I’ve put up three posts about different depictions of fathers in the media. All appeared on Father’s Day and I guess I assume the timing was not coincidental. Considering the articles together creates something like a colage featuring different (and in this case, all somewhat unconventional) sorts of fathers. There are two others articles I’ve been meaning to get to–both about sperm donors (I use the term “sperm donor” rather than my usual “gamete provider” because that is what the stories use) as fathers.
One is an op-ed piece from the NYT. It’s written by Colton Wooton the donor-conceived son of a single mother. The other is from the New York Post and is about Todd Whitehurst, a sperm donor who has located nine offspring. Both articles reference the Donor Sibling Registry, an organization founded and run by Wendy Kramer.
There’s been extensive discussion here about the status (legal and social) of those who provide gametes for assisted reproduction. You can use the tags to find many posts some of which have multiple comments and some really good discussions. These two stories highlight some of those points. For this post, I just want to pick out one of them.
Wooton writes of his desire to locate the man who provided the sperm he was created from. While the dynamic in the Whitehurst story is a little less clear, it seems to me that he was a sperm donor who wanted to find the children that might have been created. (It looks like initially he was contacted by one of the children but the story implies that at some point he became the one doing the looking.) Thus, both pieces stories portray the need to connect experienced by those who provided sperm and those who were conceived with that sperm.
I do not know how common this need is–I know of people who experience this need and I know of people who do not. Neither do I know where it comes from–that is, whether it is some innate biologically rooted need or one that is magnified by our culture. (I’m generally inclined to the “both/and” school when it comes to many nature/nurture debates.) But it’s obviously something which is important to a significant number of people and it ought to be acknowledged in some form and so I won’t get hung up on those other questions for the moment.
The need to know (or to know about) the gamete provider does not speak to the legal status of that person vis-a-vis the child. It’s perfectly possible to acknowledge that this might be an important person without saying the person ought to be recognized as a legal parent. I actually don’t think any of the people in these stories is thinking in terms of legal status. (There are long discussions elsewhere of what it means to be a legal parent. It’s hard to point to a particular one since that’s been the focus of this blog for over two years.)
This brings me back to a point I’ve made before: There’s a pretty good argument to be made that those using third-party gametes should act in ways that maintain the possibility that any children conceived can locate the people who provided the gametes. But a great deal of what I read about globalization and commercialization of ART makes me think you are not going to be able to require people to do this. Thus, if it’s going to happen it is going to be because people see it as a good idea. I don’t think this sort of shift is impossible to occasion. Think about how attitudes towards adoption have changed over time.
In this regard, the lack of clarity about the legal status of the gamete provider is unhelpful. As long as the provider might have the legal rights of a parent it’s very risky to use a provider who is known and identified (unless of course it’s a person you want to raise the child with.) Thus, it seems to me (and this is what I’ve written before) that advocates for the donor conceived ought to favor enacting laws that make it clear that a gamete provider is not a legal parent.
At the same time, the success of organizations like Donor Sibling Registry make me think we are nearing an end of anonymity. It is easier than it used to be to locate gamete providers and there’s no reason to think this will become more rather than less difficult in the future. While Wooten is not optimistic that he will locate the provider in his case, I wouldn’t bet against it.
This means that those who come at this issue primarily because they support the ability of people to create families using donor gametes also ought to favor the same clear legislation. Maybe there’s a potential for convergence here–contrary to that last post about the infeasability of political solutions.
I realize it seems counterintuitive that clearly defining gamete providers as non-parents might actually increase the likelihood that they’ll play some role in the lives of the people they help create, but it just could be true. I suppose there is nothing to do but wait and see.