This is from today’s news. Husband and wife have been trying to have a child. No luck. Turns out the husband does not produce sperm. One solution would be to use sperm from some third-person. They didn’t want to use sperm from a stranger. And they wanted some genetic connection to the husband, but he has no brothers. What to do? How about using sperm from the husband’s father?
Now I realize that this seems weird on some level. It means that a child would be both the son of the husband (legally) and the 1/2 brother of the husband (genetically). It means the husband’s father would simultaneously be genetic father and social/legal grandfather. (I am not sure if “legal grandfather” really means anything, but perhaps you get the idea.) But is it the sort of thing we should object to? And if so, why?
First off, I’ll note that for those who value the genetic connection and those who worry about the donor conceived there are some strong positive points here. The child would be closely tied into the family of the gamete provider. There’s no issue about not having access to broader family or to medical history.
But the article does relate some concerns. Here’s one:
However, one concern in these situations is that the person who donates will want to act as a parent to the child. In the case of the couple from the Netherlands, the “grandfather” may find it hard to resist inserting himself into the family, said Arthur Caplan, bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying it’s ethically high-risk,”Caplan said.
My first reaction to this is that the concern voiced (that the sperm donor may think of himself as a father and things could get complicated) is precisely why some people really want an anonymous donor. What better way to protect yourself from this risk?
This makes me think that if you really worry about the sperm donor being unable to have a narrow and restricted role in the child’s life (here as grandfather) you should either be generally opposed to use of third-party sperm or you should be in favor of anonymous providers. What I’m thinking is that the more tied into the child’s life the sperm provider is, the greater the risk of conflating roles and running into the “ethical risk” identified here.
But I think there might be a different approach, and it’s something I’ve alluded to before here, but perhaps not made so very clear. If we could more clearly separate the roles of sperm provider/father then we could more easily accept arrangements like the one described here. It’s the very fact that “sperm provider” is closely associated with “father” that raises the danger.
There are many other possible positions to stake out here. You could, for example, advocate for the use of third-party sperm but prefer situations where the provider will not be intimately involved in the child’s upbringing–as this grandfather quite likely will be. There’s something striking in that view–that the ideal sperm provider is not a total and unknowable stranger, but also not someone too close.
Maybe that’s enough to get a conversation started? I have to run now. I’ll try to check back in later today.