarita:

              I’ve tried to explain my usage as best I can. I cannot tell if I have not been clear enough (so that you do not understand, in which case I can try again, perhaps in some other way) or if you understand but disagree (in which case we just need to agree to disagree).

              Can you tell me what, in your view, follows from saying someone is a biological parent? I think this may be the crux of our disgreement. As I would use the term (were I to adopt it) I think I would say nothing necessarily follows from being a biological father. You may or may not have social status. You may or may not have legal status.

              If you would say that something more follows from being identified as a biological father, then I think we have isolated a place where we just do not agree.

              • I’d say that a sense of identity and pride and purpose and responsibility comes from the biological parent. What follows from saying someone is a legal or social parent, other than they’re the ones who boss you around and feed you and make sure you go to school? They’re essentially teachers, it’s like having teachers at home as well as at school.

              • It is this type of response that irks me, that you seem to fall back into when challenged.

                This response attempts to restrict the dialogue to very practical issues, which we may or may not agree on, while whitewashing the radical ideological position behind it. I find that i bit disingenuous.

                Wouldn’t you respond the same way to a representive of the medieval church, who refused to use the word parent because of his ideology against premarital sex? And when challenged with biological facts, insist he was only concerned about the legal application of parental activities?

            • No, typically zoologists use the term sire or paternal donor or male donor. If you expand to biologists, you’ll get some really odd answers once the botanists start chiming in.

      • Marilynn Huff

        If people had to earn the right to be legally recognized as the parent of their own offspring by doing the work of raising their offspring, then how would the law determine who got to take the child home from the hospital? Would the child have no legal parents while its progenators were earning their parenthood badges? How long would the progenators have to raise the child before the law would grant them parental rights over their offspring? 1 year, 10 years, 18?

        Many children would not receive financial support from absentee progenators not actively involved in raising them, because those progenators would not legally be considered parents due to lack of daily involvement in their offsprings life. You have to be recognized legally as a parent of a child to have a financial obligation to that child. So there would be no such thing as an absentee or dead beat parent. The law would only recognize good people who participate in their offspring’s life as parents.
        What about intent? Should a progenator not be responsible for their offspring if they never intended to become a parent? Should’nt in these circumstances the law require progenator’s to give the child up for adoption? Should other well meaning people who help raise an unrelated child be at risk of being deemed a parent and possibly held financially responsible for the child until its an adult? Should a person be legally considered a parent because they have a receipt saying they bought the rights to the child from its progenator long before the child was born? Should the court enforce the terms of contracts where a person agrees to abandon any and all offspring they conceive for payment?

        • There’s one person who has actually done a lot of caretaking work at the moment a child is born, and that is the woman who gives birth (and was pregnant.) Thus I’m inclined to think she should have some rights no matter what. If she doesn’t wish to raise the child, then of course she can give the child up.

  2. Julie I really think you are mistaken about the stigma issue. When I considered insemination, I can’t tell you how many people said “Yes, that’s a great idea.” Stigma may exist in some circles but in others its not the norm at all.
    There is a far greater stigma surrounding homosexuality. So if anything the kids from the lesbian headed families should be suffering more- but it appears they aren’t.

    In any case, I have to disagree with your stigma theory- I doubt it is relevant.

    • I agree that stigma exists in some circles and not in others. Indeed, I think that might help explain why some donor concieved people have a better time of it than others.

      I see what you mean around homosexuality, and perhaps I want to appeal to a concept that isn’t really stigma. When I was growing up, I think there was a good deal of shame around being adopted. I had several cousins who were adopted and it was only spoken of in hushed whispers, and usually in a context that explained some shortcoming of the child or parents. I don’t think the adopted kids were exactly stigmatized, but they sure weren’t made to feel good about themselves and their origins. Not many people talked about adoption. There weren’t many books with postive adoption stories. I’m pretty confident that some of my cousins were ashamed to be adopted. And I think that it’s quite likely that this was a pretty common experience and that, for a number of adopted people, it was harmful. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some parents were reluctant to tell their children they were adopted because they didn’t want them to experience that shame. But of course we can agree, I think, that not telling the truth only made things harder.

      Societal attitudes about adoptoin have changed quite a bit. I know many families with adopted kids. These parents have talked to their kids early–from the beginning. They give them simple picture books that show adoption. The kids talk openly about being adopted. I’m not saying it is without complications, but it seems to me it is infinitely healthier than it was.

      Now I am not sure how it is for donor concieved kids today. I suspect that, as you say, it varies a lot, place to place. I also think it varies by circumstances. The position of a child of a lesbian couple is quite different from the position of a child of a heterosexual couple. For the first child, it’s pretty obvious to everyone that the sperm came from somewhere and that it wasn’t from either of the two women. For the second child, I suppose most people will assume the sperm came from the man. So assuming that both kids know about the circumstances of the conception, the second child (the one born to heterosexual parents) has to figure out who to tell and when to tell and what to say. They don’t know if they know other kids who are donor concieved. Their parents may have told them this information is private, which for a child might sound like something you should hide. The first child–the one born to lesbians–has a fairly different social experience. There’s often a supportive community, often other kids who are donor conceived. Indeed, there are even clubs.

      Now both kids have to contend with the social value placed on genetic connection (as do adoptive kids). But I would expect that one of them (the child of the lesbians) has a wider array of resources to assist him/her.

  3. I don’t think this really needs to be over thought. I am just going to share my opinion here (this is messy but you should get the gist):

    Yes, the stigma creates secrecy and shame for the intended parents and the biological-pre-conception relinquishing-father (mother).

    If we take away that stigma, tell the child the truth of their conception from the beginning, celebrate the nice man/woman who gave the parents this child, but keep that child-adult and their future offspring from knowing/having a relationship with the other half (or all) of their genetic/bio family, do we really expect that the offspring and their future offspring will not feel a loss over never knowing, being known by, loved, accepted and *wanted* by their the biological-pre-conception relinqishing-father (mother), grandparents, siblings and extended family?

    I would argue that by saying that these intentional disconnects are less important that the wants and choices of the people who brought this person into the world in turn stigmatizes that person from being able to say they matter, expressing their loss and pain.

    The studies are showing that more want to know than not. How much of a majority do we need to validate the importance of genetic/biological family?

    The only way to do this right is by removing the anonymity, stop treating people as a means to someone else’s end and promote OPEN FAMILIES.

    • I think I agree that openness and honesty are generally preferable. I think it is interesting that you speak of expectations. (In the third paragraph, I think it is.) I think many of the commenters are beginning with the expectation that people will feel loss and want to be known by the providers of the gametes. We can probably construct such an expectation, but why should it necessarily be so? I think where we differ is that you might assert that there is a natural and inevitable need to know/love/connect. I think such a need is as likely a social construct. If you think it is natural and inevitable, how do we explain the people who do not feel this need?

      Perhaps it is a combination of nature and social construction. Is there any way to separate those two things out?

  4. Julie,
    I think you’ve made an astute observation about advocacy studies. If there is a stigmatized population, it is pretty easy to design a study to show that the population shouldn’t exist because its members are stigmatized.

    As I’ve read your posts on this topic, I started to wonder about all the unwanted children who were given up for adoption because their mothers chose to do that to them. These children may be in worse circumstances in terms of knowing their biological parents and the details of their conception. But there isn’t a political advocacy group that cares about their rights and well-being enough to insure that they receive the information they need to satisfy their questions.

    • Can you explain your first point a little more? I’m not sure I know what you mean by a study to show that a population shouldn’t exist.

      I think there are advocacy groups for adopted children of the sort you describe. I believe they are partly, if not wholly, responsible for the move towards open adoptions and open adoption records.

  5. kisarita,

    The lesbian study was kids up to the age of 17. Up through that age they really have not experienced life enough to make value judgements that say someone in their 40’s or 50’s would make. Ask those same kids in 20 or 30 years and the difference in their answers will astound you.


    I agree with you.


    The reason why there is no advocacy group per se for adoptees is very simple. Adoptees are viewed as perpetual children. I can talk to an AP who is young enough to be my grandchild but I will be talked down to as a child and any comments I make that are made by many adoptees from my era will be dismissed or negated as having had a bad experience or some other one off.

    I do not see why adults who cannot have a family the natural way just do not live with it, accept it and move on. Adoptees and donor concieved adults are told to do this so why would people wishing to have a family who cannot the natural way even consider visiting harm on what they so desire to begin with…

    • About that age difference. As I read the results of the Family Studes charts, as people get older they seem to consistently feel better (or if you prefer, less bothered) about their origins. (Table 5, page 113). I’m not sure why that is, but it suggests that as the subjects studied in the longitudinal study age, they won’t suffer any increasing distress.

  6. Julie,

    That is a complete disconnect with the adoptees I have talked to and read about – perhaps it will be different with the donor conceived. To them the disconnect increased as life events happened such as having children and not having any genetic history for their children and feeling the void more. Then the onset of health issues in middle age and older when knowing your history provides a road map of sorts for your physician to provide competent care. Then at the age where you reflect on your life the desire to know more seems to escalate. If you look at the open records activists you will see a great many are middle to senior age as compared to 20 somethings.

    • I hope I am correctly understanding and responding to your point. If I am not, do tell me.

      It seems to me that it is possible that the experience of adopted children is different from those of the donor conceived. There are important differences. That said, I’d expect (just intuitively, with no real scientific basis) this to be an area of similarity.

      I don’t think there are any statistics in the report that show the responses of adoptees by age group, and I haven’t looked for any studies. I’d imagine there are such studies and it would be interesting to know what they show. (I don’t mean to denigrate your own experience, but it would be useful to compare study to study.)

      As an aside, I’d note that any time you sort people by age, as Table 5 does, there are two different things go on. The people who are 36-45 were born between 1965 and 1974. Not only are they older than the 18-25 yera olds, they grew up in a world that was different from those born between 1985 and 1992. Either or both of these factors could explain the trend revealed in that table.

      That said, I was surprised at the result shown. I haven’t seen it mentioned in other commentary, though perhaps it is.

      • Julie,

        Yes, I believe donor conceived will have distinct differences in certain areas as compared to adoptees – simply based on the fact adoptees were carried and then surrendered versus a completely different process for donor conceived individuals – the layers of complexities are different but none the less they are similar.

        Note I do not think you were denigrating my personal experience talking to others…it is just that…

        A really good recent study was done on adults who were adopted. It overall report focuses on the Korean adoptee experience but the data is based on almost an equal split between white domestic and Korean transracial adoptees.

        Click to access 2009_11_BeyondCultureCamp.pdf

        The central findings of this study include:

        · Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults. A primary contribution of this study is the understanding that adoption is an important factor in most adopted persons’ lives, not just as children and adolescents, but throughout adulthood. Adoption grew in significance to respondents in this study from early childhood through adolescence, continued to increase during young adulthood, and remained important to the vast majority through adulthood. For example, 81 percent of Koreans and over 70 percent of Whites rated their identity as an adopted person as important or very important during young adulthood.
        This new insight has profound implications for policy, law and practice relating to adoption.

  7. Did the studies select out for socioeconomic status? If the sample population differs from your average american family (whatever that is) than I find its results barely relevant.

  8. Julie,

    Regarding my point:

    If there is a stigmatized population, it is pretty easy to design a study to show that the population shouldn’t exist because its members are stigmatized.

    I should have said that it is pretty easy to construct a political movement to show that the population shouldn’t exist… and I was referring to your observation of older studies “that being lesbian or gay was bad or unhealthy”.

    The Family Research Council is an example of a political organization that believes that GLBT people should not “exist” in society, or more accurately, that there is no such thing as a GLBT person. The FRC promotes the idea that there are people who engage in unhealthy GLBT behavior and that a “righteous” “family-friendly” social fabric should limit this behavior. The FRC filed an amicus brief in the Lawrence v Texas case (no longer available on the FRC web site) arguing for the right of states to criminalize homosexuality.

    Please see the FRC’s Ten Myths pamphlet at (it is a big glossy pamphlet) and refer to:

    Myth No. 5:
    Homosexuals do not experience a higher level of psychological disorders than heterosexuals.
    Fact :
    Homosexuals experience considerably higher levels of mental illness and substance abuse than heterosexuals. A detailed review of the research has shown that “no other group of comparable size in society experiences such intense and widespread pathology.”36

    The pamphlet contains the circular reasoning and use of studies that you referred to being used thirty years ago, only this pamphlet is being used today.

  9. Dear Julie:

    Here is how we discuss Table 5 in the report. I think there are a lot of ways to think about Table 5 — and it probably raises more questions than answers.

    On pp 58-9 of My Daddy’s Name is Donor:

    “Some also suggest that social stigma about donor conception contributes to the suffering of donor offspring. While this might well be true, it is instructive to look at Table 5 (p. 113), which breaks down the donor offspring in our study by age at the time of the survey. If social stigma was a primary source of affliction for donor offspring we might expect that those who were older at the time of the survey would be hurting more. But, on the contrary, the 18-25 year olds who responded to our survey were more likely to agree with a number of selected statements expressing concern about concern about their experience, while those who were 36-45 years of age were generally less likely to agree with these statements of concern. This analysis could suggest that the concerns of donor offspring peak in the young adult years, or that for some reasons more recent generations of donor offspring are more troubled than earlier ones. Since our study offers a snapshot in time we really have no way of knowing. But, at a minimum, the analysis of the responses of donor offspring by age does not support the idea that younger donor offspring, born and raised in an era of increasing openness about donor conception and family diversity in general, are less impacted by donor conception. ”

    My best,

    • Thanks. It’s a good point about the stigma–which I think must be less now that it was forty years ago.

      I suppose that adds weight to the suggestion that as people age they are more at peace with this for some other reason. I wonder if this is a broad tendancy that one could observe across the population generally–that over time, people come to terms with many things about their families that trouble them more when they are young?

      One other factor that might be in the mix: For good or for ill, I think there is more attention to biology and genetics than there used to be. This might change how the donor conceived see themselves, I suppose.

  10. marilynn huff

    You wrote “..I don’t think you can simply argue that using third party gametes is undesirable because people produced via third party gametes feel bad about the circumstances of their creation. ”


    Here is a link to an article about a Michigan physician that donated sperm twice a week for 14 years. He raising 1 of his 400+ children who are all living within a 150 mile radius of his home. He is a man of science Julie, he knew his sperm was being used to conceive children and that he was being paid to stay out of their lives and be anonymous to them. I find it utter bullshit to say that men don’t know that what they are being paid to do is make babies for other people to raise. Most of these men are doctors virtually all have bachelors degrees. Frankly I think these guys should be slapped in the face with the court not recognizing their little waivers of responsibility signed at the clinic. So what? It was not handled in court. I think this guy and others need to take some responsibility for their reckless behavior.
    Fair enough. I have said any number of times that anonymous conception/abandonment (either for free or for payment) is undesirable because it makes it impossible for the center of disease control and department of public health to identify the number of offspring each person has or conversely does not have. People who are at risk for certain problems will appear not to be at risk for those problems because the information on their birth certificates was falsified. Many people would say that birth certificates don’t say “genetic mother”, so its not a lie to put the name of the commissioning woman, but you have to think about this in the big picture – for all intents and purposes she will be recorded as the genetic mother which means that child will not be grouped together with his or her other siblings and nuclear family. Maybe that’s not a problem on the individual level but if you consider that MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of people were conceived and abandoned for a fee by anonymous progenators – we have a good reason to argue against it.

    • I think I’ve seen mention of this, even maybe blogged about it. No question this is problematic. I think it is perfectly possible to be supportive of the use of third-party gametes while at the same time advocating some regulation–which might include some record keeping and some limits on use and things like that.

      • marilynn huff

        I think we already have something akin to a hole in the ozone when talking about accurate record keeping in the last 30 years. I don’t think there is any way to undo that and unfortunately there will be a whole lot of inbreeding occurring right about now because of it. I am not just talking about siblings getting together. You have to think of everyone in your immediate family that you are suppose to be able to recognize on sight like parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neices nephews and first cousins. If you think about 400 siblings living in the Detroit metro area, having the same upper middle class status and likely education and interests its scary now lets assume that each has 1 child in their lifetime you then have each of those 400 kids needing to avoid having sex with 400 siblings and 400 neices or nephews 800 people + their own father 801 and possibly his siblings (their aunts and uncles) +2 =803 lets say 4 cousins 807 and I’ll throw in grandparents for good measure -(my good adopted friend “dates” men in their 60’s and she’s only 23). Then of course those 400 kids that have 400 kids will be avoiding all of their first cousins. Its a real mess. I think the only way to manage the use of anonymous conception is to make the children aware of the anonymous conception and track the anonymous persons dna making each kid aware of who their siblings and other relatives are – I almost think the identity of the anonymous person should be released if nothing else to prevent unintentional relationships. Its going to get real unhealthy real soon. It use to be just women lying about having an affair, a much more level of inaccuracy for sure.

  11. “what follow from the use of the term biological parent”


    What follows from the avoidance of the term parent in relation to the biological parent?

    A form of denial that lends greater weight to the claims of the non-biological parent. In this I agree with you.

    That is why the term makes me so mad. There are times when I might even agree with you regarding the outcome. But I am furious that you try to acheive that outcome, not by examining the facts as they are, not by examining “the child’s reality” of which you purport yourself to be such an advocate” but by trying to pull the wool over my eyes.

    • Okay, let me try to ask this differently. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, I’m just trying to figure out where our disagreement lies.

      If I say “A is a biological parent of B” does it mean the same thing as saying “A provided one of the gametes from which B was created?” I understand you find the latter formulation distasteful, but if you could put that aside just for the moment, I’d like to know whether the two statements have the same content.

      Put another way–If I say”A is a biological parent of B” than does that say anything about A’s relationship with B apart from the biological one? Does A have any rights/responsiblities to B, either socially or legally?

      The thing is, I want to ask the question whether the person related by biology should have social/legal rights/responsiblities, so I need a term for that person that doesn’t carry those rights/reponsibilities along with it automatically.

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