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.