So as I noted at the end of last week, I have come across a very rich and recent study by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute called “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections.” It’s particularly timely, given the discussion of what the history of adoption can teach us about anonymity and gamete donors, but it provides answers to some questions I have long wondered about.
The sameness/difference I refer to in the title of this post refers to the relationship of adoption to use of third-party gametes. For me, this is where the conversation started. But of course, adoption (and what we have learned about it) is important in its own right, too.
As I look at the report, I thought the first thing I’d do was to note some of the things that strike me and seem to me as equally pertinent to the third-party gamete questions. Later I can talk about differences.
One (possibly obvious?) starting point. Adoption has a history. It has changed over time. This, it seems to me, is a basic point of sameness. ART has a history and has changed over time. (I’d actually go even further–the whole idea of family has a history and has changed over time. There is not timeless and universal understanding. But let us set that to one side.)
The origins of secrecy in adoption and ART are similar. Secrecy in adoption grew out of concern for children. It was motivated by a desire to protect children from the stigma of illegitimacy. (That’s on page 6.) I think that secrecy in ART has a similar root–although the concern isn’t illegitimacy. Nevertheless, it was motivated by a desire to protect children from stigma. (At the same time, secrecy also protected parents from the stigma of infertility in both settings.)
In terms of current practice, adoptions now exist along a continuum from completely closed (secret) to completely open. You can make this very statement about third-party reproduction. People choose all sorts of arrangements. But many/most adoptions are at least somewhat open and access to information, while not perfect, is far better than it was thirty years ago.
What caused adoption practice to change? The report identifies a variety of interlocking factors. I think it is useful to consider whether the same factors influence practices around use of third-party gametes. To the extent one can agree that openess is better. this is an important exploration.
For instance, one identified factor is the decline is stigmatization of illegitimacy. The decline of stigmatization meant that parents could consider allowing their children to be identified as illegitimate in origin. Similarly, the decline in shame around infertility allows parents to consider allowing themselves to be identified as infertile. What compares to the decline of stigma around illegitimacy for the child conceived with third-party gametes?
Not all adoptive parents are infertile. Some adoptive parents are single–potentially fertile, but without a mate. Some adoptive parents are same-sex couples. The inclusion of more adoptive parents from these sectors means that adoption is less rigidly associated with traditional infertility in the first place. In the same way, the rising participation of single parents and same-sex couples in ART changes perceptions of ART.
The rise of single parents and same-sex couples as parents has particular implications for both adoption and use of third-party gametes. These parents are necessarily visible as parents who chose a different route to parenthood. In a sense, these parents cannot pass as ordinary biologically related parents. Their child’s origin in either adoption or ART cannot be hidden. Perhaps these parents are particularly well-positioned to show others different ways forward.