More on the Adoption=Donor Conceived Equation

I wanted to follow up on this earlier post before I lose my own train of thought.   (I have not had time yet to read/consider all the comments on that earlier post but I do plan to get back to that, too.)

I think I want to start here with what I consider to be an uncontroversial proposition (and I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I am mistaken that it is noncontroversial.)    Here’s the proposition:   An adopted child and a child who was conceived using third-party sperm are in some ways similar and in other ways not.    To me, what follows from this is that before one argues for equal treatment of the two classes of children, one ought to consider the degree to which that treatment is responsive to either a sameness or a difference.  

Now as I try to be more concrete about this, let me also add some specifics.  I want to compare a child conceived with third-party sperm but with an egg from a woman who will be raising the child.   Thus, the child is in the custody of one of the people who provided the genetic material.    I’ll assume the other is unknown to the child.     I’m making this assumption because it seems to me that once the child knows and has a relationship to the sperm provider, many things will change.  

At the other end of the equation I will consider a child who does not have contact with the woman who gave birth to her or to the man who impregnated the woman.   As with the donor-conceived child, it seems to me that if the child knows and has a relationship of some sort with those people, it’s a different situation.    I’m also going focus on the woman who gave birth to the child (often called the birth mother) initially, although I will get around (possibly not in this post) to considering the man involved as well.

So much for preliminaries.   Now to analysis. 

One commonality is that children from both classes have incomplete information about/connection to their genetic lineage.    The adoptive child presumptively has no information about genetic lineage.   The donor-conceived child has access to information about one-half her/his genetic lineage but none about the other half.  The question is what follows from this commonality.

I suspect there are arguments to be made that having access to genetic forebears is sometimes important for medical reasons.   Perhaps the genetic heritage reveals a significant tendency towards some particular disease and therefore implies a need for more vigilant screening or something like that. 

Several questions occur to me, however.   First, I imagine at some point in the future–and perhaps the not too distant future–genetic heritage will be less important in this regard because it will be possible to directly analyze our own genes.   Thus, our individual tendencies towards various diseases might be directly (rather than indirectly) assessed.  

Second, I don’t know how to differentiate having no known genetic forebears (the situation for the adoptive child) and having one branch of unknown genetic forebears.   Does it make a difference?  I do not know, but perhaps someone does.  It does not seem to me that it would eliminate the medical need argument, but it might diminish it. 

Third, I think it is easy to overstate (perhaps without thinking) the degree to which knowing ones genetic forebears insures access to information about lineage.   For instance, I was raised by my genetic forebears (at least, as far as I know I was.)  But my mother in particular had very little information about her genetic lineage.   It didn’t seem to matter much despite the fact that I possess an trait often (but not always) inherited that has many medical implications.  

So what do I take from all this?   I think I’d tentatively say (subject to learning more answers to the above questions) that the two groups of children have similar medical needs with regard to identification of the unknown genetic forebears.   To put it more briefly, this seems to me to be an area of sameness where similar treatment might make good sense. 

I won’t go on too much longer in this post (there’s clearly another one in the offing) but let me just note an area of difference that is somewhat related.   Donor-conceived children are being raised by the woman who gave birth to them.  So, to the extent that the pregnancy may be relevant, they have the same access to that information that non-donor conceived do.  (Note that there is apparently increasing reason to the the in utero experience is important.)    

By contrast, adoptive children do not have access to this information.  Thus, here is an area where the two classes of children are different.   To the extent the information is medically important, adopted children can argue this is a reason they should have access to the identity of their birth mother.   But the donor conceived child cannot make the analogous argument for why she/he should have access to the sperm provider.  

That’s it for now.  More to come.


45 responses to “More on the Adoption=Donor Conceived Equation

  1. I think there are social and psychological differences absolutely but I don’t think they outweigh the legal sameness from an administrative standpoint. Or maybe I should say the psychological and social differences are not relevant to what services and documentation the government collects and releases to children and the people raising them.
    Your post here ties back to the woman in canada fighting for access to her records because adopted children have them. So Canada is not like the US – they don’t create legal documents that make it look like adoptive parents are biological parents. I’m going to assume this means Canadian adoptees get to see their birth records and always know the identity of their mother. But, interestingly enough I bet not always their fathers.
    So there is another unexpected similarity that the woman fighting for her rights might not be too happy about. Not all adoptees in Canada know the names of their real fathers.
    So the issue to me is that if someone does know who a child’s father is I think it should be a crime to conceal that information. A mother who conceived her child in a one night stand really may not know how to help her child find him. The government should release all the information it has to the child. I think some parallel can be drawn with adopted children in that all available information about a child’s parents should be available to that child if they want it and if records exist anywhere they should not be withheld. So if the clinic or a church or some other non-government institution has that info they should cough it up.

    • Marilyn, Canadian law does seal birth records and then reissues a birth certificate with the name of the adoptive parents. In some provinces the child has access to the original birth record when they reach the age of majority. This may or may not include the father’s name.

      • Really? There is a sometime commentator on here named Campbell and she spoke of an “Adoption Decree” so that it would never appear to a child that they were born to the people that adopted them.
        I must say that I find it very disappointing that the Adoption Decree is not a reality in Canada. I thought that was such a civilized alternative to the reissuing of birth certificates.
        I reunite families and became interested in finding ways to change the law at least here in the United States because of the incredible amount of fiction I’ve found in the birth records of people who I’m either looking for or looking on behalf of. While I am a huge open record’s advocate and ID disclosure advocate I’m finding the overriding issue to be genetic misrepresentation on original certificates. Misrepresentation has to stop on the original certificates and I also think revising of original certificates needs to stop as well before the issue of releasing the identity of someone’s genetic parents can be taken on in earnest.
        Thank you Fiona for clarifying this for me.

  2. But I bet that is not the law in canada right now. The donor conceived woman may have to change the law so that the government has a right to information about all children’s fathers. California has that its in the interest of the state to establish paternity for all children so that they have equal access to their fathers medical histories. To me that means the state needs to ferret that information out so that all children are equally situated, and maybe here a donor kid could ask the state to get that info from the clinic for them. Don’t think anyone’s tried that yet.

    “SECTION 7570-7577
    7570. The Legislature hereby finds and declares as follows: (a) There is a compelling state interest in establishing paternity for all children. Establishing paternity is the first step toward a child support award, which, in turn, provides children with equal rights and access to…Knowledge of family medical history is often necessary for correct medical diagnosis and treatment.”

  3. Since you have gone on from the previous section on Adoption Donor Conception page, I am barging into this page to give my response to the earlier page. The comments should be relevant to the topic here.

    You said: “For the moment, I want to focus on one of the arguments asserted by Olivia Pratten, who is the plaintiff in the case. As I understand it, she is arguing that since British Columbia’s adoption law allows an adopted child to gain access to the identity of her birth parents when she or he turns 19, principles of equal treatment require the same access be provided to children conceived using third-party gametes, or at least third-party sperm.
    Implicit in this argument is an assertion that (at least for the purposes of this case) donor conception and adoption are similar and therefore should be treated similarly. This is worth thinking about.
    It seems to me that there are ways in which donor conception and adoption are similar and there are also ways in which they are entirely dissimilar. This makes me very wary of broadly equating the two. Instead, I think we ought to think carefully about the similarities and the differences and which ones are important for what kinds of decisions. ”

    My response: Her claim is simply that it is unfair for an autonomous adult to continue to be denied identifying information about a genetic parent. If, in British Columbia, an adopted adult is given retrospective rights to this information, then it is an injustice to an adult conceived through socially arranged conception to be denied the same retrospective right. This has nothing to do with the rights of legal parents over their minor children. It certainly has nothing to do with children conceived in affairs or rape, for whom no paternal information is kept in files of publicly licensed agencies or physicians.
    Some adopted adults in B. C. do not care about their genetic parents but those who do have won the right to do so regardless of prior guarantees of birth parent confidentiality. The same should hold true for people conceived through anonymous fathers whether it is called donor insemination, stranger conception or medically assisted adoption. It is also unrelated to policies of anonymity enforced to protect the sanctity of parents of minor children. Those policies should lose validity when the child becomes an independent autonomous adult.

    You said: “So is providing sperm like giving a child up for adoption? I know that some people say that providing sperm ought to be treated like adoption and that’s exactly what worries me about the sweeping analogy. It seems to me there are obvious differences that warrant different treatment: There is no child so it’s a bit difficult for me to say that there are parental rights anywhere in the picture. There may not be anyone in particular waiting to step in an assume parental rights. And further, as I’ve said fairly frequently here, I don’t see that simply providing genetic material ought to give you parental rights. The man gives up (or sells) his sperm, nothing more. ”
    My response: ” This argument ignores the fact that the sperm will become a child, or several, with whom the donor will have no legal relationship as a parent but retains a genetic relationship with the child. No legislation or policy can overrule this law of nature. The man cannot give away this relationship by selling his sperm and walking away. The artificial rules of men, as they now stand, deny access for children to their unknown extended genetic family and ancestry. These arbitrary rules are what Olivia is trying to change through her suit. As an adult, she is no longer concerned about how she came to be or who her legal parents were as a child. The suit would not change her status as their heir nor burden her genetic father with financial or social responsibilities. But, as Olivia and those of us who share her experience claim, he does have a moral responsibility to allow us to know who he is. It is the same responsibility that birth parents now have towards the children they surrendered to adoption. In this critical sense, the analogy is universally true for both sets of people who have been disconnected by laws or policies. ”
    You said: “Now there are other perspectives from which you can see similarities between adoption and use of third-party gametes and these are more important for Pratten’s claim. The adopted child is not being raised by people genetically related to her/him. At the same time, the people who are genetically related are not legal parents and may not be known to the adopted child. You can say similar things about a child who is conceived via donor gametes. (It’s a bit trickier, because she/he is often genetically related to at least one person raising her/him.)
    I’m not at all sure that the overall experience of being raised as an adopted child has much in common with the overall experience of being raised as a child conceived via third-party gametes. I’m sure it’s been studied and I bet there’s a lot to say about it. I think it is probably safe to say that there are ways in which it is similar and ways in which it is not and that individual experiences can vary greatly. ”
    My Response: “The only way you could possibly understand this commonality is to be literate about the lives of both. We can’t be understood through statistical analyses of sociological data, theories of law, or even moral reasoning. Those methods of intellectual analysis are helpful only to a point. They don’t fully convey the meanings of our lives unless they are supplemented by our personal narratives. To understand the overall experiences of both groups of disconnected children (who usually remain disconnected as adults), you need to hear our stories, read our books, watch documentaries about us, and meet us face-to-face. Until you can say you have done that kind of work, your understanding of our issues remains an abstraction. I recommend that you study several texts from the major adoption writers, attend adoption support groups, attend the national conferences of the American Adoption Congress (where I will also be speaking at a workshop prior to Wendy Kramer’s, preceded by the second documentary film by DI adult Barry Stevens). Once you have gone to this level of effort, then you will be better prepared to speak about the issues you have addressed in your blogs and apply your legal analysis in your Family Law classes. ”

    Before I knew any other DI adult, I attended adoption support groups for at least seven years. I heard their stories and they listened to mine. As you say, each of our experiences were unique but they all had the common threads of loss, grief, anger at the social injustice of those who control our information, distrust in personal relationships due to our parents’ inability to understand the depth of our sense of abandonment, and the general sense that no one outside our common experiences are capable of validating our predicament. They saw in my experiences far more shared experiences than different ones. When I listened to their narratives, I finally felt my own validated among people who had been through the same sense of loss and anger that I have felt.”

    • There are many points contained in your post and it is difficult to respond to them all. I stand by my original observation–there are ways in which a donor conceived child is in a position similar to that of an adopted child, but there are also ways in which their positions are not similar. What this suggests to me is that we need to avoid facile equations of the two and substitute more careful analysis of sameness and difference. Where there is sameness, there may be strong arguements for similar treatment. Where there are differences, those arguments of necessity will not be as strong. Indeed, they may not work at all.

      I think I agree with you about Pratten’s claim and I want to write more about this in a main post. Pratten is making a relatively narrow claim about the identification of the sperm provider, not a broad claim about a right to a father, etc.

      It seems clear to me that the individual experiences of both adopted children and donor conceived children vary. Some have similar experiences certainly. And those similar experiences vary–so some donor concieved and adopted children experience what you describe, but some donor conceived and adopted children do not experience this. It’s important to be mindful and respectful of experience, but it is also important to acknowledge the range of experiences. I do accept that some/many (I’m not yet ready to say “most”) donor conceived children long for more information. While that’s important, I don’t think that is the beginning and the end of the analysis.

      Surely I have more to learn, and some I will learn by reading, some by listening. I readily acknowledge that. All of the suggestions and analysis I offer are tentative, subject to revision as I do learn more.

  4. I’m going to leave the social aspects aside and focus on a legal point of Bill’s- that in adoption we have a precedent for confidentiality agreements being overruled.
    Julie you have said vaguely that maybe donor conception is different, but have given no concrete reason why it should be different. After all, legally speaking the donor has the exact same status as the surrenduring parent- a person who is not a legal parent.

    This still leaves us with the question of whether someone may be compelled to tell. Perhaps the confidentiality agreement may be overruled, but does that mean I as a private citizen must tell if I don’t want to?

    I can imagine a situation that I might be the only person who knew who someone’s father was (conceived via intercourse), as a friend of the mother or some such. I don’t think I could be compelled to tell.

    Is their a precedent in the adoption rule on who is required to tell?

    • I have done some research through Naomi Cahn, a bioethicist and professor of law at BWU who is the author of several books on adoption law and reproductive law. She says she knows of no jurisdiction that mandates parental disclosure of adoption status to the child. Several do make information available to the adopted person upon request. Google Evan Donaldson and click on a research paper called For the Record that gives a long summary opf the various ways differnet jurisdictions handle access to information.

      By the way, many people confuse disclosure of information to the child or mature adult as making this information public. If you tell a child that she was conceived through donor insemination, that does not mean she will immediately go out and tell all her friends. Most young children understand that family information is not something they share with strangers, especially if the parents are clear that this is sacred to the family.

    • This post is only the beginning of what I imagine to be a longer string of posts about sameness/difference. I started with genetic lineage, which is a point of sameness, I think. I will just glance ahead for one moment to offer a point of difference. (I won’t go on at length about this here–maybe later.)

      I cannot count how many times I have heard a parent/child converstaion about “when I was in mommy’s tummy.” I’ve also seen adoptive parents cope with this question. The child was not “in mommy’s tummy” and often the parents cannot tell funny little stories about the pregnancy and the birth. It seems to me that this is one of those things that set adoptive children apart. I’m sure adoptive families have many effective ways to cope with this, too.

      This is not the same for children conceived with third-party sperm. The mother’s of those children were pregnant and gave birth. Thus, they have a ready supply of stories to tell. So in this regard adopted children and children concieved with third party sperm are not similar.

      I’m not making any assertions about what follows from that. I’m just observing that there is a difference there.

    • I’m not convinced it is helpful to say the status of the donor is the same as that of the surrendering parent. I see two ways in which you might say they are the same–one is that they both have a biological connection to the child. The other is that at the end of the day they are people who are not legal parents.

      The first similarity–the genetic connection–is something I’ve focused on and tried to discuss. But the second similarity–that at the end of the day neither are legal parents–obscures something important. Clearly at the beginning of the process the person giving the child up for adoption is a legal parent. The sperm provider generally is not a legal parent. Or I suppose you can say that there’s a question about whether the sperm provider is a parent.

      If anything I think this is a way of getting an important difference. We have a clear and understood legal category from the person who surrenders a child for adoption. She/he is a legal parent. The legal status of the sperm provider is not the same.

      • Julie you said:
        “I’m not convinced it is helpful to say the status of the donor is the same as that of the surrendering parent. ”
        Of course there is a big difference between giving up the right to raise your child before it is born and giving up the right to raise your child after it is born. But to be fair that “big difference” exists in reality only during the time prior to the birth of that man’s child – once the child is born, the decision is functionally the same because he has chosen (hopefully of his own free will) to allow his child to be raised without his involvement.
        I have raised this issue many times before and don’t feel that it has received the nod that it is due – Men that provide sperm to clinics, do so for the purpose of creating offspring that they do not intend to raise themselves and they always sign legal paperwork signing away their parental rights to their own children.
        So children whose fathers provided sperm to a clinic to impregnate their children’s mothers do sign away their parental rights just as children whose fathers had sex to impregnate their children’s mother’s and in that way they are similarly situated.
        Those documents signed by the father’s who provided sperm to a clinic are suppose to be retained for 25 years (at least in California) but I don’t think that the document’s are turned in to the State at the time they are signed, which they probably should be. Maybe that would protect men who are providing sperm for their own purposes from being prevented from being involved in the lives of their children if their sperm was accidentally used or intentionally misappropriated to create children without their express permission.

        • I don’t agree that the difference between sperm provider and surrendering parent goes away once the child conceived with the sperm is born. A woman who gives up a child for adoption has had an extensive and intimate relationship with the developing embryo/fetus/however you want to call it. I’m not male, so I cannot say for sure, but I don’t think men tend to think much about their relationship with their sperm. Forgive me for saying it, but many men scatter sperm all over the place and probably give it little thought after the fact. Not so a woman who has given birth to the child.

          I think you tend to see them as more similar than I because I place weight on relationships (as that between mother and child) and you put weight on genetics. So in some ways this bit of discussion is really an iteration of our earlier ones about what counts.

          I don’t think any state in the US collects/maintains any of the sort of record you’re thinking about. And I must say, given broad concerns about an overly strong central state, I think it unlikely that any state will start collecting records any time soon. FWIW, the sperm banks I talked to at the ASRM all maintain records indefinitely.

          • Julie – if I’m reading your comment correctly – your reading mine incorrectly, or you are reading what you want to read or not seeing what it is that you really want to discuss. Help me figure it out. My comment was comparing the male who relinquishes parental rights in an adoption and a male who relinquishes parental rights when he provides sperm to a clinic.
            It seems like what you really want to talk about is the difference between male and female parents and that you think (and I’d go so far as to say correctly so) that a woman that gives birth has a deeper psychological connection to a child she gives up for adoption than the psychological connection that a man may or may not have to a child he conceived by providing sperm to a clinic to impregnate a woman he’d never meet. So I agree on the one hand that your probably right in most instances but I don’t see how that ties back to your original question about how adopted kids are same/different. So maybe you could clarify.
            Also since you don’t like to make blanket generalizations, there are clearly women who don’t bond with the child they carry who would be willing to relinquish those children – and the adoptions are fought by men who are deeply psychologically effected by the birth of their child and the bond they wish to develop with it. I know there are those cases all the time where men fight the adoption of their children. Your right you never can tell what matters to one might not matter to another. Like I think its most common for people to want to at least know their biological origins, some don’t (they are quieter) Like you and most of the world would agree caring a child makes mom’s more car
            ing than dads, but not always and I’ve met a bunch of both.. (Just sayin’)

            • I didn’t really mean to engage in selective reading, but perhaps I have. I did mean to set up the contrast between a birth mother who gives a child up for adoption and a sperm donor. I did that because there I think the contrast is greatest. When you talk about a birth father and a sperm donor I’m not sure how much difference there is. Indeed, if you go all the way back to the one night stand guy, I think I did suggest he was essentially identical to a sperm donor–and then used that to reach the conclusion that neither should have parental rights.

              I suppose the only other thing I’d add is that in most places men who provide sperm do not give up parental rights. The way the law is structured, they never acquire them and so there is no need for them to give them up. Where the law has been shaped to say that “a man who provides sperm for the insemination of a woman who is not his wife is not a father” you avoid the whole question. I don’t think anyone thinks that the procedures when a man provides sperm to a sperm bank are about termination of parental rights. And I don’t think it makes any sense (theoretically) to terminate parental rights when there aren’t any children—I mean there aren’t any rights to terminate.

              Which probably just brings me back to where I started, which is unhelpful, I know–the law constructs adoption as something quite different from sperm donation.

              • There are men out there looking to meet the children they conceived by providing sperm to a clinic. They have had a change of heart. Not all but some – time changes people as one of the poster’s here says on her blog (at least medically)
                Also I’ve been lucky to witness some men who were not actively looking, graciously welcome their children into their lives. (As they freaking should I like to remind people whose fathers provided sperm to clinics that they are just as much his children as any he raised and if he’s embarrassed about what he did that is his problem, his children have no reason to be ashamed and they are nobody’s dirty little secret – get known whether he likes it or not. meet your siblings and let the chips fall where they fall – if they are so inclined.)

              • Ok I understand there is a belts/suspenders approach to signing the waiver at the clinic when gamets are provided because the law says providers are not parents. I’d like to think that the law says that because the waivers are signed, that would make sense and protect people who DON’T sign the waivers from loosing their kids in atrocious errors by lab workers but, whatever – I don’t run the world.
                From the standpoint of a male who has offspring out there in the world some where and knows it – who chose not to raise his own offspring and did deliberately choose to sign his rights and obligations away, I see very little difference between the guy at the clinic and the guy at the adoption hearing as neither one of them was pregnant and did any pre-birth functional pre-parenting. That ought to make Julie happy. To me those two guys would be very similarly situated with regard to their investment in the child’s health and welfare at birth.
                The extent to which either of them do or do not think about their children and the lives that they are living, wonder how they are or fantasize about tossing a football around together on Thanksgiving day, will I’m sure vary based on factors I can’t even begin to wrap my head around. I think the facts make them both just as likely or unlikely to experience or not experience a sense of loss over the child they are not raising. I can see if there was a deep loving relationship with the mother where the adoption guy would be more connected than the donor guy, but again that would be one of the emotional varriables I want to avoid at this point.

                From the standpoint of a child that knows they are adopted or knows their father provided gamets anonymously to impregnate their mother – they both have father’s willing to give up the right to know them. Without a written explaination (as some very thoughtful parents do prior to relinquishing) the kid in both senarios is left to write that narrative for himself, that can be very negative or overly fluffy positive. The one disturbing thing that mother’s of DI kids cannot get around is that they purchased their father’s absense and their father was willing to be paid to be absent. Its not to big of a reach to see how the mother might end up with a child that feels they are some how a commodity and telling them that the mother just wanted them so badly and that the donor was a nice man that helped – may not make the kid feel any better. But what else can she say really? Its the most loving spin you can put on buying the absense of your child’s father because you either wanted to go it alone or wanted someone else to play that roll.

          • Julie – if I’m reading your comment correctly – your reading mine incorrectly, or you are reading what you think I would normally say or not seeing what it is that you really want to discuss. Help me figure that out (I like to understand you I can’t learn when I dont).
            My comment was comparing the male who relinquishes parental rights in an adoption and a male who relinquishes parental rights when he provides sperm to a clinic.
            It seems like what you really want to talk about is the difference between male and female parents and that you think (and I’d go so far as to say correctly so) that a woman that gives birth has a deeper psychological connection to a child she gives up for adoption than the psychological connection that a man may or may not have to a child he conceived by providing sperm to a clinic to impregnate a woman he’d never meet. So I agree on the one hand that your probably right in most instances but I don’t see how that ties back to your original question about how adopted kids are same/different from donor kids. So maybe you could clarify.
            You generally don’t like to talk about the emotional and psychological aspects of adoption and donor conception because you’ve explained that different people feel differently. Annecdotes are not as good at making points as I once thought they were. So I though you were more interested with the facts that cannot be disputed or countered. I believe the bond between mother and father is stronger as you do, absolutely because of childbirth (in part but also just being a woman even if you can’t breast feed I think women are just – I don’t want to box myself in though) But I don’t want to make blanket statements because just as there are women who deeply bond to the children they carry, there are those that do not and have no problem giving up that child for adoption but the men who made those women pregnant may be deeply psychologically connected to the idea of raising their child and will fight tooth and nail to stop the adoption or prevent a woman’s husband from calling himself the father of a child that was conceived in an affair.

  5. I will do some searching about mandatory disclsoure in adoption. I believe it is merely urged on adopting parents as part of the adoption counseling. Some jurisdictions may have some kind of indication on the revised birth certificate but without the original parent names. These would be found on the original birth certificate. I understand that infertile couples who express a plan to keep the adoption secret from the child are routinely denied by most public agencies. Private attorneys handling adoption are less concerned with disclosure. Of course, there is a huge turn toward open adoption, even in the LDS Church, so disclosure in adoption is becoming moot.
    Back in the 1940s through the mid 70s, most adoptees were not told. After a flood of adoption studies and adoption autobiographies, the society has now evolved to the point that it is simply taken for granted by adopting parents that they ought to tell. The loss of stigma about infertility and greater public compassion for adopted people have also made it easier for parents to disclose to their children, even where records are kept closed. More states are now opening up records and that also helps adoptive parents to disclose.
    One common reason why many DI parents do not disclose to their children is the fact that they want to reassure their children that they can eventually meet the genetic father but can’t in the current system of anonymity. As ID release donors become more common, it is apparent that disclosure is also increasing. But since too many clinics do not want to use ID release donors, not enough are available. So it seems to me that anonymity ought to be eliminated so that parents who use DI or other third party methods will be able to have a more honest relationship with their children. Like adoption, though, even without access to identifying information, social changes have also led to greater openness. This does not mean that such families tend to be open about it to the general public, just their children and maybe to their extended family.

    • Bill
      I reunite people so I am BIG on total disclosure but I’m also logical to a fault. It recently occurred to me that while people adopted in other countries have access to their original birth certificates the name of their father may not always be present on those certificates because the mother may not know who he is. I’m wondering if this may be a stumbling block for people who have fathers who were intentionally anonymous through a clinic.

    • “One common reason why many DI parents do not disclose to their children is the fact that they want to reassure their children that they can eventually meet the genetic father but can’t in the current system of anonymity. ”

      Really? Really? Wow, anyone who plan’s to use that as a response to “OMFG how could you have lied to me all these years!!!???” Better be prepared to hear that kid reply “You lied about who my real father was because you knew I would never be able to find him? That is the biggest crock of self-serving crap I ever heard”.

  6. Marilynn
    In adoption, the identity of the genetic father, if both parents are ot involved in the surrender, is only available through the mother so that is a stumbling block for them and requires extreme tact on the part of the reunited adopted person to pursue against the wishes of the birhtmother. Locating him is still possible through expert search organizations and DNA genealogical web sites (at least for adopted males). Some adopted people refrain from expressing their desire to find their birth father (but express this at adoption support meetings and adoption congress conferences) out of fear of alienating their newly found birth mother.

    For us (DI adoptees) the question is not whether the anonymity is intentional on the part of the father but whether he should have the right to deny access. It stems from policies written in the best interests of the physicians, not the genetic fathers, not the recipent woman, and not the child/future adult. They invented the process of donor insemination and set the rules by which all participants are supposed to follow. No one truly has a choice except in refusing to do it. It has only been recently that ID release has been offered, thanks to the impact of a feminist group at the Sperm Bank of California, which broke the paternalistic system and made disclosure more common.

    If we get information about our genetic fathers, we are not liable to the confidentiality agreements. To me, at least, I believe the privacy rights of my genetic father (now likely deceased) extend only to my duty to protect him from PUBLIC exposure. Our genetic and genealogical history are, to use Madison’s concept of property, a property in our selves that we share together and should not be denied by arbitrary decisions of Reproductive Specialists. I do not believe that these agreements are based on the wishes of the genetic fathers. I know too many sperm providers who say that they wished they had the option of ID release, who are themselves searching and providing ways for their children to make connections, who feel they were manipulated at a young age by the offer of money for sperm without considering the ramifications.

    • Its my opinion that the documents for every birth ought to be explicit so that nobody can lie to a child or an adult about who they are or are not related to. I don’t think that the people who commission the creation of someone else’s child can be trusted to tell that child the truth at all. I think a lot of other things about them as well but I’ll spare you.

  7. Here is a good link to a discussion on comparing experiences between adoption and donor conception. It also recommends policies including one that both have access to personal information of original parents and updated medical records.

    • I’m familiar with Professor Cahn’s work, which is what I think you are referring to here. I do not dispute that one can learn important things by studying the experience of adopted children and that some–perhaps even much–of what there is to be learned ought to be considered as you consider issues raised by ART–particularly the use of third-party gametes. However, I don’t think Professor Cahn asserts that the two situations are identical and that’s mostly the point I was trying to make here.

      I’ve been reading through these now quite lengthy comments and I’m wondering if there is disagreement here. (If you are new to the blog, I do care about understanding where there are points of agreement and where there is disagreement.)

      So I agree that there are important similarities and assert only that there are also important differences. Do others disagree with that assessment?

  8. Just wondering what you all think about the fact that most Canadian provinces that have opened up old adoption records permit a biological parent OR a child to lodge a “no contact” or a veto order. In a no contact situation, the names of individuals will be released but no contact is permitted. There are significant penalties for breaching a no contact order. In such cases, none of the information Olivia Pratten is requesting (eg, medical info) would be obtainable because she the child can’t actually contact the birth parent. In a veto situation, not even the names will be released. A veto order is available only for retrospective openings, while no contact orders continue to be available to birth parents putting children up for adoption today.

    So if we’re going to say adoption and donor conception are the same, then we also need to recognize that what is being asked for by Pratten and others is MORE than adopted children currently enjoy. Interestingly, vetoes and no contact orders are widely used by both birth parent AND ADOPTEES in provinces in which records have been opened.

    A second issue that keeps coming up for me with the Pratten case is that if donor conceived kids have a “right” to know the name of the donor, does the donor have a “right” to know his/her children? Personally, I find it terrifying that a donor could contact a donor conceived individual out of nowhere and demand contact.

    Finally, I find the medical information issue a bit problematic. My parents, who are my biological parents and raised me from birth, have absolutely no legal obligation to tell me anything about their medical history and I definitely don’t have access to their medical records. Privacy trumps any interest I might have. So why should donor conceived individuals have access to information that I, as an individual raisd by my two biological parents, don’t have access to?

    • I had no idea about the veto and no contact orders. I think that is very interesting. I gather the greater protection for past adoptions is some sort of recognition that people may have relied on confidentiality.

      If a parent putting a child up for adoption today asks for a no contact order does he/she automatically get it? Is there a showing that need be made? And can he/she change her/his mind later and have the no contact order revoked? Or the other way around–subsequently ask for when if she/he did not originally?

      If Pratten seems more than adopted children get, she has to assert an independent right rather than just a right to equal treatment. This interests me. What would the source of that independant right be? Another topic for another day.

      Your last observations are very interesting. If there is a right, would it run both ways–giving the sperm provider a right as well as the child?

      And I’ve been thinking, too, about the information that is available to biologically related children recently. My mother knew nothing about her mother (who died when my mother was quite young) or her family. And I got scant information about medical history from my parents. Perhaps we understand family medical history to be more important now than we did when I was a child? Perhaps it isn’t really known how much (or how little) those who can identify their genetic forebears easily really know from that.

    • You said: “Interestingly, vetoes and no contact orders are widely used by both birth parent AND ADOPTEES in provinces in which records have been opened.”
      This seems unclear to me. Do you have specific data beyond “widely?” I understand that contact vetoes are an element oin the law in the UK and Victoria Australia but are limited to one year and have to be renewed. This is usually because a request for contact might come as a shock to a birth parent and so this tmeporary veto allows them the time to think about the possibility. My contacts at Vanish in Victoria tell me that contact vetoes are rarely used and often the birth parent changes his/her mind over the year waiting period. Why would Olivia not be able to contact her genetic father? That is unclear.
      Adoption reformers feel that identity vetoes and contact vetoes are inherently unfair. The group in Ontario fought very hard against this condition. In Victoria, there is no veto of identity. The Parliament determined that would be inequitable and felt that all children had a basic right to know their parents.

      • The Ontario law is clearly different from the UK and Victorian law. Vetoes are available to anyone whose adoption was completed before 1 Sept 2008 and do not need to be renewed. If not sure what you mean about the “ontario group” fighting very hard against the veto. They may have fought hard, but they ultimately lost.

        Olivia is asking that donor conceived people be treated the same as adopted people. If she were to be successful then she and other donor conceived individuals would also be subject to the possibility of both vetoes and no contact applications. If her donor were to choose such an option she would be no better off than she currently is. That’s what I meant when I said she may not be able to meet her father even if she were to achieve the legislative equality she is seeking.

        As for my source, I can’t find the source for the no contact requests at the moment (the much higher number of the two), but the Globe and Mail reported that 2500 disclosure vetoes had been submitted by April 2009, just months before the adoption records were opened. The Globe and Mail doesn’t consider this high, but I thought it was fairly significant. You can see a reference to the article at:

  9. Julie, you asked:

    “If a parent putting a child up for adoption today asks for a no contact order does he/she automatically get it? Is there a showing that need be made? And can he/she change her/his mind later and have the no contact order revoked? Or the other way around–subsequently ask for when if she/he did not originally?”

    Yes, no contact and veto orders are automatic. If you want one, you can get it. You don’t need to provide any reason for either. However, if you file a no contact order you CAN include a brief statement about why you don’t want to be contacted. You can also include details about your medical and family information if you choose.

    If your no contact notice is registered, you can replace it at any time with a new no contact notice with different information or with a different type of notice or disclosure veto. You can also withdraw the no contact notice at any time.

    Also available are contact preferences – where you actually want to be contacted. If your notice of contact preference is registered, you can replace it at any time with a new notice of contact preference with different information or with a different type of notice or disclosure veto. You can also withdraw the notice of contact preference at any time.

    The best overview of this stuff is on the Ontario website (Ontario being the most “open” of all provinces in Canada).


    So it seems pretty clear to me that Olivia Pratten wants “equality” she will actually fall considerably short of what many donor conceived offspring actually want.

  10. Fiona:
    This link refers to adopted people’s options to post no contact vetos against their birth parents. Do you have a link to the options for birth parent’s vetoes?

  11. Fiona, I agree with your point about medical information. No one is legally entitled to their parent’s medical information.
    However, I don’t believe medical information is the primary reason for this lawsuit. In most cases, I also don’t think it is so essential for us to have that information. (Naturally there are some exceptions.)
    I think it is a side interest to the main issue, which is knowledge of the identity of one’s father, but one that is included so frequently, because it is something more easily accepted by the public at large.

    • The need to know one’s lineage for medical reasons is something I can readily grasp, although I wonder if in time our ability to have our own genes read will diminish this need.

      The identity point is something I find I struggle with. What does simply learning the identity of the sperm provider give a person beyond the medical information? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question but rather as a concrete one.

      The most common answer I see has something to do with knowing one’s own identity/lineage/heritage. I’ve been thinking about that recently and will come up with a post on it shortly.

      I see that you can attempt to reconstruct/construct your bloodlines, as it were. I’ve spent some time recently trying to construct my own family tree and I would guess this is part of the enterprise people think about. It’s been interesting, but there are so many moments when I wonder what I think I’m learning. I knew from my father that at some point in the not too distant past his family came from eastern europe. Through various on-line resources I am now able to be much more concrete about where/when. But I don’t think it’s really very important that I’ve done that. And if I found out that my mother’s father was actually adopted, so that generations before him aren’t genetically related, I don’t think it would matter at all to me.

      To the extent this information is relevant to my own identity I think the important facts are very general rather than specific. Of course I understand that my experience is not necessarily the same as anyone else’s and I also understand that I have the luxury of being able to find that first generation (with some confidence). Still, I’m trying to figure out what the identity piece of the donor ID puzzle is.

      • So history has to be important to keep from being revised, concealed or re-written? Only important facts warrant unaltered documentation? Irrelevant history is sometimes recorded accurately and sometimes not because its OK to change the facts when they are not important?

        • I don’t mean to suggest any of those things. But I think the idea that it is necessary to know your genetic lineage in order to develop your identity (or something like that) is an interesting and complicated idea that could stand closer examination. Which I hope to get to at some point.

  12. Regarding the question on whether the donor parent or offspring should have paralel rights to know eachother’s identity- I do not see them as similarly situated at all. Not in the slightest.
    The main difference, of course, is that the donor VOLUNTARILY absented himself while the child made no such choice.
    If the donor sought out the child during infancy with the intent to parent that might be different.

  13. I agree with what Bill C said…incredibly eloquent and on point. Adoptees and DI share the same common feelings with different elements added in.

    Every law that was changed to open records for adult adoptees has different facets to them and trying to argue points is a waste of time. We should be able to agree that not everyone will want contact on either side of the coin. That not everyone wanted the promise of confidentialty that the facillitators stated they would have simply because it was assumed they did. That simply because Dr. Smith promised confidentiality to a donor or Adoption Agency promised confidentiality to a mother meant it ‘was so’ forever and ever – how can a promise be considered valid and binding if there is no law to support the promise. Even if there had been a law in place at the time of the promise there is no guarantee it is forever – because laws change ALL THE TIME.

    About the contact veto’s – some open records legislation require that if you submit a contact veto you must also submit family health history.

    If you want to see data on number of contact veto’s I suggest you look at Oregon’s data they is publicly available that spans over 10 years. Last I checked the NO contact was approx 1% or all contact veto’s received (which was Yes I want contact, Yes I want contact but perfer an intermediary to contact first, No I do not want contact). Very few do not want contact and if you look at the other states it will most likely bear the same results.

    About the right to family health history – no one has the right – but if you were raised in the family you would ‘know’ the info by default – family talk – people die – it is pretty obvious even if your family for some insane reason hates you and does not want you to have it. As an adoptee I have to go to court to open my records for good cause, search, find, contact and hope I will get it…and the only way you can your records opened for good cause is to already be gravely ill which is kind of like closing the gate after the cows escaped. For a DI they have no recourse…no records held by the government…nothing…it is wrong.

    • Hi can you tell me what a contact veto is? To me it all sounds ridiculous – its a free country and unless you live in a shack on a mountain top people can call you up and say hello to you – its not a crime to introduce yourself to a person – nobody guaranteed anyone the right to live in a world where nobody can learn your name or say hello. that’s how i see it. I’m a radical family finder though – people with secrets need to steer clear of me.

      • “its not a crime to introduce yourself to a person”

        in Ontario it is – a crime with a penalty of up to $50,000 if the party has submitted a veto or no contact application.

        • It’s a crime many places where there is some sort of protection order. What varies is when you can get such orders. I’m not familiar enough with US law to know if a no contact order can be obtained in the circumstances described here. I’ll try to find out.

        • Really its a crime to call a person that has a no-contact veto submitted to the government? Fascinating. Is it a crime to call your father’s wife and introduce yourself to her? How about your siblings aunts uncles and grandparents? Does the chicken sht parent the authority to determine that the rest of the family would be as embarrassed or ashamed as they are? Does a no contact veto entitle the parent to orchestrate the reality of everyone they ever knew to prevent them from knowing the truth? We are not talking hateful slander here, we are talking lets have coffee and thumb through some family albums maybe here a few crazy family stories.

          Also I think one would have to actually know that there was a no contact veto in place to be fined right? I’ve reunited over 100 families in the past 11 years and of the ones separated by adoption, only 1 sibling ever bothered to file their information in the mutual contact registries – it costs money here. Everyone else has been straight internet searches. So my suggestian to Canadian adoptees is don’t check first, besides there are lots of relatives that may want to talk to you even if your parent is nuts (as they sometimes are). You’d be surprised at the number of siblings, grandmas, grandpas aunts uncles and cousins that go in search of their adopted-out relatives.

  14. I think also in the US- attempts to contact someone who has made it clear they don’t want could be construed as harrassment.
    I was surprised to learn this myself, but when I was getting unwanted text messages from an unfamiliar number, my telephone company told me to go to the police.

  15. If after you tell someone your not interested, they continue to contact you then its harassment. I would argue (as I’m apt to do) that a national do not call registry (what a joke that is) and the no contact veto are only good if the message reaches the people you don’t want to talk to.
    Has anyone that put their number on the national do not call registry got the right to say that a tellemarketer that called them once needs to be fined? You know what they did with those numbers right? Yeah, I pay a premium for phone numbers like those and the names that go with them. They update paid phone lists every day with more and more cell phone numbers and private unlisted numbers. Privacy is an interesting concept. You should have the right not to be badgered, to be left alone, but I think you should have to actually say that person to person and not expect the government to be your social secretary.
    Oh I do still think the government should manage your truthfulness when applying for the tiltle of mom or dad though since its their recognition you seek.

  16. I had an important revelation about this topic. The reason all attempts to compare and contrast adoption with gamete donation fail is because adoption is a reaction to family separation, not the mechanism for achieving it.

    People wind up adopted in multitudes of ways; saying that someone is adopted does not tell you anything about whether their parents relinquished ethically or abandoned unethically. Some adoptions involve people conceived on purpose for others for money. Some adoptions involve extensive background checks but others like step parent adoptions don’t. Some adoptions involve parents who give signed consent others are adopted without ever knowing who the parent is let alone having their consent. Some adoptions occur because the parents lost custody. Some adoptions occur against the parents will etc. Sometimes the parents giving the child up for adoption are not even their biological parents (this one kills me)

    Adoption is just a legal process of documenting that someone has custody of a person that is not their offspring and that they are responsible for them. It formalizes the assumption of responsibility for someone that is not automatically your responsibility because you did not create them

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