It’s the Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend–time to reflect on the summer just gone by. I really might call this one the “summer of the sperm donor.” (I use the word “donor” somewhat reluctantly. You can read earlier posts on that.)
Why call it that? Well, for starters there have been three Hollywood movies (not one of which I have seen) where the plot turns on something having to do with insemination with donor sperm. (Those would be The Switch, The Kids are All Right, and The Back Up Plan.) Many people have speculated about what this sudden proliferation of movies about assisted insemination might mean. It’s not like they’ve been standard fare every summer since who-knows-when. I don’t have much to add, except to state the obvious. AI must be common enough (and well-enough accepted) that it can appeal to a broad-base as a comic or dramatic premise. Or perhaps this is only true is theory–I’m not sure if any of these movies were box office successes.
Beyond the big screen, the release of My Daddy’s Name is Donor, a report about children conceived using donor sperm, garnered enormous amounts of press. (You can find some of my thoughts and links to the report here.)
I’d like to highlight my characterization of this as a report, rather than a study. Though there is a study on which the report is based, what got the press was a document that is about as close to science as are the aforementioned Hollywood movies. (And while I’m thinking of it, let me add that I’ve talked to some knowledgable folks about the soundness of the underlying study and I have some questions about that, too.) Indeed, it’s probably best characterized as an advocacy piece.
So as the days grow shorter and the leaves start to turn, what is to be made of all this? I can only offer a few scattered observations.
First, for good or for ill, assisted insemination and/or the use of third-party sperm (and maybe third-party gametes more generally?) are for some reason more within the view of the general public. Perhaps this means that a systematic consideration of the issues is more necessary. Perhaps this means that the issues will be swept up into our over-heated, ideologically-driven political debates. Perhaps it means there will be more serious discussion of proposals for regulation and/or legislation.
Second, perhaps all this attention will lead more people to conduct more studies of some of the relevant issues. While I am inclined to take a skeptical stance to lots of social science research in “hot topic” areas, I do believe in science and in the possibility of well-constructed, well-executed studies shedding important light on questions.
In that regard, here’s a question I’d like to nominate for attention: There are many children born through use of third-party gametes. Some seem to be deeply troubled by the manner of their conception. Some are untroubled. (It might be fair to say, in the language of IM, YMMV.) What factors contribute to the vastly different outcomes?
I think it is important to think about this. I know that for some, the existence of unhappy children of donor conception is a reason to restrict or abolish the use of third-party gametes. But that seems to me at best a very hasty conclusion. I haven’t even seen anything to suggest that the unhappy reaction is the more common one.
Instead, I’d suggest we figure out what leads some of the self-identified donor conceived to be disturbed by the manner of their conception while others are not. (It strikes me that it is possible that in some cases it isn’t even the manner of the conception that causes the unhappiness, but rather that the manner of their conception becomes the focus of unhappiness that has other origins.) Most crucially, wouldn’t it be good to know what it is that some parents are doing that leads their children, conceived through the use of third-party gametes, to be at ease with their origins?
I’m sure. that people using third-party gametes want to raise happy children. They’d like to help their kids successfully negotiate whatever issues they face as a result of using ART. If there are better approaches to dealing with these issues, they’d like to know them. Shouldn’t we be trying to help them do that?