Though it has been a while (I’ve been on vacation) I thought I’d press on a little bit with the thoughts about the DIY sperm donors I put up last time. Here’s the thing that struck me: In general, I worry about the DIY sperm donor. (You can read about these concerns in earlier posts.) But in a broad way this seems inconsistent with my general preference for the small local farmer over industrialized agriculture. I’ve been thinking about how to square these inclinations.
It seems to me there are two possible directions to go. You could say that the DIY sperm donor isn’t really like the local farmer or you could say that they two are similiar and thus I need to shift my judgment as to one of them in order to be consistent. What I mean by that is that I either need to prefer both the DIY sperm producer and the local farmer or I need to prefer neither.
My tentative conclusion is that while there are similarities between the local farmer and the DIY sperm donor, there are also important differences that might warrant different treatment.
The prime similarity is that the local farmer and the DIY sperm donor are both small players in a field dominated by larger and more industrialized enterprises. I think in a general way, I have an initial bias in favor of the small local enterprise. That’s partly just the David/Goliath thing, I guess.
So what are the differences that might justify my leeriness about the DIY sperm donor. By thinking about this I might be able to work out whether this leeriness is fully or partially justified.
The first one I’d note is actually one that cuts in favor of the sperm provider. The farmer is in it for profit while the sperm provider (in the instances I’m talking about) is not. In general, you might worry that the profit motive could lead people to cut corners–certainly we see enough of that in the world around us, right? Of course, very few people become small-scale local farmers because they think they’ll end up rich, but still, they need to make a living.
Oddly, the absence of the profit motive for the sperm provider isn’t entirely reassuring to me. I say this with some caution, because I’m not sure why I’m being so suspicious about this. I mean, I accept that women who are surrogates are at least in part motivated by an altruistic desire to helpe someone else out. Why is it harder to say the same for the sperm provider? Is that just the work of gender–women help people and men don’t? You do have to wonder.
But however you deal with the motivation issues, there’s a whole different set of factors that make me feel more confident about buying my produce from the local farmer. That farmer values me as a repeat customer and also as a source of new customers. Over time—week after week at the farmer’s market–we build a relationship. It is this relationship that leads me to trust the farmer.
This dynamic isn’t present with the DIY sperm donor–or at least, not to the same degree. The “repeat customer” potential is limited and the possibility of the on-going relationship–where you buy your vegetables each week from the same people–is basically non-existent. And it is the relationship you develop that makes me trust the farmer, I think.
I know this is scattered, but it is making me think you can like the little guy, favor David over Goliath, shop at your local farmer’s market and still worry about the DIY sperm provider. I really do think the issue comes down to motivation, probably.
On a related topic: I’ve read scattered news of Trent Arsenault since I’ve been on the road–the FDA is continuing its pursuit, I believe. That’s the story that started this thread. I’ve also gotten some comments specifically about him that I think are close to the margin of what I’d allow here. Remember that the point of the discussion is the broader question of systems of providing sperm outside of the highly structured/commercialized one that is dominated by the big sperm banks.