Father/Son Sperm Donation?

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.



73 responses to “Father/Son Sperm Donation?

  1. Some provinces in Canada now have legislation specifying that a sperm donor will not be a legal parent — unless everyone agrees to this at the time of conception.

  2. I don’t see a problem with this. The same thing was mooted in “Frasier” btw:


    “The best part of this episode, which is generally funny is Martin’s logical reasoning behind Frasier’s decision about donating his sperm, where he calculates that if Frasier, then Niles both refuse, Lilith will have to come ‘to the source’, meaning him. His irrational spurts of thought here are hilarious as he imagines having a child with Lilith, before saying: ‘And if you and Lilith got back together, you’d be his step-father and his brother and Niles would be your son and his own uncle. It’s almost worth doing just so that I can tell the story.’ “

  3. Adv. jaya dadhich

    in india , genetical ties are given inportance , here if husband dies , then lady can be remarried to his brothers , so i dont see any problem in this having grand faher’s sperm . so that child will be legally n genetically ours . we indians hv great respect for grand father or grand mother , so i dnt think that if grand father is provoding sperms , he will claim his parent hood on the child .

  4. You know here’s the thing, this is just all kinds of messed up. What are they thinking? This kid is going to end up in therapy with all the crazy double code talk. The kid is going to constantly be having to translate back and forth my father is called my grandfather and my brother is called my father and my mother by virtue of having had a child with her husband’s father has in theory turned herself into my father’s kind of step mother and it gets more and more and more twisted as they go further and further away from reality.

    There are titles that identify who you are in relationship to other people based on your specific point of orign. Anyone can take care of you not just anyone can pretend to be your point of origin. Siblings take on parental duties all the time but they are still siblings. Its just lying is what they are doing they are making up they are swapping the definitions of two commonly used words in the english language and then they are going to act like its not lying. Choosing the wrong words to describe something makes it difficult to understand what a person is talking about and when someone deliberately wants to make it difficult for other people to understand what they are talking about its called lying. If you don’t see your sibling as your sibling but more of a distant cousin, and you introduce them as a distant cousin rather than as your sibling your lying. If you want someone to think that your child’s brother is his father because you prefer their reaction and the way they treat you like a normal married couple with biological children that is perfectly understandable. Of course you prefer the reaction you get when you make it seem like something its not you create a fantasy land and give yourself permission to just bald faced lie to everyone you encouter because not everyone needs to know the details of the child’s conception. They are going to be teaching the kid to act as if his brother is his father and as though his father is his grandfather. Why are they doing this? Why are they going to such great lengths to put on a show? Why can’t the kid just be his father’s child and his brother’s brother even if it is messed up that his mom had a baby with her husband’s father. No its not incest and no its not physically unhealthy for the child. It is lying unless you redefine the meaning of the word lying to suit yourself. Oh not everyone needs to know. That line has personally f’d the heads up of so many of my friends. They can’t just live authentically as who they are the child of the people that made them. They have to serve as someone elses something they have a job to do and often at the expense of their own identity and place in the order of things. Its just real messed up all this bargaining that people are doing with other people’s realities. They have to be born into this weird lie where they pretend they are telling the truth by swapping definitions up means down and good means bad. Crazy

    • My cousin had a baby when she was 18 & wasn’t equipped to handle to it, nor was the baby’s father. My cousin’s parents (my aunt & uncle – his biological grandparents) adopted the baby. Everyone was very open about the biology of the situation.

      Despite your claims to the contrary, nobody required therapy. In fact, the baby grew up to be a charming young man who’s now a plastic surgeon.

      Just because you wouldn’t have the coping skills to deal with the situation, you shouldn’t assume that other people lack the emotional skills to deal with complex family situations.

      • of course! thousands of kids are raised by grandparents and suffer no harm. your situation has nothing to do with this situation.

        • It goes directly to Marilyn’s assertion that a child will be confused because of the family “title” issue.

        • Kisarita they shuffled titles so the father is called brother and the grandparents are called parents. Its one of those “i don’t think of them as…” situations where they know things are one way but prefer to pretend they are something else because they prefer the reaction they receive to the made up kinship titles.

          • not to mention the confusion of your mom being married to your brother (who no one will actually admit is your brother because they all know its too wierd)

            • Half-brother. It’s not illegal for a man to marry his son’s wife after the son stops being married to her for whatever reason. Apparently it is important that a man be able to marry his son’s wife. Even if it was a prohibited relationship to marry (and that means, even if sex and procreation was prohibited), it wouldn’t be incest, which is a special subgroup of prohibited relationships that are related by blood:

              MGL Chapter 272 Section 17 Incestuous marriage or sexual activities. Persons within degrees of consanguinity within which marriages are prohibited or declared by law to be incestuous and void, who intermarry or have sexual intercourse with each other, or who engage in sexual activities with each other, including but not limited to, […too gross to repeat…], shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 20 years or in the house of correction for not more than 21/2 years.

              See, so though a woman isn’t allowed to marry her daughter’s husband and a man isn’t allowed to marry his wife’s mother, they would not be committing incest, only fornication. They are still not allowed to have sex because they are not allowed to marry, but the crime is no worse than if they were unrelated and allowed to marry.

      • They adopted but did not change their titles from what they were biologically? That makes sense. Of course I could handle it if I was legally adopted by my grandparents and referred to them as my grandparents and to my father as my father rather than my brother. Grandparents have been raising their grandchildren for eons its perfectly normal and common. What would be strange is if the grandparents revised their titles for no reason. That is what I think is confusing, not the raising. Sorry if I was not clear

        • No. They referred to them as “mom” and “dad” and nobody required therapy, despite your claims to the contrary. Again, don’t assume that because you couldn’t emotionally handle a situation that other people lack the necessary coping skills.

          • ah how confusing. to know things are one way but pretend they are another. Well whatever works for them

          • Don’t assume that just because some people are able to seemingly handle a situation that it is OK to put more people in that situation. I survived a mass murder OK, but no one should ever be put in that situation.

  5. i would consider this incestuous.
    men should not be conceiving children with their daughters in law.

    • I’m not confused by the “jargon” and I really don’t see a problem with this. I do however have a huge problem with people using an anonymous donor.

      If I found out that my genetic father was actually my grandfather, I wouldn’t be too bothered by it even in the unlikely event my mother had had sex with her father-in-law, but I’d be *very* disappointed if I found out that my genetic father was some unknown donor at a clinic, and it was unlikely I’d ever be able to find out who he was. I actually thought for several years that my father wasn’t genetically related to me btw, and I’m still not 100% sure.

    • It’s interesting, but in Massachusetts, a man is allowed to marry his son’s wife (after the son stops being married to her, presumably by death because the statute pre-dates rampant divorce). This relationship is the one relationship that is not mirrored for men and women: a woman is NOT allowed to marry her daughter’s husband.

      Section 1. No man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, grandfather’s wife, grandson’s wife, wife’s mother, wife’s grandmother, wife’s daughter, wife’s granddaughter, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter, father’s sister or mother’s sister.

      Section 2. No woman shall marry her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, stepfather, grandmother’s husband, daughter’s husband, granddaughter’s husband, husband’s grandfather, husband’s son, husband’s grandson, brother’s son, sister’s son, father’s brother or mother’s brother.

      See, and it’s not just an oversight, the discrepancy also shows up the other way: a man is not allowed to marry his wife’s mother, but a woman is allowed to marry her husband’s father.

      But in this case, the son is still alive and married to his wife, so it should be illegal for the father to impregnate his son’s wife, just as it should be illegal for anyone to impregnate her except her husband. I’m glad to have a consistent position that all intentional procreation is unethical and there is no right to procreate with someone you are not married to, and all sperm and egg donation should be shut down and everyone who facilitates it should be fined and jailed.

      • That is one curious statute. The man can marry his son’s wife but not his grandson’s wife? I’d love to know the reasoning for the exception for son’s wife.

        That said, it doesnt’ follow that because he cannot marry he cannot donate sperm. You can make the argument from one to the other but there would be several intermediate steps. Among other things, I think you’d have to essentially equate donating sperm to her to marrying her. You may make the equation, of course, but not everyone will.

  6. if we were told that the father in law and the daughter in law were going to have sex, most of us would be disgusted.
    we can try to dress it up in medicalese but its not enough- most of us will continue to remain disgusted only we’ve let the jargon confuse us as to why.

    • This is a really interesting thread. One thing it makes me think about is why we react so strongly to incest–what the core problem is. If it is an inbreeding concern, then it ought not to be present here. But some people say it isn’t about inbreeding anyway, but about social relationships. (Would sex between adopted brother and sister bother you? No inbreeding, but very strong social relationship.)

      Anyway, the father-in-law and the daughter-in-law are genetic strangers, so that’s not the issue.

      It’s interesting, too, that Kisrita equates AI insemination with sex, in terms of the reaction at least. You’d think that to the extent incest is about disrupting social relationships then it’s about sexual conduct–whether procreative or not. So oral sex between relatives is just as bad, because it isn’t about genetics and reproduciton. But for me, AI is a world away from sex. One has nothing to do with the other.

      I think I see the outlines of my next post…..

      • Julie, almost all humans of all time, (including the vast majority today even in the age of ART) come about through sex. It is artificial to separate sex and reproduction.
        Can sexuality be expressed in non reproductive ways? of course, when one is making a rational, thought out decision. But if we’ve gotten to the stage of a rational thought out decision, that means that taboo, the visceral, gut level disgust, has already been eliminated.

        • Did I already answer this? If so, I apologize. I’ve lost track.

          Yes, it is artificial to separate sex from reproduction but that is exactly what ART does. And that’s why it has really forced so many questions upon us. At the same time, changes in law and culture have separated sex from marriage, by which I mean that sex outside of marriage is commonly recognized and accepted. Without these changes I wouldn’t have nearly so much to blog about.

          I understand that for some people (and perhaps you are among them) because sex is commonly linked to reproduction (and reproduction commonly linked to sex) the two are always associated. But it’s just as true that for many people assisted reproduction has nothing to do with sex. To take an example I don’t think we’ve thrown out–most lesbians who use AI do not think they’ve had sex with a man and would see a huge difference between insemination via intercourse and insemination via AI. (The law draws that line, too, in many places.)

          • So Julie would many lesbians reject the scientific definition of sexual reproduction? That definition actually does not include intercourse or skin to skin contact or love or pleasure or all that. Its just the cell thing.

            • No, most of the lesbians I know understand sexual reproduction. But when you ask a friend “did you have sex?” you aren’t just asking if they engaged in sexual reproduction. When you say to an adolescent “sex is an important thing and you need to wait till you’re ready” (or whatever it is you do say) I think you mean something more than just wait to reproduce. I think you mean wait to engage in wide (and admittedly ill-defined) range of sexual activities.

              Apparently in some circles teens do not count oral sex as sex–and of course if sex means sexual reproduction then they are right. Thus, you can engage in oral sex and honestly say you’ve never had sex. I suppose there is some technical truth there, but I think this refining of language is somewhat dangerous. I suppose I may sound puritanical but it isn’t okay with me that thirteen-year-olds engage in oral sex on the theory that it isn’t sex.

              At the very least, I think there needs to be some category name for the behavior that is sexual (whether it is reproductive or not) because sometimes we need to talk about that category of thing. Maybe we also need a word for reproductive conduct, whether it involves sex or is in a laboratory)–and maybe that is ‘sexual reproduction’ or even just ‘reproduction.’

      • There are lots of reasons we prohibit incest, and inbreeding is one of the biggest but not the only reason. We don’t have to explain to you exactly why it is repugnant, nor do we all have to agree on why we think it should be prohibited.

        And you are wrong, AI is simply a sex position, like missionary or doggy style. It’s not listed in the Kama Sutra because there is no love-making going on, which is the same reason forcible rape isn’t in there. But just because it isn’t love-making doesn’t mean it’s not sex.

        • It is of course true that no one has to explain anything to me–I just write a blog and people can choose to comment or not. If they choose to comment, they choose what to say. But it does seem to me that it is useful to think about why we find things repugnant. It is possible that the reaction isn’t warranted and that rational examination can reveal that. To take a silly example, many people find worms repugnant, but I don’t think there is a real reason to do so. Understanding the reaction may allow some people to change how they feel about worms–and given that worms are quite useful, I’d say that is a good thing.

          It’s also fine for you to express your opinion that AI is simply a sex position, but it might be nice to note that it is an opinion. We disagree. That’s fine. But this isn’t a disagreement about a fact that you or I can hope to verify. If I said I bought my house for $10 you could prove that I’m wrong–because that’s a historical fact. In the same way I take it you are right (and that I could verify it, though I haven’t) in what you say in another comment about what Massachusetts law provides. So here is one that we disagree on.

          I suppose I could invoke the oft-cited Humpty Dumpty quote here–that a word means what I want to mean. You want to define sex to include AI and that’s your perogative. But I wonder if giving the term (as used in the phrase “having sex,” right?) so broadly robs it of some of its meaning. I guess I do not understand what the essence of having sex is in your usage. I’m not sure how I’d know what it meant if you told me two people had sex. And so I’m not sure we’d be communicating usefully given how far apart our definitions seem to me.

          All that said, perhaps we can just agree to disagree here. I do not think that I can persuade you to change your definition–since in your view I’m just flat out wrong. I also don’t think you are going to persuade me, as I don’t see the utility of switching to your definition, nor do I see that it is one in common use. (The last point means that I don’t see that using your definition would make what I say more comprehensible to readers–it goes back to communication.) So I propose we agree to disagree and leave this part of the topic here. I do try to be careful to say “in my view” frequently in part as an acknolwedgment that others (like yourself) have different views. I’ll continue to do so.

          • I mean we (those who think something should not be allowed) do not have to explain why we feel that way to anyone, or all agree about why it should not be allowed, in order for a law to be enacted and for it to stand up as rational and Constitutional. Courts need only imagine that there might have been rational reasons for enacting a law, they don’t have to know what they were.

            And I won’t agree that just because you think AI is not sex, that it means that it is only an opinion that it is sex. It is a sexual position. Anything that might bring male and female sex cells into proximity where they might join together to make an embryo is a sexual position. Same-sex couples do not have sex, any more than a cat and a dog do. They can enjoy intimate pleasures involving their sexual organs, but it isn’t sex, it isn’t sexual intercourse, and that isn’t an opinion.

            • how ridiculous john. of course dogs and cats have sex. Sex means all these things! Sex means sexual reproduction as well as the stimuluss and feelings that go along with it, even if their expression is not reproductive!

              • I mean with each other, sorry. I was gonna a man and a dog, but I changed it to be less offensive into the generic incompatible partners of cat and dog, who if they were to have intercourse it would not be sexual intercourse, though I guess that;s what we’d call it for lack of a better term. What I mean is, sex is whatever brings the sex cells together to reasonably possibly make new generations.

          • Despite finding it fascinating to challenge my preconceived (no pun intended) notions that sex is something other than the fun part – its scientific meaning, I gotta agree with Julie here. If a person wants their opinion to be taken seriously and turned into law, it had better be logical and substantiated and clear. I’ll add to that it ought to be fair in its distribution of rights and obligations as well. But if law makers don’t know why they are passing a law that is bad. Actually its pretty bad to do anything when you don’t know the reason or won’t be knowing the outcome. Its just blind to make a move like that.

            • Well, sure, I’m saying why we should prohibit gamete donation, all the time, that’s fine. We should certainly talk about how it hurts kids, undermines the family and morality and important social standards and conventions, causes lots of problems, etc. The point is, Julie is pitting one person’s argument against another, singling out each argument one at a time to show that it doesn’t always apply, or that not everyone has that objection, so it’s invalid. She’s demanding opponents agree on every reason and articulate and prove them all empirically, because she knows that is an impossible task, and I’m saying we don’t have to do that, legislatures can act on the totality of interests and concerns and apply inarticulated gut feelings for prudence, including vague and unproven theories and feelings.

              • I do not mean to demand that all those opposed to AI or ART have to agree on the reasons they are opposed. The nature of coalition building (which is how legislation gets passed lots of times) is that people agree on an outcome for different reasons. That’s fine. But I do think it is useful to examine the different reasons people have for reaching the same conclusions.

                For instance, many people might agree to ban AI with anonymous providers. For some, the problem is “anonymous” while for others it is AI more generally. I think this is an important distinction to observe. It doesn’t mean people couldn’t all vote together for the same law–of cousre they could. But suppose there were instead a law that barred use of anonymous providers. Some might support it and others not. And some who like AI might also agree on the ban on anonymous providers. So in the end a law that banned anonymous providers (but not all AI) might please a larger group of people. I do not assert this to be the case–I just want to illustrate why I think it is important to discuss the reasons behind the positions people take.

        • I’ve been thinking about the definition you are using for sex and it has lead me to a question. If I mistate your view, I do so inadvertantly–I really have been trying to understand it.

          Do you have a term for conduct between two adults that is erotic, intimate and sensual but is not aimed at procreation? I ask because I think I tend to include this sort of conduct when I use the term “having sex.” I think I understand that you would not include it. Your definition of sex is conduct that is reproductive–which is why it includes AI as well as hetersexual intercourse, right?

          But then I wonder if you have some particular term for joint erotic conduct that is not reproductive or if this kind of condcut is just on the same level as any other conduct two people might engage in.

          I’m not sure I’m asking this very clearly but I would draw a line between erotic conduct and non-erotic conduct even if the erotic conduct wasn’t reproductive. Would you draw a similar line? And if so, what do you call the erotic but non-reproductive conduct, as you do not call it “sex.”

          • i do not draw any line- its all sex
            while its pretty clear that the reason for the existence of sexuality is for procreation, it’s actually a pretty amorphous thing that can be expressed in many ways and use for other purposes ie recreation and intimacy

            • Sorry–didn’t mean you–meant John.

              I don’t know if it is so clear what the purpose of sexuality is, although of course reproduction is important. But people do not go into heat as animals do. We are set up to engage in and enjoy sexual conduct even when we aren’t fertile. Some evolutionary psychologists say that sexual activity (not necessarily intercourse) stimulate various chemical reactions in the brain which are essentially addictive. I think some speculate that it may encourage pair bonding which helps ensure the success of our incredibly dependent infants.

  7. “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.”

    I would say the opposite- the obfuscating of the the sperm provider=father is the real danger here. Julie, you have graduated from promoting fatherlessness to promoting incest. I hope you are proud of yourself.

    • I would not promote incest, but I don’t see the incest here. Remember that to me a sperm provider isn’t a father. (Obviously a sperm provider is a genetic father, but I distinguish that use of the term.) A sperm provider is a person who provides sperm and can have a role in the child’s life that it is up to us to define. If that is the case, then there is no incest issue.

      I know a number of families where there is a known sperm provider who has some role but the person isn’t understood to be the father. Is it possible that the reason you react so strongly to this is because may not acknowledge the possibility of separating these two roles.

      • You would not condone incest but your willing to risk it for people other than yourself who have no control over the situation. Nice.

        • I do not know what you are talking about, but see several possibilities. Do I risk incest for other people because I think the arrangment here could work or are you referring to past discussions about use of unidentified donors? Or somehting else? I really cannot reply unless I know what you are meaning to refer to. (And could you please watch your tone? Sarcarsm (as in “nice”) can rapidly lead to the degredation of discourse and I work hard to try to promote discourse here.)

          • I will I’m sorry.

          • You said that you would not condone it.

            Yet in the past you have stated that you believe there is nothing wrong with gamete donation and have wondered if its really a problem that sometimes donors have upwards of 100 offspring.

            I was out of line in my tone. And off topic for this post. I’m reacting to the fact that it is inconsistent to say that you don’t condone incest when you promote gamete donation? Is incest for you based on genetic parenthood or social parenthood? Is it not incest if a sperm donor had sex with his offspring because he is not legally the father? I’m trying to understand how its ok to choose to risk another person’s ability to avoid incestuous contact and still say that your not promoting incest. At the very least gamete donation is akin to reckless endangerment placing someone at increased risk for something and they have no control. I should have said that its not nice to do that. Its not polite its kind of rude to advocate for people compromising other people’s ability to differentiate between relatives and non relatives. The fact that you seem to hold opinions that are at odds on this topic makes it look like you think of all that as collateral damage worth the risk because it does not directly hurt the people using the gametes.

            • I don’t think it is inconsistent to say that I don’t promote incest even as I approve of gamete donation, because I don’t equate the two.

              First off, I am very concerned about what I called the psychological/social aspects of incest–by which I mean sex within a familiy setting among family members. But I do not think that engaging in AI is the same as engaging in sex (though I know others do.) I think if you’ve got a family where the members view donating sperm to the daughter-in-law as something not at all like having sex with the daughter-in-law. Which means that as long as there is some counselling to establish what family members really feel about this I think you can avoid the dangers of incest and go ahead with the sperm donation. And to the extent the incest problem is about genetics and inbreeding, I don’t see any danger of that at all in this setting. The universe of people off-limits to this child would be essentially identical to those off-limits were the child genetically related to the husband–this isn’t the one hundred offspring problem.

              Now as for the 100 offspring problem–I haven’t meant to be cavalier about that and it may be that I need to go reread all that I’ve written. I do think having hundreds of offspring can be problematic. I’m not sure how big a problem the unintentional incest thing is, in truth. I believe that the one time it was specifically discussed as having occured (in the UK during a legislative debate) it turned out to have been fiction. I can also see other ways of dealing with this incest issue–I wonder if we aren’t heading towards a lot more genetic testing in our lives. And if you had more transparency about sperm providers (and I have written about that), this might take care of it as well. https://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/more-on-non-regulatory-solutions-to-the-too-many-offspring-problem/ I don’t think any of these things are easy to accomplish, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t think tehre’s any issue here.

              Finally let me try to answer some of the more specific questions you pose.

              I think it is important to consider both aspects of incest for a variety of reasons, but I also think I need to be careful to think about them separately because they are different.

              Yes–I think it is incest for a person to have sex with their biological father, even if he isn’t a legal or social father. And I would define “have sex” rather broadly. This is partly because I think a person who did this inadvertantly would be horrified and repulsed and that does worry me. It’s actually curious to me that this doesn’t come up as a problem with using anonymous donors more than the hundred offspring concern. It’s worth thinking about how to guard against this–though in the situation that is the subject of the main post I wouldn’t worry about it.

              You didn’t ask but I also think it is incest for a person to have sex with their adoptive father or any other genetically unrelated but psychological/social/legal father, even though there is no genetic component. This is the other aspect of incest.

              Perhaps there are some incest concerns with all use of third-party gametes, but except in the hundreds of offspring cases, I think the risks are small enough as to not warrant stopping use of third-party gametes. There might well be other things we can do to reduce risks even further and that wouldn’t be bad. Again–relying more heavily on identified or identifiable gamete providers will surely help.

              • OK first I don’t look at IVF or IUI as having sex, I was just throwing it out there to challenge what does and does not constitute sex because its not pleasure or even consent and its not intercourse either so what’s left by process of elimination is contact with sexual organs. In reading the strict medical definition of sexual reproduction it mentions nothing about the people behind the cells or what they may have done in order to get the cells into proximity where reproduction can occur. I want to make it clear that I have the same general mindset as the average person about what it means to say that someone had sex.

                • Fair enough. I think it was John that did not share this view. “Sexual reproduction” is possibly used to distinguish between that and “asexual reproduction?” That’s important biologically, of course. Some people talk about “procreative sex” to distinguish it from the broader category “sex.” And then you could just say “reproduce.”

                  Bottom line is that we probably do not use language consistently nor do we all use it in exactly the same way, which at once makes things difficult but interesting.

              • Now I can see where a donor can say the risk of me unintentionally dating one of my unknown children is low, but its me taking the risk and I’m willing to gamble with my own ability to differentiate relatives from non relatives because the benefits outweigh the risks for me. But the donor is also risking his relative’s ability to avoid dating one another. The risk may be small but it is certainly not his to take. It would be their risk to take and they have no say in the process and that is precisely why it needs to stop.

                You think its ok because your not risking your own ability to prevent yourself from getting into a romantic situation with a relative. Why should you or anyone else think they have the authority to decide for themselves whether or not the benefits of gamete donation outweigh the risks they’ll be taking.

                • You know, I know donor conceived young people, most of whom live in families where it is obvious that they are donor conceived. They know what they do and do not know and so aren’t oblivious to the risks you mention. Obviously the more you know about the sperm or egg provider, the better able you are to protect yourself from any possible risk and I see this as a good reason for enhanced transparency–which includes information about the providers being made available to the children. I’m not persuaded that it is a reason to cease using third party sperm entirely, though.

  8. The incest taboo serves essential functions in society:
    1. At the most basic level, to encourage genetic diversity and avoid excessive inbreeding
    2. To clearly define familial roles and relationships
    3. As a consequence of #2- to help prevent sexual abuse of children

    • I think this is probably true, although I don’t know that all will agree. There are other ways to state 2 and 3. I’ve read some about creating a sex-free environment in which children are raises, so that children can have close physical initmacy with adults (parents, aunts, uncles) without it being sexualized. I think that is basically what you said. And I’ve also read about the idea that in a tribal culture, people need to marry out of the tribe in order to forge ties tribe to tribe.

      In any event, with those purposes in mind, I don’t see the incest issue here. there’s no concern about 1, right? And as for 2/3, there’s no sex. No one is proposing insemination via sex.

      • I like to get back to the original meaning of words to see just how badly we’ve butchered them. The fact is the true definition of the words we use is always there in the backs of our minds even if we grow accustomed to using that word to describe something entirely different yet somewhat related. Never is this more evident than with sexual reproduction. In fact, the father in law did have sex with the daughter-in-law, they just did not have intercourse or intimate contact with one another in order to sexually reproduce together. Its just a boring scientific fact creeping forward in our minds leaving us perplexed as to why this arrangement does not sit well with us. Changing the meaning of words is of course all part of making it easier to lie to ourselves and to one another. Its not wrong for the father in law to have sex with his daughter in law really but the fact that everyone pretends it did not happen is the peculiar thing. The fact that they’ve made a child whose job it is to pretend that he is his brother’s son is not fair to that child. Its not fair that he can’t simply be good enough being who he really is having the parents who he really has. His job is to make the father’s sterility go away and make his mother have a biological child. Its really a bit much for one person to bear without cracking. I bet the kid will pull it off like its no big deal. He’d better. They’ve gone to so much trouble to have him.

        Here is the definition of sexual reproduction. Its a nice refresher:
        “Sexual reproduction
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
        Sexual reproduction is the creation of a new organism by combining the genetic material of two organisms. There are two main processes during sexual reproduction; they are: meiosis, involving the halving of the number of chromosomes; and fertilization, involving the fusion of two gametes and the restoration of the original number of chromosomes. During meiosis, the chromosomes of each pair usually cross over to achieve homologous recombination.
        The evolution of sexual reproduction is a major puzzle. The first fossilized evidence of sexually reproducing organisms is from eukaryotes of the Stenian period, about 1 to 1.2 billion years ago.[1] Sexual reproduction is the primary method of reproduction for the vast majority of macroscopic organisms, including almost all animals and plants. Bacterial conjugation, the transfer of DNA between two bacteria, is often mistakenly confused with sexual reproduction, because the mechanics are similar.
        Evolutionary thought proposes several explanations for why sexual reproduction developed out of former asexual reproduction. It may be due to selection pressure on the clade itself—the ability for a population to radiate more rapidly in response to a changing environment through sexual recombination than parthenogenesis allows. Also, sexual reproduction allows for the “ratcheting” of evolutionary speed as one clade competes with another for a limited resource.”

        • I don’t think I’d say they had sex with each other at all. Let’s suppose a woman who has never had sex decides she wants a baby. She goes to a fertility clinic and they make an embryo in the lab and then put it in her to grow. I would say that after the fact, she has still not ever had sex. The embryo was conceived in a lab not through a sexual act or even artificial insemination where it would still be concevied in the woman’s body.

          Are there are any species that have “sexual reproduction” without any kind of sex act? Otherwise I’d simply say it’s a term that made sense before artificial reproduction technology existed, since the only way to reproduce was through having sex.

          • Right Rebecca but your thinking about sexy sex. The kind that’s fun. To be sure she would no longer be a virgin right? They’d have to break her hymen to implant the fetus. The entire process of implantation or retreival involves transversing a woman’s sexual organs and the only reason we don’t consider that to be sexual contact is because the person doing the contact is a doctor. That and that the intent of the contact is not for someone’s sexual gratification. Even though it is for someone’s reproductive gratification.

            You would agree that the woman and her father-in-law are just a man and a woman right? And you’d agree that they reproduced together to create a child, right? Then they have met the scientific criteria for having gone through an act of sexual reproduction despite the fact that they had no intimate skin to skin contact.

            “Sexual reproduction is the creation of a new organism by combining the genetic material of two organisms.”

  9. And the fact that I have to explain this, is very disconcerting.

  10. none of the aims of the incest taboo are accomplished by rational, thought out decision making. The near-universality of the taboo depends on it evoking a visceral sense of disgust.

    • You mean that when the incest taboo works it ought to make sex in certain circumstances unimaginable, right? So we don’t even think about it?

      I agree. It should, as you say, operate at a visceral level. But I don’t think this means that everything that some find viscerally repulsive is necessarily bad. i’m sure some people find interracial sex viscerally repulsive.

      I find the idea of the father-in-law engaging in sexual conduct with the daugher-in-law really off-putting and perhaps close to the line or viscerally repulsive. But the donation of sperm for artificial insemination doesn’t strike me as being remotey similar and so I have no reaction except to think about the complicated network of social relationships that will result. Thus to me it seems nowhere near the taboo line. I gather for some of you all this makes me degenerate and I do actually bridle at that, because I don’t think I am. I’ll try to pull my thoughts together to explore this in another post.

  11. (of course- in law relationships are not considered incest by many, although the bible does)

  12. julie i recall you posted something about a mother daughter thing?

    • I have only a dim recollection but I think you are right. On that side could be two things–one surrogate for the other or one egg donor for the other. I don’t recall that anything about incest came up at the time. I should try to go and find it and see.

  13. Something about this just weirds me out, I don’t know why. I wouldn’t think it so odd for donor eggs to be from the wife’s sister, or donor sperm to be from the husband’s brother, but this just squicks me out. Maybe it’s the generational thing, I don’t know. I can’t really logically explain it.

    • No its totally logical Rebecca. Your ethical compass is working just fine.

      • But at the same time, I wouldn’t be grossed out if the husband had a brother who donated the sperm instead, even though I would find it quite gross if a woman cheated on her husband with his brother. Hmmm. Like I said, maybe it’s the age/generational thing.

        • I think it is worth thinking about why the difference in responses. it’s fine to say that it is an ethical compass, but then it’s useful to think about what keys your ethical compass. It does seem to me that it is possible that it’s the generational thing, but then what does that tell us/where does that lead us?

          I think the idea of a brother marrying his deceased brother’s widow is well-established in lots of traditions. The idea of a father marrying his deceased son’s widow not so much. Of course, one reason for that might have been that it was much less likely the father would still be alive to marry (and therefore support) the widow. You could understand this custom about ensuring support for widows or you could understand it as ensuring that there weren’t indepedent women running around. Anyway, maybe we are culturally more used to the idea of brothers-in-law as potential partners than fathers-in-law.

          But all this still leaves lots of questions about how to think about the proposed course of action here which is, in my view, not about a sexual relationship at all. Do we carry over our understandings to this context or do we recognize this as a different context?

          • I suppose another reason might be that, with the exception of unusually large age gaps between siblings, a person’s nieces and nephews are generally a part of the same generation as a person’s children. Also while they are obviously all very different relationships, the relationship between siblings is generally much more different than the relationship with children vs the relationship with nieces/nephews.

    • i think the sibling incest taboo is somewhat weaker than the parent-child incest taboo. certainly not strong enough to extend to siblings-in-law. there are many cultures in which sisters may marry the same man.

      • This could well be but I don’t think sisters marrying the same man (do you mean sequentially? Otherwise it would be bigamy, which is a different problem) would violate the taboo. Sister marrying brother would. Some cultures have certainly done that (the ancient egyptian royal families) but I do think it is generally taboo these days. And that’s so even if sister and brother aren’t genetically related.

        But all that aside, I am inclined to agree that the intergenerational taboo is the stronger. And that might have something to do with the social side of the incest prohibition. Parents have extremely close physical contact with their children. You could make a nice case that making sex unthinkable (which is what a properly functioning taboo does) makes it possible to have all that intimate contact without verging into sexual abuse. Between parent and child there are a whole additional set of power dynamics to worry about.

  14. Are you familiar with Roissy/Heartiste’s blog about game and alpha/beta stuff? Anyhow, check out this post, and read the story about a woman who broke off her engagement to marry her boyfriend’s father:


    • Not a blog I know and I’m not sure what I’m to take from the post you link to. The son’s girlfriend chooses father over son story is one I’ve encountered before in fiction and film. Isn’t it one of the subthemes in Crazy Stupid Love? You see it the other way around too–daughter’s boyfriend chooses mother over daughter. The most famous of those might be The Graduate. What does it show us? Obviously these things massively complicate family dynamics but now that I think of it they are not portrayed as incest.

      • Well, he did seem to love Elaine. But, life probably would have been far more exciting with Mrs. Robinson. And, every time I see him driving on the upper deck of the Bay Bridge on his way to Berkeley I want to scream! The upper deck goes westbound not eastbound towards Berkeley. Arggghhhh! Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.

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