A Brief Interruption: Back from the ASRM

I will interrupt the thread for just one post here, I think.  I spent the past few days at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.  It was an enriching experience.  You’ll probably see a few posts here directly linked to my attendance, but beyond that, I think this attending gave me a fuller more textured view that will manifest itself in many more subtle ways.   For the moment, though, I just wanted to offer a few general thoughts and reactions. 

First off, the convention was huge–I think 8000 attendees.    While much of the program was scientific/medical/technical (and thus, beyond my comprehension) there were also programs and meetings that address many of the issues I’ve written about on the blog.   Even though I’ve obviously given a lot of thought to these questions, the conference participants came at them from a different direction.    It’s always enlightening to see something familiar from a different angle.  

Most of the people at the convention were either medical providers and vendors of things the medical providers need to buy.  There were also a significant number of social workers or psychologists or other types of counselors who work with patients/clients using ART.    While there were some lawyers there(and there is a fledgling legal practice group) I strongly suspect that most of conference-goers think of the the law is at best tangentially related to the work they do.    That’s a very good thing for someone like me–pretty narrowly focused on law–to consider.   Perhaps the main thing here is that while it seems obvious to me that ART is just awash in legal issues, that isn’t the way others look at it.   

There was a very fine debate (that’s the program’s terminology) on open v. closed gamete donation, for instance.   In retrospect it is unsurprising that the focus of both advocates was not legal, but it’s still noteworthy.    I make no claim that the law is of primary importance, but I think it has a role to play.  (In particular, if you want to encourage/require people to use known and identified sperm providers, I think you must first protect the user’s family from legal interference by those providers.)  

For many of the conference attendees the primary issues are technical or medical or psychosocial.   This makes prefect sense if you think about it, of course.   Any professional working in the field is focused on their expertise.   I don’t expect any of you are shocked by this revelation.  

But it is an important thing to keep in mind for a number of reasons.    For instance, I see a host of potential legal issues that could arise when third-party sperm is collected in one state and shipped for use in another.   The most critical ones revolve around the question of whether the provider of the sperm has any legal connection to a child conceived.   

This question doesn’t seem to be on the radar of some (many?) of the sperm banks that do the shipping.   (Perhaps it should not be–I don’t mean to suggest otherwise.)   They are concerned with compliance with various types of regulations–primarily health regulations.     And the question isn’t important to most of the medical professionals I talked to.   Those are the people who might use the sperm to  a woman.   They are primarily concerned–and I have to say, I think rightly so–with the medical issues involved in insemination.    

The upshot is that no one who is actually involved in the process of purchasing/shipping/receiving/using third-party sperm is necessarily thinking of the legal consequences.      (I’ve chosen to focus on use of third-party sperm because it is relatively low-tech and frequently done without the participation of lawyers.  By contrast, I think surrogacy is often a complicated enough process so that lawyers do end up being involved.)   

It’s fine for me to natter on about what the law should, but if I’m going to do that, surely it is good to keep in mind that many of the primary participants in the process I’m thinking about don’t know/care/think much about said law.

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6 responses to “A Brief Interruption: Back from the ASRM

  1. I am happy that you had the opportunity to participate in the ASRM mindset. While I have mixed emotions of what the ASRM is about and how they do it, it remains the beacon from the medical perspective.
    I hope you had an opportunity to attend the Legal Practice Group meeting and speak with some of the more experienced attorney members.

  2. Interesting point about shipping from state to state.
    I think the sperm banks are obligated under the law of their own state.
    Let’s say a sperm bank in california ships to a locale which doesn’t recognize the concept of a sperm donor. (I’m not sure? possibly new york?)
    Say the recipient or the kid petitions the sperm bank, via the courts, to disclose the identity, on the basis of that in their state he would be recognized as a father.
    If in california, the sperm bank abided by california law in creating their contract of anonymity with the donor, then the sperm bank is clean. what some people do in other states is not their problem.
    Sperm banks are national and even international businesses, It is hard for me to believe that they would not build their business and corporation with an awareness of the law, same as any other corporation.

    However, as you said, this is a medically focused conference, so that’s why the law seems tangential over there. I looked at the website and they seem to be a predominantly medically oriented group.

    Law is involved in all areas of medicine but i rarely meet lawyers at those events either.

    • I really do think there is a serious choice of law question lurking here. If a sperm bank collects sperm in state A and ships to state B and eventually a chid is born and at some point the child brings a claim akin to the one in Pratten, seeking identity of the donor, I don’t know what law would apply. If the child sued in state B I think the sperm bank could be sued and I think it likely the law applied would be that of state B. If state’s A and B have meaningfully different law, this might be problematic.

      And of course, it can be far more complicated–because the child could move to a different state and then sue there. Or you could have various countries involved.

  3. I heard you ask a question or two during the open v. closed gamete donation and was very interested to read your comments here. This was either my 7th or 8th ASRM conference (I lost count and skipped a couple of years) and I always find something to inspire and educate me. This is the largest conference of it’s kind in the US and as a ‘non-medical’ professional in the field of infertility (surrogacy consultant) I love the fact that all professionals, attorneys, doctors/clinical staff, pharmaceutical company’s, mental health professionals, insurance providers, and agency owners/staff (to name a few) can come together once a year and discuss and learn about topics that directly impact our patients/clients.

    • It is a great forum for this, which makes it an important event. Surely there are things we need to be talking about together. Making law in a vacuum is a terrible idea. I know the Legal Practice Group (LPG for short) is quite new, but I think it is (potentially) an important addition to the mix. I am aware that doctors are practicing medicine and thus primarily reponsible to exercise professional judgment and abide by standards of medical ethics. But when they do ART, legal consequences are also important. It is all well and good to help a person or a couple become pregnant, but if the assumption/hope is that the patient(s) will be legal parent(s) to the resulting child, then the law does matter and what the doctors may have consequences in law.

  4. You didn’t mention that you met your biggest fan? You didn’t note the most warm and hearty handshake that I offered inspired by my tremendous regard for your work? No reference to how much encouragement I send out to my colleagues to follow your blog? It was just wonderful to see you again, Julie! Please hang in there with the LPG, we are swimming up stream right now but we will get there, I am committed to it!

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