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.