[This is a continuation of an earlier series of posts. You might want to go back and start here to get up to speed. I won’t repeat myself at length.]
I’m trying to think carefully and systematically about the problem of anonymous gamete providers. So far I’ve identified four types of harm that may result from their use–that’s what the earlier posts are about. Those are concealment, medical harm, identity harm and loss of a parent. You really do need to go read the preceding two posts to see what I am talking about. All of these are harms reported by/experienced by at least some people who identify themselves as donor-conceived.
Though I don’t think I’ve been quite so systematic in the past, I think I’ve considered the general harms articulated by the donor-conceived in the past. But to get a full picture here you need to look at all sides of an issue, so I think it’s important to consider, too, the harms that lead people to use ART and perhaps anonymous gamete providers.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. I am not saying that one set of harms outweighs the other. I am not looking at solutions yet either. I’m mostly trying to describe the landscape. Because ART with anonymous gamete donors is available, there are donor-conceived people who can and do speak about the harms they experience. And I think I need to take seriously their accounts of harms. In the same way, I think the voices of people who use ART matter, too. Their experiences are just as real and I don’t actually see any basis for according these people less respect. (This is not the same as saying the harms are of equal gravity. I don’t know that I will or will not say that. I’m not there yet.)
For some people being childless is a source of terrible pain and anguish. I will call this the harm of unwanted childlessness.
ART and use of third-party gametes is a way to address this pain. I suppose I could say that while ART and use of third-party gametes have costs (and the experienced of the donor-conceived help us see those costs) they also have benefits. Just as we should not ignore intangible costs, we should not ignore intangible benefits–ART and use of third-party gametes make people happier or at least alleviate pain and heartache.
I think it’s reasonable to say that people use ART because they want to have children and cannot reasonably do so without ART. But this commonality conceals a lot of different situations. Those who use ART (and third party gametes) include heterosexual couples with medical issues that mean one of them cannot produce gametes. These are people who might fit a medical definition of “infertile.” If they wish to raise a child together and if they wish to have at least one member of the couple with a genetic connection, then ART is their way forward.
Single women and lesbian couples may not meed a medical definition of “infertile” but they also need third-party gametes if they are to reproduce. (I’m excluding gay male couples and men because they need more than just gametes, though they do need gametes.)
Now technically I think you could say they don’t need to use ART. The women in this group could just find a likely man and sleep with him. But I think there are legitimate reasons for deciding that this is not an okay thing to do. And perhaps more importantly, for the moment I only want to establish that whether or not it is necessary, ART is beneficial to many of those who use it because it alleviates pain and/or makes them happier. This, too, needs to be taken into account.