[This is really picking up on yesterday’s post so if you are interested, it will be better if you start there.] I’m trying to think through the issues around abolishing anonymity for gamete providers. Yesterday I offered three possible harms that anonymity might create. I called them concealment, health and identity harms.
Now there is one more that I want to put out there, and this one is the hardest for me to articulate. It’s also one about which I think there really is disagreement, even within the activist donor-conceived community. (I trust that someone will correct me if that last statement is incorrect.)
Some assert that the gamete provider–and I’m focusing on men who provide sperm–is a true parent of the child. What I mean is that I think some people assert that this person must be allowed or even required to actually play a role as a parent of the child–and here I mean “parent” in the broad social sense.
I am fairly confident that not all the donor-conceived take this view. For instance, as I understand it, Olivia Pratten, who instituted a ground-breaking lawsuit in Canada, does not contend that the unknown man who provided sperm is her true father or should have raised her.
But I also think that some people do take this view. IAgain, someone correct me if I am wrong?) I think it’s a form of something you might call genetic essentialism–the idea that genetics is essential to who we are and what we become and so it makes us a parent to a child in the social as well as the genetic sense. If you do take this view then using an anonymous sperm provider creates another harm in addition to the ones identified above. I think I will call it the parental loss harm.
For those who see this harm arising from the use of third-party sperm, it is a very serious harm–and that’s really not surprising. Even if we don’t agree on who is and is not a parent, we probably all agree that losing a parent is a major harm to a child.
At this point you might wonder about why I’m taking all this time to try to separately categorize the harms as I’ve just done. I wonder myself, especially as I sometimes think that my parental loss harm is really just a variant of the identity harm I laid out yesterday. So let me say a word about why it is worth the time to try and lay out the harms as I’ve done.
Ultimately one might want to figure out how to eliminate these harms, or at least reduce them and I think the different harms might suggest different solutions. For instance, the concealment harm can be eliminated if people do not conceal their child’s origin from them–if people tell their children they are donor-conceived. And you can be frank and transparent with your child even if you’ve used an unknown sperm provider. If your main concern were the concealment harm, then you’d be done. Of course, this wouldn’t address the other harms–but you’d at least take care of one of them.
It’s this ability to assess various possible solutions that lead me to try to categorize the harms and particularly to try to split out the parental loss harm. What strikes me is that you could require all donors be identified, that records be maintained, that children have an entitlement to some sort of contact at some specified age and these steps might alleviate the identity harm and the medical harm, but they would not alleviate the parental loss harm.
In fact, it seems like the only thing that would alleviate the parental loss harm is recognizing the sperm provider as a parent and this, I think, has the practical effect of making the use of third-party sperm essentially pointless. People use third-party sperm to have a child with someone they do not wish to co-parent with–that’s what makes the person a “third-party.” (Strictly speaking, sometimes the sperm provider is the second party and the user is a single woman, but I’m sticking with my terminology for now.)
If I’ve got this right, then I think it is an important point. The first three harms–the ones from yesterday (concealment, medical and identity) can all be addressed within a framework that allows the continued use of third-party sperm. I’m not at all sure that the fourth harm can be addressed in that framework. That’s a useful insight to have going forward.