After a digression to address one particular question that was posed in comments on an earlier post, I want to return to an the substance of that post. I’d like to get a little more focus on the specific topic I hoped to raise.
I’ll start here by recapping my assumptions and my point. I want to try to be clear about my reasoning because while I am fairly sure that many people disagree, I don’t know exactly what the points of disagreement are.
I start with some statements taken from the Victoria commission report that recommended ending anonymity for pre-1998 sperm donors. They are contained in a single paragraph of the summary which you can find at page xx, right under the banner head for chapter 3 and, not surprisingly, they are discussed in some detail in Chapter 3 itself.
I’ll just copy the paragraph from the summary here:
Not all donor-conceived people want to know who their donors are, or desire more information about their donors. However, donor-conceived people who want to know who their donors are can experience distress when they are unable to obtain information about them. This distress may be exacerbated when a donor-conceived person learns of the circumstances of their conception later in life.
I will identify these as assumptions, but I think I could offer to prove them. If I can find some donor people who want to know their donors and other who do not want to know them or have additional information, then I think I’ve proved the statements true.
Now with these assumption in mind, let’s consider a person who is donor conceived. Should they have access to information about their donor? This might be easy to answer–if the access is available, then the donor-conceived person can elect to get the information (if they want it) or not (if they don’t). So far, so good.
But what happens during the early years in the life of a donor-conceived person? If there is access, who makes the decision about actually getting the information?
In general, we do not allow children to make important decisions on their own. Five-year-olds do not pick their schools by themselves. Ten-year-olds don’t make medical decisions on their own. I’m not saying you don’t give kids input (and I’ll come back to that) but they aren’t the actual decision-makers. The decision-makers are the legal parents of the children.
If we treat decisions about getting the donor information as we would other decisions, then, the legal parents would decide if the child gets the information (and if they get it, the parents decide how and when, too.)
But of course we could treat getting information about donors differently. If we do that, then we need to identify someone else to make the decision about whether to get the information.
One possibility is to make a uniform decision that all children get the information whether they want it or not. What this amounts to doing, I think, is saying that the government decides that all children need or should have this information. I find that precedent rather alarming. Whatever rationale is offered to justify this intrusion of the government into what is typically a private decision making process needs to have some clear limits lest the government use the rationale to take over other decision-making from parents. It also seems to me to be inconsistent with my starting point–that some people want/need the information and some do not.
Another possibility is to designate someone or some agency to make individualized decisions about this topic for each child. Again, this is a important deviation from existing practice. I wonder, too, if this is practical in terms of time/effort in trying to determine what is best for particular children. But most importantly I wonder about why we might hope that some bureaucratic agency would do a better job of it than the parents.
Without trying to ordain the direction of discussion here, I do want to say a word or two in defense of parents generally. You can call me optimistic but I think that most parents–including people who become parents via ART and adoptive parents–want to do right by their kids. They want what is best for them. When kids have deep needs and strong feelings, most of the parents I know–no matter how they came to be parents–try to respond.
If I look back at history, it seems to me that adoptive parents who hid their child’s origins often did so on the advice (albeit misguided advice) of professionals. And as the advice and support systems have changed, it seems to me far more common (though not universal) that adoptive parents are honest with their kids. They are honest because they believe it is better for their children, because they are supported in that path, and because adoptive parents are less stigmatized and more respected than was once the case.
Thus I do not assume that saying that decision making should rest with the parents means that children will not know about their origins or about their donors. And in fact, I know many families who have used third-party gametes and have developed a variety of ways of acknowledging their children’s origins.