Is the Use of Third-Party Gametes An Exercise in Paradoxical Thinking?

I feel like I have gotten myself back on track but before I turn to comments (which I really do expect to do later t0day) I want to round out a thought that cropped up in the post yesterday.    For a long time I’ve been dimly aware of a possible paradox that lies at the heart of a lot of use of third-party gametes.   I think it’s time to focus on it a bit.

Here is what strikes me.  Most people who use third-party gametes use either sperm or eggs and then combine it with their own complementary product.   What I mean is that a single woman, a lesbian couple or a heterosexual couple with male infertility issues will use third-party sperm but an egg from the woman (or one of the women) who will be the planned mother.    Where the person or people planning to be parents lack an egg (for a variety of reasons) they will use an egg from a third-party but their own sperm.   Using third-party sperm and a third-party egg is pretty unusual.

Now for some people what is controversial about using third-party gametes is that by design you separate the child from the genetic parent.    In order to justify doing this, I think you rather have to say that it’s not a terrible thing to do.  I mean, if you think separating a child from its genetic parent is a terrible thing to do then it is very hard to justify.   But if you don’t think it is that big a deal (and I’m in that camp—remember) then it is easier to justify.

So I will assume that a user of third-party gametes has decided that the whole genetic link thing is not a big deal.   But at the same time they are choosing ART over adoption, perhaps precisely because it allows them to use their own gametes (at least in part).   So it seems that their choice to use ART rather than adoption might well be grounded (at least in part) on the idea that the genetic link is important.

Can you have it both ways?   I suppose it is possible.   One might say that while the genetic link isn’t crucial to the child it will make it easier for an intended parent to bond with the child.   But if you are planning to parent as part of a couple, this seems a disastrous approach–because by definition one of you will have the genetic link and one of you will not and that difference will matter to you.

Mostly I think this looks like inconsistent thinking and I’m really not sure you can have it both ways.

Now to be fair, I think there are other legitimate reasons why people end up with the one purchased/one home-grown gamete combination.   Perhaps most important, there’s the experience of pregnancy.   Many women find being pregnant deeply meaningful and want to give birth to the child they will raise.   If all they lack is sperm there’s every reason to just buy the sperm and use it to get pregnant.

Using as much of your own genetic material is also consistent with a general approach of only buying what you need to buy.  Why purchase eggs if you have them?  Why purchase sperm if you have it?   Viewed in this light, the common combination of home grown and purchased materials seems completely unremarkable.   Indeed, anything else would be bizarre, wouldn’t it?

So is there a real paradox?  More fundamentally, is there anything to remark on here?

I think there is.   After this little exercise it seems clear to me that the conduct is readily understandable.   There’s nothing remarkable at that.  But the set-up carries within it the potential for serious inconsistency.  When people pursue this fairly obvious and (in my view) reasonable course of action they are possibly building on a foundation of two inconsistent assertions–one that genetics don’t matter (hence it is okay to buy third-party gametes) and the other that they do (thus it is meaningful that they can use their own gametes).   Building on a foundation with that sort of internal tension seems to me to be potentially problmatic and people at least ought to give it a bit of thought.


112 responses to “Is the Use of Third-Party Gametes An Exercise in Paradoxical Thinking?

  1. Having participated in hundreds of donations, I have seen certain consistancies. First, parents purchase only what they need. Second, all genetics are important. Thus the need to build a bridge to the donor to (1) rule out known genetic disorders, and (2) obtain additional medical information for future treatment planning if the child is diagnosed with a genetic linked disease process.
    That aside, I think that a global model you are constructing here has to include those persons/couples that are forced to rely on two donors. Gamete related infertililty may have social, anatomical and or physiological origins, with no or little regard to orientation or partnership status.

    • You are probably right that I need to focus more on the use of all third-party gametes. Something to think about for the future. And you’re right to to suggest other ways in which genetics are important. I didn’t mean to ignore those, I was just concentrating on the way in which genetics are seen to create special bonds between people.

  2. Julie – we can always find a way to justify our decisions – always even if it only to justify why we made a bad decision – i.e. the emotions that lead to making the bad decision.

    I am not so sure paradox is the right term – perhaps hypocrisy is more apt. The child is expected to deny any concerns regarding a genetic connection when one of the reasons for choosing to use a “donor” sperm or egg but not both – is in reality even if you don’t willingly admit it – for the genetic connection. The justifications you list are just that – justifications simply because there will always be better sperm or better eggs i.e. smarter, healthier, prettier, better than what you could offer in genes – if you truly want your child to be the best person and have the best chances in life because parenting only goes so far. If there was no desire for that for your child, then why pay tens of thousands of dollars to get the highest rated eggs from a Harvard student with an IQ of 180 and never a grade below A? Why not just any egg or sperm will do?

    • I’m satisfied that paradox isn’t the right term, but I don’t think hypocrisy is either. It’s more that there are a lot of internal tensions between what people are thinking but I don’t have a word for that just now.

      I’m not comfortable with your generalizations about what is expected of the child to the extent that increasingly numbers of people do choose gamete providers who can be known to the child.

      And I’m not sure I understand the latter part of your comments. I don’t know anyone who has used third-party gametes rather than their own in order to get a smarter, prettier or better child. (I probably do know people who have gone this route to avoid serious heritable illness.) Do you mean to suggest that people know that some traits are genetic and do matter? That’s true, of course. When people use third-party gametes, they shop–whether for physical likeness or height or whatever. (I’ve been told that virtually no one wants sperm from short men.)

      While there is much interesting to be said about that, I think that this is slightly different from the idea that genetic connection will create a special bond between provider and child such that the provider will be specially suited as a parent. This belief could cause trouble (it seems to me) when you are heading towards a two parent model and one parent will have that connection while the other will not.

  3. “Using third-party sperm and a third-party egg is pretty unusual.” No, its not. We could look into the numbers possibly from the ASRM, but if the various forums I troll are any indication, its incredibly common among those who are purchasing gametes to do what they call double donation or embryo donation which is the same thing only more generic since you can’t pick the features like you can with double donation.

    • Rather than bicker about this, let’s try to find out. My reasoning was that if a person intending to parent can use his/her own gametes, she/he will–both because it gives them the genetic link and because it is cheaper. But we ought to be able to find out.

      • I don’t think we are bickering I think I misunderstood you. I’m only saying that its not unusual for a woman to give birth to double donor offspring these days among the group of women who give birth to donor offspring the percentage that give birth to double donor babies is not insignificant.

        If you were saying its unusual for a woman to want to use another woman’s eggs when hers are perfectly functional yes I would say your correct.

        • Okay. I got it now. I did just mean that most people won’t buy what they already have, I suppose, and that most people who do ART have at least one of the needed components. This does leave some (and it could be a not insignificant percentage) who need both. I bet there are statistics out there somewhere (maybe ASRM?) that would actually make this all a little more concrete, but I think we might be on the same page here.

  4. Well we agree. Now that leads me to wonder what your up to. Why do we agree? Surely this is something that will occur at the fork in the road where we ultimately part ways.

    Is paradox like hypocrite? If it is I think your on to something.

  5. “Now for some people what is controversial about using third-party gametes is that by design you separate the child from the genetic parent. In order to justify doing this, I think you rather have to say that it’s not a terrible thing to do.”

    It’s sometimes best to separate a child from their genetic parent when a genetic parent is unfit or has to go off to war or there is a famine or no work, etc. It’s not all that big a deal, tons of kids have been separated from their genetic parents, like Moses and President Obama and John Lennon and Luke Skywalker. It effects them, of course, none of them would have been who they were without their childhood experiences, and they all probably wished they were raised by their mother and father, but it’s not always possible.

    All intentional conception of children is unethical and dehumanizing because it makes them into property and denies them their dignity as self-responsible humans like all other humans always were. Unintentional conception of children can be unethical as well, of course, but for different reasons. The only way it should be legal to create a person is by sexual intercourse of legally married man and woman, who are having sex not to conceive a child but to cleave together and express their commitment and openness to offspring with each other and a shared future together.

  6. First, thank you for being honest and open. It’s a bit of a rarity to encounter people who actually think about the issues they purportedly think about.

    Second, I’m not primarily interested in the law, so forgive me in advance for referring to emotions and the like.

    “One might say that while the genetic link isn’t crucial to the child it will make it easier for an intended parent to bond with the child.”

    The very sentiment just makes me sad, not even angry.

    If poor helpless babies had any choice but to form an attachment to the only person(s) available to them to keep them alive, thus becoming all their world, we couldn’t even be having this conversation. The relationship is so incredibly asymmetric in terms of power.

    The genetic link might very well not be crucial to the hungry baby who’ll readily accept a bottle from a genetic stranger. The baby has little choice. The toddler has little choice. The young child has little choice.

    The adults have the prerogative of being pleased (or not) with the child they created / accepted / agreed to parent, though not their own. The adults have the luxury of bonding (or not) with the child. For the child, survival is crucial. The child can’t afford to not bond.

    But children grow. They outgrow all sorts of conditioning. And then the genetic link might become crucial to them as well. As it obviously was to their parents, however they tried to deny it. (My parents tried to have their own child for 12 years before my “father” deigned to pretend to accept another man’s child, i.e., me)

    • Good points. Also, as children grow, they may outgrow the bond and abandon their parents, whether they are interested in finding their mother and father or not. They might not feel any obligation to care for their parents when they get older.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about who has choices/autonomy and who does not and I read your comment as being in part about that. I don’t think there’s much I disagree with in what you say. But I was thinking of something slightly different.

      I think at least some of what we think about the importance of genetic linkage is socially constructed. What I mean by that is that we believe that genetic linkage is important because we are raised to believe it. I do not mean that we are formally indoctrinated, particularly. Rather, lots and lots of things in society cue us on this. And there’s all the emerging science on the importance of DNA (for dozens of different reasons) that reinforces our ideas about importance.

      I don’t want to quite come to the point of saying here that the genetic connection stuff is entirely unimportant, because I think that will just create an easy moment of disagreement. Rather I want to state the complement–that some of our ideas about the importance of the genetic connection are drawn from the society in which we live.

      That said, adults are subject to this. So a person about to take on raising a child might have somewhere in their head the idea that the presence or absence of the genetic link is important. (It sounds like your “father” surely did.) And the presence of the genetic link therefore might make the assumption of the parental role easier.

      But a newborn child isn’t socialized yet. The social importance of the genetic link isn’t transmitted in utero. I would think, therefore, that a newborn child would be bonded to the woman who gave birth to it and that the presence or absence of a genetic link would matter less to the newborn than to the woman who gave birth. (Please note I didn’t say it wouldn’t matter at all–because I don’t want to go there right now. I just said it would matter less.)

      Actually–there’s an idea for an interesting study (which maybe has even been done). Look at the behavior of newborns and the women who just gave birth to them and compare those genetically related and those not. You’d need to eliminate surrogates (who weren’t planning to raise the children and so might have a quite different relationship, I would think). It would be a hard study to do, though, because to the extent the woman was aware of the differences she might (unwittingly) send cues to the newborn from the get go. Just musing here.

      • I doubt there would be perceptible differences between newborns’ reactions to genetically connected and unconnected women who carried them. Not trying to be difficult, but there probably wouldn’t be many perceptible and measurable differences between how a genetically-raised three-year-old reacts to his mother and how a three-year-old who was illegally snatched at birth and raised by the couple who bought him reacts to his adoptive mother.

        That’s why it’s a good idea to wait until the person in question is an independent adult in possession of all relevant information before we can say the kids are all right and it’s all just the same and look how happy he seems and how he loves me and how he smiles when he sees me and genes obviously don’t matter.

        My “father”, interestingly enough, wasn’t at all interested in family history, family trees, roots, that sort of thing. I was the one who pored over his grandfather’s old pictures, books and journals – he didn’t care. Never looked at them. It may sound facetious, but at this point we really don’t know what is the result of nature and what is the result of nurture and societal conditioning – so, perhaps, my interest in my genes and roots and family history could have been inherited from my biological father. No one can prove it wasn’t.

        • Pronoia boy are you right about that, there would not be any difference in the way a small child feels about the woman raising them if she were not their mother and they did not know it.

        • I’m inclined to think that your speculation in the first few paragraphs is true. (Instead of or in addition to the snatched at birth, though, I might take the innocently switched at birth hypothetical.) This is important to me because it suggests that the bonding and all that stuff is independent of genetics.

          Coming to terms with genetic relatedness vs. genetic unrelatedness is a much more complicated question. Here there seem to me to be many many things that matter. Everything we’ve learned about adoption, for instance, makes me think that if your genetic status is an open topic of discussion from the get go that’s going to be better than if it isn’t. If the parents–the one’s raising you–are relaxed, secure, confident and open about it all, that will improve things. If they are anxious, insecure and secretive it will be harder. If you were snatched from the hospital, that’s going to be a very different situation from if you were created using gametes from a person you know as your donor. Beyond those individual variables, societal attitudes will matter, too, I think. If being created from third-party gametes or being raised by parents who aren’t biologically related to you is a big deal–particularly if is something that is stigmatized–that’s going to matter.

          In general I’m inclined to agree that how a person takes all this in–what it means to them–will change overtime. What might be okay at one point in life might not be so okay later, but wouldn’t the reverse also be true? I think this uncertainty and variablity is part of why I want to look for the things that will give you the best chance of the best outcome. So, for instance, I feel confident saying that it is better for people to be open about what they have done with their kids and to be non-defensive and I want to think about how you get there.

          But I come to all this because I am not willing to say “never use third-party gametes.” One could say instead that the risks of harm are too great ars so they should never be used. (To be clear, I think saying that the gamete provider is automatically a legal parent practially amounts to saying “never use third party gametes.”)

          • “If the parents–the one’s raising you–are relaxed, secure, confident and open about it all, that will improve things.” Very true. Openness and honesty certainly are big pluses. But they don’t obliterate the strong desire to know one’s biological parents – and nor do good upbringing, lots of love, or empathy and understanding, though they too certainly are big pluses. Adoptees less conditioned to think of their adoptive parents as their “only real parents” might actually be more likely to search early and feel less guilty about it.

            I’m also not quite willing to say “never use third-party gametes,” perhaps surprisingly. I disagree that saying that the gamete provider is automatically a legal parent amounts to it. Legal parents can relinquish their children after birth, and if a donor truly wants to give their biological child to someone, they can do it after they have been notified of the birth of an actual child to an actual person/couple and after they’ve been named on that actual child’s birth certificate as their biological parent. Then we no longer have to think about the best interest of the child not yet conceived.

            • I was going to write a new post today before doing comments, but then I glanced at this one and realized I wanted to take a quick moment to comment. Others will have to wait.

              I think you are right–I overstated things. Saying that a gamete provider is automatically a legal parent is not exactly the same as saying “don’t use third party gametes.”

              But it is close. That’s because as I’ve been using the term, if the gamete provider is a legal parent then the gamete provider isn’t a third-party. A third-party is by definition not going to be a parent.

              It might be true (and I think “might” needs to be there) that the gamete provider can place the child for adoption after it is born, but that’s not at all the same thing. Imagine a woman who wishes to be a single parent. Now she can use sperm from a third-party who isn’t known to her personally. (I know–there’s no second party here, but it’s the best terminology I could come up with.) She can manage things so that the sperm provider has no parental rights, so she is secure in knowing she will be a single parent. If you give the sperm provider rights and say he can then let her adopt the child after birth, she’s taking the chance he will change his mind. In which case she’ll be coparenting with this stranger. That’s a pretty unappealing prospect and I think many women wouldn’t take the chance. So while it isn’t true that the two things are the same, think they are closely related. Saying that the sperm provider is a legal parent makes the use of third-party gametes much more problematic. That is what I should have said first time round.

              • “she’s taking the chance he will change his mind. In which case she’ll be coparenting with this stranger.”

                Perhaps if we’re thinking of creating a child with a person, we should at least first be able to trust this person enough not to think he’ll trick her or think of the notion of co-parenting with him as a huge risk. Perhaps creating children with perfect strangers IS inherently problematic, and the above approach would put this into relief. Should we think primarily of the best interests of the parents that are not yet parents and are unlikely to become parents if such a law were to be passed?

              • And your focused entirely on what the woman wants rather than what the child should be entitled to. Why should her desire to raise her offspring alone trump what is currently a child’s legal right to be supported by his or her biological father and also to have the right to a court approved adoption if the biological is not going to raise the child. Oh whoops what’s a single woman to do if she has nobody else waiting in the wings to take over then she can’t conceal the fact the child is loosing something then its just so obvious that she’s being a selfish spoiled brat about things
                “Its MY Baby mine I grew it in my womb mine mine mine and you can’t have any” “I want my Umpaloopa now Daddy”

                • Agree Marilyn; “I want” or even “I long for” evokes my sympathy but it does not mean “I have an absolute right to.”

              • i think if there was a vaccine for HIV lots of these women would just go have anonymous sex. not sure how this affects the discussion.

                • One way it matters is that the law in many places treats conception via sex differently from conception via ART. that means just going out to find someone to have sex with may be legally quite different about asking the same man to give you his sperm in a cup. It’s rather odd, in my view, that we do that.

            • YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!YES YES YES YES YES. She needs to stay.

  7. Well, a child who is the biological child of their only (social) parent or the biological child of one of the two parents raising him or her will get to experience a genetic connection with some of the members of their family. It’s not like they are being placed in a situation where they aren’t genetically related to anyone. I’m pretty much in the middle on the genetics isuee – I want more protection for biological parents who WANT to raise their children (like bio fathers trying to stop adoptions) but I don’t think it’s horrific for children to be adopted with the consent of both parents or for people to use egg or sperm donors, and honestly using a sperm donor is probably the only way I myself can ever be a parent. Now, personally, I could only use a donor who was willing to be known – if it was just for myself, I could happily never know who the donor was, it would be my genetic child that I carried and give birth to and I don’t think I’d feel the need to know who it was that helped me become a mother, But I disagree with taking the choice to know away from the child.

    • It’s good to think across a broader range of situations, as you have done here. Sometimes I get very deeply into the individual leaves on the trees. You’ve outlined a way of thinking about the big picture. The challenge for me is to see whether I can devise some (hopefully simple) legal principles that might sustain/support such a simple legal picture.

      In that context, the hard part is often the bio father, I think. You know those early posts here about the difference between the man who has a one-night stand with a complete stranger and the sperm donor? It’s really hard for me to come up with a set of rules that legally distinguish two those and give rights to the first without giving rights to the second. The only difference I see (and it is the one the law currently uses) is the manner in which the sperm reached the egg–sex vs. insemination. That seems a very strange way to distinguish between who gets parental rights and who doesn’t.

      • Julie
        Why would the child of the one night stand man be entitled to physical and financial support from him (a man who reproduced to create them) when the child of a donor (a man who reproduced to create them) is not?

        Why would the child of the one night stand man (a man who reproduced to create them) be entitled to the State’s assistance in testing any number of suspected men until they find their biological father, add his name to the birth certificate and require him to meet his support obligation, not just in the future but in arrears as well when the child of a donor (a man who reproduced to create them) does not receive the same level of assistance from the State?

        Why would the mother of the one night stand man (who reproduced to create the offspring they have in common) not be allowed to waive her child’s right to support when the mother of the donor offspring is entitled waive her child’s right to support?

        • If I remember correctly Julie you once stated your opinion that men who conceived children via casual sex (aka the one-night-stand-guy) should also bear no responsibility for their offspring. In other words, in order to eliminate the double standard, thousands MORE children must be stripped of their fathers.

      • What about couples who are in love but have to use IUI or IVF to conceive? They don’t procreate sexually. They may or may not be married. Yet, I’m certain the law does NOT see the men in this case as non-fathers. So, that’s NOT the differentia specifica.

        The mother’s emotions apparently are, as far as societal opinions are concerned. I can’t for the life of me think of any other factor. And I’ve tried:

        • I’m afraid I may have lost track of what this comment is attached to, so I don’t exactly know what the initial question refers to. If a married couple uses IUI or IVF the husband will almost always be the legal father no matter whose sperm is used. If the couple is unmarried, the results may actually vary state to state. In some states, even if he provides the sperm he’s a donor and hence, not a father. Really–it does. I know that seems just bizarre. But the law in WA provides that a man who provides sperm for ART (which is anything other than intercourse) is a donor and a donor is NOT a father. You can go back to this old post and follow it to the CA case to see what I mean:

          But even so, I agree that there is much to be said about the importance attributed to the mother’s perspective. I wouldn’t have said it is about her emotions, exactly. But this is one situation in which women may have important power, which is rather striking.

          • This really is bizarre. I had no idea. Can a bio father via insemination who intends to parent but is not married to the mother be put on the birth certificate and obtain parental rights?

            If not, that’s beyond weird. If yes, can a donor who changes his mind and ow wants to be a functional father then theoretically do the same?

            • I hate to say it but this is a definite maybe.

              In some states there’s a sort of “joint project” theory where if the conception is a joint project then the participants are parents. In that case, the genetic relationship would be irrelevant. In other states (New York is one) he’d be a parent because of the genetic relationship, and the insemination would be irrelevant. In some states (Kansas, I think?) it would depend on whether there was a written agreement. And I’m sure there are other variations–those are the ones at the top of my mind just now.

              Apart from the fact that any particular rule may strike you (and many others) as bizarre, the variation between rules is also really problematic. Many people have no idea how different the results could be depending on whether you move to another state.

              • I was basing my argument on the law of my country that I’ve read: a married couple or cohabiting couple (legally equal to married couples) that undergo ART together, both signing an agreement at the clinic, are to become legal parents no matter whose gametes are used. The unrelated social parent has no right ever to relinquish this parenthood and the donor has no right ever to claim the child. I guess I’d thought it was more or less like this everywhere. I had no idea there were so many crucial differences in laws between different states in the US. It must be hard to be a lawyer there, no?

                • Actually it means there’s a great deal of work for the lawyers. The unfortunate part is that too often the work is done after the fact–where people have acted in one way or another thinking they knew what the law was but for one reason or another it turns out that they were wrong. It turns out to be hard to predict which states are where on which issues. So for example, in NY (a generally liberal state) a sperm donor is a legal father unless the recipent of the sperm is married. In Washington (also a generally liberal state) a sperm donor is not a legal father, full stop.

                  What you’ve described is a sort of joint enterprise theory which I think is the law in the District of Columbia here in the US. It’s a workable system that gets away from using marriage as the standard. But it isn’t widely used here.

                • generally a lawyer who moves to a different state must re-apply for licensure in the new state. isn’t that so?

                  • Yes. And perhaps that’s sensible because the law varies a good deal state to state. I think the same is true for driver’s licenses for the same reason. But in general you do not have to remarry as you travel state to state (set aside the whole same-sex marriage thing.) And if you adopt a child in state one you are still a parent when you move to state two. This is true even if state two would not have allowe you to adopt the child.

                    I think it is pretty clear that if you have been legally determined to be a parent in litigation in state one then state two must recognized that determination. But if you have obtained parental rights by operation of state law without anything that looks like litigation–say because you are married to the mother–then you may not have parental rights when you move to another state.

                    All of which is to say that this is very complicated.

          • This is precisely the law that creates the unequal rights on the part of the offspring and in fact if you want to get persnikety about it would be why do donors get off so easy why not all guys? How come they get a break? Sounds like you are not too far off from thinking that yourself what with finding the method by which sperm fertilizes an egg to be a moot point, who cares that part is done and over.

            • Right–I would treat all gamete providers similarly, whether the egg was fertilized via intercourse or ART. So even though you don’t like my result (I wouldn’t give them parental status on this basis) you should at least give me points for consistency.

          • not so, julie- if the husband does not consent at the time of the insemination that he retains the right to challenge paternity.

      • I am genuinely asking this question now. By now you know I have no secret right wing lesbian disliking agenda or anything and that is important because I am going to ask would it really be that big of a deal if the men ya’ll get pregnant by had to do a right quick step parent adoption just so your kids could be on an even par with the rest of everyone else. So that you’d know for absolute certain that a real guy signed a consent form and that same real guy is related to the kid your raising so there is no chance it came from an unwitting patient ( because its so unregulated we have to do something drastic to make the clinics feel they could get caught stealing sperm and eggs) I mean if the donor really wants to be a donor then what’s the problem with him going to court? He’d have way fewer offspring for ya’ll to worry about your kids bumping into if he remained responsible for his own reproductive behavior and had to be accountable in court at least for each child produced. The off chance that a small number might change their minds…then those fellows would have changed their minds, its doubtful they would if they had signed up to be a donor I’m not talking about their best gay friend or their cousin’s husband. It seems like if you value consistency then be consistent and find a way to work within that framework to get what your looking for in a way that acknowledges the importance of being fair across the board. I hope that was respectful and I tried not to get into words that we’d define differently

        • I’m going to ignore the “even par” aspect of this because I disagree with the assumed premise (that the kids aren’t on an even par) but that’s really a side-track. I also am a little confused because i don’t think you mean that the sperm provider should do a step-parent adoption–that would make him a parent which is not what most lesbians want. So I’m going to assume that you mean something like the opposite. If I’m wrong about this then I’ll be way off base in my answer, but then I really do not understand the question and I need you to clarify.

          So I think you are asking why it would be a problem if the man who provided the sperm had to agree to a termination of parental rights (presumably after the birth of the child?)

          For some lesbian couples this probabaly would work out fine. They use a relative or a close friend or something like that–someone with whom they have a relationship of trust. They intend to have the man involved in the life of the child in one way or another. And they’d probably take this in stride.

          But there are other circumstances where I think there would be problems. First, for single women. In many states one parent cannot simply terminate rights in favor of the other. The state doesn’t like the idea of one parent only. So it might well be that the man couldn’t go to court and give up his rights. That means the woman wouldn’t be a single mother–which was what she wanted to be. (The state is hostile to the idea of one parent giving up rights in favor of the other for reasons similar to yours, by the way. It likes the idea that there are two potential sources out there.) Typically the man could only give up his rights if someone else was picking them up. With a single mother–no second parent, no end of his rights.

          Then there are lesbian couples who choose not to use a family member or friend or do not have one handy to use. They pick a provider–possibly an identity release provider–who will be distant from them. They do not want to have any relationship with him during the pregnancy or at the time of the birth of the child. They don’t have any established trust relationship. Under these circumstances I think asking them to trust the stranger to give up rights when the time comes is asking a great deal. (There are also logisitical questions–will he be around?) If he doesn’t think about what they are stuck with–one woman and that man will be legal parents. That would be potentially disasterous. Even a very small risk would be intolerable for lots of women.

          I’m finding it a little hard to see how this would actually work and in the practicalities of it there might be (from my point of view) more trouble. He’d have to actually know the women, right? I mean, wouldn’t they all have to end up in court together? Someone would have to be in touch with him to let him know about the pregnancy and about court stuff. And he’s clearly got the upper hand here–he can totally hang things up by saying “no” at the last minute. I think many women would see giving this stranger that kind of power over their future family as far too scary. Much better to just go to a bar one night and get pregnant or something like that. Which might be a whole lot less safe, in the end.

    • Have you considered that your child will have half the rights of other people when born? Not that this is your fault its just the way the law is currently. The law says people with offspring have to physically and financially support them but not donors. So while your child would be identically situated to a child whose father abandoned them, the other child would have a right to be raised and supported by their biological father if and when he was located whereas your child would have no such right. The state would actually work on behalf of the other child to find their biological father to hold him responsible, they’d force any number of suspected fathers to take paternity tests in their hunt for the child’s father. They’d test the relatives of any man who refused to ake a paternity test all in the name of ensuring that the child’s right to be supported by its father was protected. Once positively identified the fathers name would be added to the child’s birth certificate, and even if he was lazy and worthless and never paid a dime of support, that child would be entitled to inherit from him when he dies. That child would be entitled to his death benefits if he died before they turned 18. That child would be aware of any brothers and sisters they might have from their father’s other partners so long as he had not had them in secret and abandoned them. That child would be entitled to have that accurate birth record that serves its proper function as a medical record for all three people the mother, father and child.

      Donors are just men no different than any other men but they are given a special exemption from having to take responsibility for their offspring, which in turn results in offspring that don’t have the same rights as everyone else and that is a horribly unfair position for our lawmakers to put those people in. They will have paternal relatives, just like everyone else but there will be no legal recognition of those relationships because their father’s name is not on their birth certificates. This turns brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins into legal strangers that can marry one another by accident or even deliberately if you want to get right down to it. And if they find their relatives on the donor sibling registry the relationship will not be legally recognized so that if, in the future one of their siblings should fall ill and they, as adults opt to care for their ailing sibling – that sibling won’t qualify as a dependent relative for their tax returns. Their siblings won’t qualify as siblings if they want to sponsor them to immigrate to the united states, their siblings will be treated as if they are not really siblings. If they get to know their father after they are 18 years old and he dies, as he surely will, they will not be entitled to any berevement leave, no time off to go to his funeral because, legally he is not their father.

      What you need to understand before you take this leap to donor conception is that your child’s reality will become fantasy and your fantasy will become their reality. For them truth will be fiction and fiction will be truth. And why? Why is it that they are entitled to less? Why is it that their genetic father does not have to take care of them when all other genetic fathers are made to? Why are they so much less valuable as individuals that they don’t deserve to be cared for by the men who reproduced to create them? Why is it that the very same men who reproduced to create them would be made to care for their other offspring? Because he was in love with the mother of those offspring at one point? Is that fair?

      If not being supported by the man who reproduced to create them is good enough for your kid and the other offspring of donors, why not have it be good enough for the offspring of people in general? Lets just get rid of the requirement for people to provide support to their biological offspring entirely. No more child support from men based on positive paternity tests. Lets just make it so that individuals only have to support children that they intended to be the parents of and that will be totally fair to every person born.

      There are websites that will hook you up with members of the opposite sex in your area who are looking to be parents as well but are not in a relationship with anyone nor do they want to be. You can find someone who actually wants to be a father so that you don’t have to force your child not to have one. You can find a way to make a child that will not only have all the rights as every other child but will be wanted by their father and his family to boot. You can work out reasonable living arrangements where you have total custody of your infant the way a mother should but as the baby gets older they can have the baby for visits and over nights and ultimately some kind of split living arrangement. You don’t even have to have sex with that person you go to the clinic with your own known donor so to speak only he gets named on the certificate and if he dies your kid gets his social security death benefits and his pension and all the rest.

      Be a thinking momma.

      • I think it is a little misleading to say that the child of a single mother has one half the rights. They have the same rights–the right to recognition/protection of the legal parent/child relationship. But there’s only one parent.

        Is that a disadvantage? It might depend. The child has only one person legally obliged to provide financial support, but if that person can do so, then it’s not a disadvantage. If the person cannot do so, then it might be a disadvantage, but it’s actually quite possible to have two legal parents and still find that there isn’t enough money to support the child. I’ll grant you that in general your odds of having adequate financial support are better with two parents than with one, but with women who are choosing to be single mothers I wonder if it is still true.

        If you set aside the money part (which frankly, I’m inclined to do because I think assigning parental rights in order to get access to money is a pretty bad idea), then can you say that having two legal parents instead of one is an advantage? It seems to me that this depends a great deal on the relatinship between the two parents. Two parents who work in harmony and are supportive etc. are great. Two parents who are locked in endless combat and (in my view) probably worse than one parent all on his/her own. Kid as ping-pong ball, you know? Indeed, there are some credible psychologists who say that from a child centered view, in the event of high conflict separations, one person should be awarded all control of the child. That does mean that the child could lose contact with the other parent, and that’s a loss, but the point these folks would make is that this loss is easier to deal with than the ongoing conflict. I’m not endorsing this view, but I want to use it to make the point that it isn’t necessarily an advantage to have two legal parents.

        • Malarkey. The rest of society can just have a legal mother and the State department of child services will go looking for the child’s father who does in fact exist and have a support obligation whether or not he has been officially recognized as a father yet legally. That is why when they find him they require him to start supporting the child from that day forward as well as in arrears. The state will look for fathers and test all sorts of men before allowing a child be put up for adoption. They terminate the automatic parental rights and obligations of the unidentified father in order for an adoption to go through. So Children have a right to the support of both biological parents even if they never receive any support at all they are entitled that right according to the UPA all children except those who are donor offspring. I’m talking about money because you have taught me there is nothing else worth talking about because its all so wishy washy and nebulous that every conversation ends with “its a matter of opinion” . Well I have found some concrete reasons why the practice is unfair to donor offspring, how they are mistreated under the law, how the law favors people who are not donor offspring with regard to what they can expect to receive from their biological parents. So you can’t skirt that. That’s not fair I play by your rules and get boxed into corners with my arguments all the time. So far this is the only argument you have not had a decent and logical response to and if this is your lab for testing legal push back on the theories your trying to advance I’d say the unequal distribution of rights is the only one you can’t sit there and say its all a matter of personal preference. Some people are entitled to biological parental support and others are not, some people get the benefit of a court approved adoption while others don’t. Why does one group deserve those things while the other group does not? Why?

          • You know, I really do try to respond to what you say without twisting things around, but you put a lot into very long paragraphs and so sometimes it is hard for me to pick the right thing to respond to.

            I see three comments here that look to me like they raise some overlapping issues. (Sorry if I’m getting that wrong.) The main point I see is the assertion that it isn’t fair that some children have the support two parents and some children have one parent. If I’m wrong on that then I’m going to go off in the wrong direction, so I’ll apologize right here. I’m not sure if by “support” you mean only financial support–last time I assumed you meant that more generally, but I think now that I might have been wrong.

            If the fairness issue is about the number of parents than maybe the place to start is that this might only apply to single parents? Lots of donor conceived kids do have the support (financial support) of two parents–be they mother and father or mother and mother. So should I be confining myself to single mothers? Is that right?

            In general about fairness I would say this: All children should have the same right to have the legal parent/child relationships on which they depend recognized and protected by the state. So, for instance, a child cannot just be removed from its home with adoptive parents or parent.

            But from my point of view, the thing to realize here is that this doesn’t tell you which people get to be legal parents. That’s a separate question–and it is my recurrent question. I am inclined to assert that the same rules for figuring out who is a legal parent should apply to all children–it’s that fairness thing. Having different rules for different sets of kids seems like it might be a fairness issue.

            So one possibility–one I think you would endorse–is that those people who are genetically related are the legal parents of the child. If you make that assumption then all the rest of what you say follows.

            But key to see is that I don’t have to make that assumption. And I generally do not make that assumption. I can use a different rule for identifying legal parents. I can use a rule that the people who function as social parents are legal parents. Then fairness demands that all those parent/child relationships be treated similiarly.

            I hope this does not seem evasive. I really am trying.

            • OK good so far thanks for trying.
              Firstly I am talking about individuals who are the offspring of non donors are protected in their legal right to physical and financial support by both genetically related parents. This is evidenced by the fact that the state will go looking for a child’s genetically related parents when none are named on any certificate of birth before allowing a minor to be adopted states are required by the Federal government to seek out the child’s parents and obtain their consent to the adoption. The state will test many people’s DNA if need be, in order to find the minor person’s parents to hold them accountable. Only after being satisfied that the search was sufficient will the court terminate the rights and obligations of the estranged parent in order to allow an abandoned child to be adopted. So there are very real parental rights and obligations that exist purely on the basis of having reproduced to create another living human being and those parental rights and obligations have to be terminated by the court BEFORE the abandoned child gets adopted. You seem to suggest that people with offspring are only obligated to the care of their offspring after they are recognized by the state as being legal parents ie having their names put on a birth certificate. That is completely untrue according to my State’s code and the Federal codes that require them to look for and test people’s dna or their relatives dna in order to identify a child’s parent and hold them accountable.

            • no its not about the number of parents its about the specific people who are the source of their existence having to support their offspring. It is not a numbers issue or female or male issue its a did-you-reproduce-or-didn’t-you issue. So that all people with offspring are held to an identical standard. Has nothing to do with a child having one or two sources for support its the particular person’s support that is the child originated from the body of the person obligated to protect them etc. The duty that goes with simply being a genetic parent.

        • Ah your twisting things again. Lets stay on topic. Whether or not having both biological parent’s support is an advantage or disadvantage is of little consequence here and neither is whether or not the biological parents get along. Why is it that some people are entitled to that support while others are not. What justification is there for not treating all offspring identically under the law? If you muse about the possible disadvantage of receiving physical and financial support from both biological parents then why not just scrap it as a right entirely. No more looking for genetic parents for child support period lets just have it so that biological parents never have an obligation to care for their young.

        • Tell me Julie where exactly is this statement misleading? “And if they find their relatives on the donor sibling registry the relationship will not be legally recognized so that if, in the future one of their siblings should fall ill and they, as adults opt to care for their ailing sibling – that sibling won’t qualify as a dependent relative for their tax returns. Their siblings won’t qualify as siblings if they want to sponsor them to immigrate to the united states, their siblings will be treated as if they are not really siblings. If they get to know their father after they are 18 years old and he dies, as he surely will, they will not be entitled to any berevement leave, no time off to go to his funeral because, legally he is not their father.” If she gets pregnant by a donor their child will not have the same rights as other people. Isn’t that true? Isn’t it? Isn’t your only retort here that the rights they miss out on are not all they’re cracked up to be anyway? The rights they won’t have they won’t even miss? That’s your whole response to the unequal rights situation, that civil rights and equal treatment is really not important to these people not the way it is to blacks or gays and lesbians or immigrants or women. Those people’s civil rights were important and they deserved equality. These people don’t deserve equality because then a lot of people would not get to buy and sell them and call them their children and boo hoo call them a whaaambulance.

  8. Julie said: “I’m not comfortable with your generalizations about what is expected of the child to the extent that increasingly numbers of people do choose gamete providers who can be known to the child.”

    Sorry Julie – I am lost here – I was not speaking about known or unknown – or one parent only vs two parents.

    Rather just on how if you chose to use your own sperm/egg and a “donor” but then want to say that the “donor” genetic connection doesn’t matter for the child. Combined with parent(s) always wanting the very best for their child (stand alone statement). Combined with there will always be a better speciment out there (brains of Einstein, Physical attributes of whoever, etc) then if you weren’t concerned with having a genetic connection with your child you would altrusitcally choose to forego your contribution (BIC) and use another, better genetic contributor (as you rightly state you are going to go through the profiles and make that choice on the “donor” for specific characteristics.

    To me, that would then be called hyprocrisy wanting at least the genetic connection from one parent / if you intend to deny the need for the genetic connection to the donor, by the child.

    I am not speaking to an individual case or that all cases are like that. I am just looking at viewing it from the flip side of what might be felt. I think perhaps I am not able to properly explain my thoughts so will just leave it at that. I certainly meant no offense.

    • Bother–I wrote an response to this and now it has vanished. Sorry. Or maybe I put it somewhere else. Same difference, I’m afraid.

      Anyway, no offense taken. I just mistook your point–my apologies. I think there is, as you describe, an internal tension between caring about genetic connection and not caring about it.

      But I also do think that many (and increasing numbers, I believe) parents of donor conceived children do understand that the donor could be an important person to the child. They would not describe him/her as a parent, however. isn’t this why people selection open identity donors–because they anticipate that the child may desire a relationship of some sort and they want to facilitate it? Thus those people might be thinking that genetics could be an important element of identity but isn’t the defining feature of parenthood. That (in my view, anyway) isn’t inconsistent or hypocritcal.

      • That is exactly why I would only use an open identity donor. I believe it is important for children to know where the came from and have the possibility of a relationship of some kind with both of their biological parents – but it doesn’t always have to be a day to day parenting relationship (though I believe that the parent should have the first right to that relationship, and shoud have to sign it awy to lose it).

        • Rebecca you said you believe the parent [who is the genetic source of the child(?)] should have the first right to that relationship and should have to sign away to loose it and I agree. Do you think that the parent [who is the genetic source of the child] should have to have their name recorded formally on their offspring’s birth record and then sign away their obligation only with court approval as is done with all other genetic parent child relationships or do you believe that there should be some special exception in the case of genetic parents who would prefer not to have to get court approval for not taking care of their offspring?

          If you think there should be a special case for certain genetic parents to not need court approval in order to not take care of their offspring then do you think its unnecessary across the board? Why is having court approval beneficial for the offspring of other genetic parents who will become the charge of other legal guardians or foster parents, or adoptive parents and legal custodians. Do you think we should just handle relinquishing parental obligations entirely off line and privately?

          • That is actually not the case for all genetic parents right now though. Right now, generally, a biological mother must sign away parental rights before an adoption. If she is married, so must her husband, unless he’s already been judicially determined to not be the father. But in many states the biological father doesn’t have to sign away his rights if paternity is never established. It varies as to what the time limits for establishing it are if the father DOES want the child, but if he doesn’t want the child he can choose never to act and the adoption will just go through without him actually doing anything.

            Personally I’d be fine with the sperm donor/biological father’s name on the birth certificate, but that may be because I’m single and because I want the child to be able to know who the biological father is.

            • Actually with an unmarried female states are required to seek out the father and then they terminate his rights if they can’t find him. Not that I agree with that because I think if they cannot find him to get his consent then they should not allow the adoption to go through or if they do it should have to be canceled if he ever surfaces and raises an objection. You know I have helped quite a few men who were off fighting in that ridiculous vietnam war when their girlfriends got married and listed their new boyfriends and husbands as the fathers on their children’s birth certificates. What a wretched law that is right? I mean how dare we just terminate the legal relationship between a father and his children just because we cannot locate him? How do you think they felt when they returned home and had no right to see their children? They were ready to provide support ready and they had to wait all those years 30 and 40 years to hold their kids in their arms and to have their children bear their name the way they were suppose to have from day 1. day 1. My friend’s mother’s ought to be ashamed of themselves for what they did. Its almost unforgivable.

              I’ll go get you some code clips Rebecca so you can see. At the very least it is required that they seek the father out and get his permission there is just a stupid stupid time limit on it. Anyway there is no such thing for donors which is just cruel to the children of those men. Don’t they deserve that same protection as children in adoption?

              • Except, apparently, in states like Arkansas–remember that adoption case we just discussed? The man had no rights there (at least until the appellate court reversed things. And there was that earlier case from Utah. When adoption is in the works, unmarried men are sometimes not considered to be legal fathers unless they have taken specified steps by a specified time.

                Now it does all change if we want them to pay support, that does change things. And this is one of the reasons you can really fault the law in this area, I think. Having different standards depending on whether there are too many candidates for parenthood (the adoption situation) vs. too few candidates (the support problem) seems problematic.

              • there is a big difference; generally the mother who conceived via sex knows who the father is or at least can limit his ID to a small number of candidates. if the father was an anonymous donor there is absolutely no clue who he was; he could be any type of alcoholic or pedophile; so I wouldn’t say to contact him just like that. Could make more problems.

                • It’s funny–my instinct is to reverse your categories. The guy you meet in a bar and know nothing about could be anything or anyone. Most sperm banks do in fact screen sperm donors at least to ensure that they do not have sexually transmitted diseases and truly, a good deal more than that.

            • As you say, the legal status of the unmarried biological father varies immensely state to state. In some states he may be a legal father (and hence has rights) and in other states he may not be. Only recently have I actually appreciated that unmarried women might elect to give birth in a particular state in order to take advantage of its law. You can read a little about that here: It’s the worst of forum shopping, in my view.

              Even parentage for married men may be treated differently state to state. In some states the husband and wife acting together can claim parentage against all comers while in others a man with a biological link who is not the husband can claim parentage even if the husband and wife both object and still others it’s really up to the wife. (There are links to this array of cases under “marriage” I think, or you could search “marital presumption” or something like that.)

              • Yes, the Utah forum shopping is outrageous. I’d like to see it become easier for a man who wants to claim parental rights to do so. But either way, as I pointed out and you agreed, you can’t say it’s the case right now that all biological parents except sperm and egg donors must formally sign away their rights in a court.

                • I’m a little worried about the double negative here so let me just restate this to make sure we really do agree? I think I’m going to put it slightly differently, but hopefully it will come out to the same place.

                  Legal parents must sign away their rights before a child can be taken from them (unless there are court proceedings terminating those rights against their wishes.) Not all biological parents are legal parents. People who provide gametes for ART may be biological parents but not legal parents. (Depends on the circumstances and that state.) But there are other circumstances, too, where a biological parent may not be a legal parent. (See, Utah, Arkansas if you don’t get the right things done in time, etc.) So not all biological parents have to formally sign away parental rights–because not all biological parents have parental rights to sign away.

                  How’s that? I know it is much longer and I put in a lot of context.

                  • Yep. Marilyn was saying all bio parents have to sign away rights formally in court so ONLY sperm/egg donors were different. I said this was not the case and you agreed with me.

                    I’d actually say sperm/egg donors have to do MORE than some states would require of a bio dad in an adoption situation – they must sign something when the donation is made, I assume?

                  • and that is not to say I AGREE with how things are in Utah or other states that make it very difficult for the biological father to stop the adoption even when he is willing to take custody from the time the child is born, because I very much disagree with those laws, particularly when applied in cases where the biological parents lived in another state and the mom forum shopped to get rid of the dad. But if it’s one of the states where the dad has to be sent notice, he gets notice, chooses not to act – I havc no problem with the laws that say that at that point his rights can be terminated without him signing.

                  • I am going to go to the family code website of every state in the nation and I am going to hand pluck their statements on having to terminate the parental rights of an unknown or unidentified father in order for an adoption to proceed as well as the portions of the code that say that when a previously unidentified father is determined to be the father through DNA testing his name gets added to the certificate and he is required to then take care of the child going forward and backwards to the time of birth because he was always the child’s father based on nothing more than DNA and if that child were to be given up for adoption his rights even when nobody knows who he is have to be terminated. Ya’ll are being real reluctant to aknowlege some pretty basic clear cut facts. I’ll be back with more famiily code. Do stand by ladies.
                    California Family Code “7665. If, after the inquiry, the court is unable to identify the natural father or any possible natural father and no person has appeared claiming to be the natural father and claiming custodial rights, the court shall enter an order terminating the unknown natural father’s parental rights with reference to the child.”

                  • I don’t think we’re talking about facts here–we’re talking about law right? And the truth is that the law varies tremendously. It’s clear in Utah, for instance, that there are men who are biological fathers of children born to unmarried women who are not treated as legal fathers–they cannot object to an adoption.

                    I think that’s all I mean to say–that sometimes even for unmarried men who did not provider sperm from ART, biology does not give them status as a legal parent. Sometimes, of course, it does.

                    But maybe I’ve lost track of the subject?

                  • Yup Utah has it too. They have to determine the child to have been abandoned then terminate the rights of the abandoning parents. In fact they are required to which I think Sux because they have not actually talked to anyone they don’t know for sure the kid was not kidnapped by the mother.78A, Chapter 6, Juvenile Court Act of 1996, the division shall file a petition for termination of parental rights with regard to:
                    (a) an abandoned infant;
                    Ok and that out of state thing – they’ll recognize him if he complies with their little hoops which sucks but they do give him a chance they know who he is they just unfairly lock up shop on him in short order78B-6-122.5. Effect of out-of-state paternity adjudication, declaration, or acknowledgment.
                    Unless a person who is an unmarried biological father has fully and strictly complied with the requirements of Sections 78B-6-120 through 78B-6-122, an out-of-state order that adjudicates paternity, or an out-of-state declaration or acknowledgment of paternity:
                    (1) only has the effect of establishing that the person is an unmarried biological father of the child to whom the order, declaration, or acknowledgment relates; and
                    (2) does not entitle the person to:
                    (a) notice of any judicial proceeding related to the adoption of the child;
                    (b) the right to consent, or refuse to consent, to the adoption of the child; or
                    (c) the right to custody of, control over, or visitation with the child.
                    Enacted by Chapter 237, 2010 General Session
                    Download Code Section Zipped WordPerfect 78B06_012205.ZIP 2,012 Bytes

                    Believe me he would have been ordered to pay support in Utah or any other state had she kept the baby and if they could not find him his obligations would not have been terminated. He would have been ordered to pay.

                  • There may be two reasons why we seem to be banging on opposite sides of a brick wall. First, the law often does treat cases where there are too few father candidates different from those where there are too many. Where there are too few and they want to find someone to be obliged to support a child, biology is often trotted out because after all, there’s always someone who is biologically related. I think you’re finding the too few laws. That’s fine, but it doesn’t actually address the question of whether there are sometimes instances where biology isn’t enough even where an unmarried woman gives birth. Since that’s the point I’m trying to make, I’m looking at the too many cases–because there biology does fail sometimes.

                    Second, when we look at the same cases–the Utah too many father case, say–I see it as one where because he hadn’t jumped through the right hoops (as you say) his biological connection didn’t get him legal status. Thus, I look at it and say–“biology alone not enough.” YOu look at the same thing and say “biology enough if you jump through hoops, but he didn’t.” I’d agree with that statement (and if I have misassigned it to you, I apologize) but it seems to me that mine is equally accurate.

                    So I come back to this: You can be the biological father of a child born to an unmarried woman and you can have no legal status as a parent. That is possible and I think the Utah case shows that. All the circumstances you point to show that it is also possible that the biological father can be recognized as the legal father of a child born to an unmarried woman. It depends on where you are and what the specific facts are. Can we agree to that? And really–I’ve completely fogotten why we care. Sorry. It’s late.

  9. Julie said: “But I also do think that many (and increasing numbers, I believe) parents of donor conceived children do understand that the donor could be an important person to the child. They would not describe him/her as a parent, however. isn’t this why people selection open identity donors–because they anticipate that the child may desire a relationship of some sort and they want to facilitate it? Thus those people might be thinking that genetics could be an important element of identity but isn’t the defining feature of parenthood. That (in my view, anyway) isn’t inconsistent or hypocritcal.”

    Absolutely agree…that would NOT fall under my definition of hyprocritcal.

    Your last part of the paragraph I just wanted to comment on. Your statement re parenthood vs genetic connection isn’t wrong. My comment is simply that from the parent perspective that is completely logical and likely when broken down it is how the child/adult sees it as well. Yet at the same time from the time that child/adult understood – they likely, even if secretly viewed the donor as a mother or father (because that is the biological role played), yet also clearly understood the distinct difference between the roles each set/partial set actively played. Different sides of the same fence – different terms – same definitions. I have mom and dad (terms of endearment are clearly identifiable and indicates the roles they play in my life) and a mother and father (terms which clearly identify the biological role they play in my life)…just ramblings…

    • Your last comments make me think about the ways in which people work out their own terminology to make the distinctions that are important in their lives. In a perfect world there might be uniformity in how people come to use those terms, and over time perhaps there is. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet in this field. Sometimes that might lead to miscommunication. I wonder how common specific usages are within communities?

      Early on, when lesbians began having planned families, there was a very conscious effort to stop using the word “father” to describe the gamete provider, whether the person was known or unknown. This was in part understood as a survival strategy, I think. Women were trying to create two-mother families and the insistence that there had to be a man–a father–stood in their way. There must have been a million conversations that began “No, he’s not the father, he’s not a parent, he’s a donor, we are the parents……”) I think women who chose to become sole parents faced the same issues and also insisted on eschewing the language of “father” and “parent.”

      I guess I’m just rambling, too, as you put me in mind of terminologies of an earlier age. Maybe the points are still valid, but what strikes me off-hand is that there is a much wider range of terminology in use. And perhaps less consensus about what it all means. It certainly makes life interesting.

      • Obviously since I’m not planning to have this (hypothetical) child for a couple of more years my feelings could change – but right now I’m inclined to say I’d call the donor the “biological father.” But since I’d be single, there’d be no competing social father. And I would be using a donor the child could request contact info for.

        • In my experience the last twenty years have brought changes in the ways people think about these questions that I could never imagine. Certainly I have changed. So it’s terrific to start thinking about it now, but you are wise to suggest that your current feeling is an “inclination”–which demonstrates to me that you know it could change between now and the time that it all becomes less hypothetical.

  10. We might have problems simply because “parents” are biological and legal/social/intended/functioning roles simultaneously. How about having biological parents and legal custodians/guardians/caretakers/whatever officially? These will often overlap, but not always. The birth certificate will have the bio parents’ names, but we’d have another document to show who the legal custodians are that every child would show in official settings, whether she was adopted, donor conceived, or the child of two married opposite-sex parents.

  11. I like ramblings…

    Julie said; “There must have been a million conversations that began “No, he’s not the father, he’s not a parent, he’s a donor, we are the parents……”) I think women who chose to become sole parents faced the same issues and also insisted on eschewing the language of “father” and “parent.””

    I believe you are correct in that is the same struggle AP’s have had, to become recognised as the “real” parents. It is understandable and at least in the beginning necessary to ensure they feel / embrace / become the parents. That struggle still exists to fairly large degree in adoption, at least early in the process, but with openness it has become more fluid and with their comfort level of being the mom and dad grows. It’s interesting to watch it unfold. From the one in the middles perspective – it has always been the reality and so accepted as the child’s normal family structure and the less awkwardness has to be better for the child.

    I do understand for the clarity the reason you really try to stick to specific designations here.


    Pronoia said: “We might have problems simply because “parents” are biological and legal/social/intended/functioning roles simultaneously. How about having biological parents and legal custodians/guardians/caretakers/whatever officially?”

    Some do advocate for that – to me that just would never work because there would always be conflict both at the parent level and child level – even if just unconsciously because with guardianship the courts could sever the relationship so the relationship is built on an unstable foundation.

    I doubt I would have ever felt secure in my family is dad was Mr. guardian and mom was Mrs. guardian. That would seem bizarre especially in real life – wait let me go ask my guardian if it is okay. It would set me apart from my peers as visibly different and without a mom and dad or mom and mom etc which is now common.

    As to the birth certificate – there should be all parents listed and the short form for ID purposes would only show the legal parent(s).

    • I understand your points – I meant that the term could be applied just legally, and for ALL biological or social parents who legally have custody over the child.

      The laws and official documents and passports and whatnot would refer to a child’s “custodians” – and for the majority of children these would be the biological parents. Every child would have two separate documents – a birth certificate factually recording the birth and the biological parents, and a document stating the child’s legal custodians – and for the majority of children these would be the same, I presume. There would be no discrimination – every child would legally have (a) custodian(s) who may or may not be her biological parents.

      And, of course, inside the family, family members can call each other whatever they choose. My daughter doesn’t call my husband “Dad”, although he is her bio father – she calls him by his name. We’ve no idea why, but it’s cute, so that’s his appellation in our family.

      • I guess I believe a lot of the strife comes from families who do not conform to the “married biological parents with children” model trying incredibly hard to prove they DO conform in some way. Believe it or not, I’m not conservative at all. I don’t feel they should. There should be more openness, not less. I guess “custodian(s) + child” is a legal family model that all families, bio families included, would conform to without even having to try. So they could just be themselves.

        • And no one would have to insist they were the “parents” of the child in order to feel like they have the right to actually take care of the child. “Parents” would be a biological fact, a DNA link that may or may not imply more than that. “Custodians” would be the term referring to legal rights. Some parents would be custodians. Some custodians would be parents.

          • So here I think I disagree, because (as I just wrote in a comment that will show up somewhere) to say you are a parent is to invoke a singularly privileged status. If you have parents and guardians, guardians are second-class citizens in the eyes of the citizenry–just as those domestically partnered are not quite as good as those who are married.

            I’m not saying one couldn’t set up a system like what you are talking about. But if you want to treat all people who are legally responsible for raising children equally then I don’t think you can only a subset of them parents. You could call everyone in the role a parent and then have a separate category–“Progenitor”, say. Then some parents would be progenitors, but not all would. And some children would have non-parent progenitors, but all children would have progenitors.

            • Because people have different definitions of the word “parent” and it does seem to carry strong emotional importance, perhaps it should be obliterated in legal/official discourse altogether. Perhaps we – and the law – could talk about “progenitors” and “custodians”, and reserve the term “parents” for unofficial, domestic use. Some progenitors are also custodians. Some custodians are also progenitors. All are parents in the home, if this works for all involved, and the children can of course call them “mom” and/or “dad”.

              • At the beginning of this blog I tried hard to be much more specific and careful with language because it is so loaded with meaning I think it sometimes impedes communication. (There’s irony for you.) I found I really couldn’t keep it up. It’s hard to keep using technical terms and so “parent” kept sliding back in with all its little modifiers (biological, social, genetic, adoptive, functional and so on.) Now I worry that I’m sometimes sloppy and inconsistent–but it seems to work just as well.

                Maybe I should try again to use terms like progenitors and custodians and see if it helps. I’ll mull.

      • I like this plan all minors would have custodians and some would be parents the others would not. Lots of legal parents don’t have the authority to make decisions on behalf of their children but they are none the less legal parents and their birth record is not adjusted to reflect the fact they have no parental authority. My brother by another mother is on his daughter’s bc as father but he’s just now 9 years later begining to have supervised visits and pay support. .

    • Its hard for me to disagree with an adopted person because you clearly know what life is like to be adopted and I do not. So may I ask you a question about your assertion that a person’s long form certificate should list the parents who reproduced to create them while a short form should list only a person’s legal parents?

      The short form certificate is the one a person can obtain for themselves by walking in to the local registrar’s office and paying the $12 fee. This is also the form of certificate that can be obtained for the same $12 fee by the person’s adoptive parents. Most people have never seen a copy of their long form certificates with all the maternal and paternal family medical and education and economic data that was recorded about the couple who reproduced to create them at the time of their birth:
      Your long form birth certificate already names as your parents, the couple who reproduced to create you; the long form is suppose to name biological parents because the long form information is used as the basis for medical research into genetic birth defects etc. Everyone’s long form genetic birth records go to the federal government. They are only inaccurate when the people listed lie about their relationship to the child either by paternity fraud, maternity fraud and other forms of black market adoption.

      The short form is suppose to reflect the information on the long form. When a person is adopted and a new short form is issued with their adoptive parent’s names the short form does not reflect the long form certificate information anymore. The information on the short form implies the information on it is valid for the purpose of collecting vital statistics of the parents named and their offspring but that is not the case, the certificate is a fake, that information was not sent to the CDC. So currently the short form will list only the legal parents but its a fake birth certificate. How is what you propose any different and would the adoptee at least have access at all times to the long form certificate which they don’t currently here in the US.

    • There are these words that have great power in our culture. Marriage is one of them. In states where domestic partnership provides all the legal protections and obligations of marriage, same sex couples still want access to the institution with that name. And many people are deeply opposed to that access even though they agree on the rights issue. The term itself has value. Saying “we’re married” is different from saying “We’re domestically partnered” (or however you’d formulate it.

      I bring this up because I think “parent” is the same thing. Even though we have very different ideas about exactly what parents should do or who they should be, to have the right to call yourself that is really important to many people. For instance, many people would assert that the Constitution in some way protects parental rights even though there’s not a word about any such thing in the text of the Constitution. That’s because the idea is and has been so important, you can assert that it goes without saying, as it were. Even fairly conservative judges would say that the state cannot just take a child away from a parent without having some pretty good reason–and that’s because to be a parent is to be protected–even if we’re not sure who gets to be a parent or how they do it.

      On the first point you make–the struggle to be accepted. There’s something ironic lurking in there somewhere. If adopted parents and parents of donor conceived children feel more secure (which means less threatened), then they can be more open. I think they are more likely to allow/encourage their child to explore the issues around genetic parents, perhaps to meet them and forge relationships with them under these circumstances. But at least some of the ways in which some people argue for the importance of the genetic parents actually threaten the adoptive parents or the parents of donor conceived children. Threatening the non-genetically related parents (I’m looking for a category term for them) will hae precisely the opposite of the desired effect–it will make them more likely to choose a path of secrecy and isolation. Which I think is not good.

      I think this happens if you attempt to elevate the importance of the genetically related people by diminishing the importance of the operational parents. It’s surely possible to emphasize the importance of the genetically related people without running down the operational parents–as you among others have done. It’s both/and rather than either/or. I’m coming to think that difference of approach is very important if we (collectively) are going to move forward on these issues.

      • If there were a way to use a known from the start donor without the possibility he’d be able to receive parental rights and custody rights, I honestly would do it. And if I were married, that would be possible in many states were the husband’s legal paternity of a child conceived through an artificial insemination he consented to cannot be legally challenged. But since I’ll be single, I’d worry that person would be able to go to court and receive parental rights if he changed his mind – courts don’t like voluntary TPRs that leave the child with one legal parent. And ideally I’d love a situation where I had full legal custody and was the only legally recognized parent and, if I could find the right person for this, the donor would have a relationship similar to that of an uncle – someone who sees the child frequently, takes them for fun outings and sleepovers, but isn’t a legal parent. But since I do not believe that would be legally enforceable in the case of a single parent, I’ll be using a donor whose identity the child must request instead and then it’s up to the child to contact them if they choose.

        • In some states a donor, whether known or not, does not have legal parental rights. And a donor is a man who provides sperm for ART, ART being anything that isn’t intercourse. So under Washington law if a man donates sperm for the insemination of a woman not his wife he is a donor and he is not a legal parent. It doesn’t matter what their relationship is as long as they aren’t married. Washington isn’t alone in this–it’s taken from the text of the 2002 version of the Uniform Parentage Act.

          By the same token this won’t work in a number of other states. New York, for instance. Massachusetts, too. A known donor there is a legal father.

          Which is why people really need to check in with a good local lawyer before they go down one of these paths. And of course, it is always best to make sure all the people involved are on the same page. What I mean is, even if the law doesn’t require an agreement between the man and the woman (and Washington law doesn’t), it’s always good to talk it over and find common ground before you start out on such a long and unpredictable road.

          • After looking it up, it appears a known sperm donor is a legal parent where I live unless the woman is married. So, it seems my original plan is the best option here (open ID donor).

            • I do not want to be seen as giving anything like specific legal advice, but I feel compelled to say that before you act on any of this (and I know it is somewhere in your future) you should take the time to sit down with a good lawyer. (Lots of ways to find those, actually. But do try to find someone who has a strong reputation in this area of law.) In general, in states where sperm donor’s are considered to be legal fathers some people will choose truly anonymous providers so that there is no risk of the man asserting rights. Open ID donors could potentially do this, I would think. So be careful and do consult.

              • From what I was reading (at least of the program at one sperm bank), the only person who can obtain the donor’s identity is the child and the child has to be 18 to make the request, and the information cannot legally be released to anyone else. Is that not enforceable in certain states?

  12. Marilyn – in reply to your post above.

    I suggested this simply as my thoughts have evolved to include these points:
    1. All birth certificates are now computer generated.
    2. The legal parent wants that recognition that comes with receiving the BC. That BC seems to be an integral part of claiming necessary for many AP’s.
    3. A way to not have to have an OBC and an ABC (simply because what child would order a long-form and what state would allow them to do so).
    4. A way to prove your citizenship for passport applications that an adult adoptee with an ABC dated more than a year after birth cannot prove.

    Your normal day to day short form is what is needed for registrations etc that is simply an addition to your BC. Your long form would show both your legal parents/your name and your genetic parents/your name (and if you weren’t adopted/DC or the parents had their rights terminated it would be identical in both places) and all the other stuff it shows. Due to the computer generated aspect where which form selected for printing it would then only draw info from those boxes, there would never need to be two birth certificates. It is very basic computer programming.

    As to whether or not anyone ever orders their long form BC or knows of it’s existence? Just like I can’t ensure people who buy a “steak” at the grocery store actually know it is from a “cow” who was slaughtered, so they could eat steak – I can’t ensure people are smart enough to know about the long form birth certificate. People are as smart or as ignorant as the chose to be.

  13. I’ve always found it very simple to explain. The use of third party gametes is an idea created to serve medically infertile couples. It’s ugly, and imperfect, but you can at least sympathize with them when the plumbing doesn’t work as it should.

    Single women and lesbians are abusing a system created for the sick, not the anti-social.

    PS: Marilynn, Marty sends his love and thanks.

    • Marty! Where is he? He’s a doll. Where has he been? Thanks fer what? Ah I’m gullible. He’s sharp as a tack that guy. Miss seeing him around. Well send mine in return if you don’t mind.

    • You’re welcome to send regards and all that, but in the future please try to make your comments a bit more substantive and reflective. The second to last sentence is hardly likely to spur serious discussion–it’s more likely (and I wonder if calculated) to give offense. If you look around a bit you’ll see that we all (I think) work hard here to keep things civil even when we disagree.

  14. Point noted. How’s this?

    Some single women and lesbians are misusing a system created to treat medical sub-fertility in reproductively “complete” couples.

    Seems to me such treatments should require a prescription from a doctor, and address a real medical problem. At least. Otherwise, it’s more akin to cosmetic surgery…

    • Thanks–I appreciate the effort.

      Infertility for heterosexual couples is often a medical problem, but often the precise nature of the problem cannot be identified. As I understand it, one of the most frustrating things about infertility is that often there seems to me know medically identifiable reason why people are unable to conceive. The diagnosis, as I recall, can be based on not getting pregnant after a certain amount of time.

      But sometimes infertility in heterosexual couples can be specifically diagnosed and tied to some concrete condition. And sometimes the condition can be treated. In other words, I think there are what we would all recognize as medical treatments for infertility.

      I’m not sure using sperm from a third-party counts as what I’d call a medical treatment. It’s a work-around–a way of compensating for some deficiency, known or not. And in that sense it seems to me it is rather the same for a single woman or a lesbian couple. It’s a work-around for them, too. It gets them to the place they want to get. But I am not sure in any of these cases I’d describe it as a treatment for infertility.

      It seems to me that you are starting from a perspective that reproductively complete couples (by which I take it you mean male/female couples) are entitled to concieve children so that their failure to do so should register as a legitimate issue while single women and same sex couples aren’t so entitled and so the fact that they cannot isn’t a problem–and thus doesn’t require treatment. I think that’s a perspective one can take but it isn’t one I share.

    • Medical treatment of infertility treats a person’s infertility so that the person is then able to procreate with their partner.

      Someone else’s gametes are not really treatment for infertility. A person whose partner is unable to procreate with them merely procreates with another person instead (Julie will disagree :), but I do see ART as non-sexual reproduction between two persons, whatever their relationship may be).

      There is little difference between a homosexual and heterosexual couple using donor gametes – except the fact that the intended unrelated parent is of the same sex as the donor.

      • I’m not going to get hung up here on the procreation/reproduction language. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I think about all that and also I’m not yet persuaded it’s an important point of disagreement. I agree with your conclusion, though. And the way you have framed it leads me to think a little differently about using third-party gametes to treat infertility. If you have a male/female couple and the man produces no sperm than using gametes from a different man doesn’t treat his infertility in any way at all. He’s exactly as infertile as he was. It does solve the fertile partner’s problem–by getting her sperm from another source. And perhaps it gets the couple where they want to do–parenthood. But describing it as a treatment for male infertility seems misleading to me.

  15. “it seems to me it is rather the same for a single woman or a lesbian couple”

    Except that we KNOW what their deficiency is… it’s the second-party. We’re sitting here talking about a “third party” but he’s actually the SECOND party, when we’re talk about single women and lesbians*.

    Yeah that makes a lot more sense now, thanks.

    * I’ll clarify my shorthand here to mean women who are not /trying/ to get pregnant with a man, and therefore ostensibly have no medical fertility issue. Other than the lack of a suitable gent.

    • It’s true that we know that the problem is the absence of a man from the equation (though of course there could be other problems as well.) But I’m not sure why it matters that we know this. We know what the problem is, we know how to fix it (use third-party sperm, I mean), and we allow other people to use that fix, so why not these people?

      I think there actually are a variety or arguments you can make for why we’d allow some people to use third-party sperm (Heterosexual couples generally? Married heterosexual couples? Heterosexual couples who can document some for of infertility?) and not others (single women/same-sex couples?). Maybe that has to do with who is deserving in some way. For me, the bottom line is that these aren’t arguments I’m willing to make. But they may well be arguments–or there may be an argument in there somewhere–that you’d make and certainly others do make them, so they are worth talking about.

      And now a too-long digression about terminology: The second party/third party lingo, it’s something I came up with a while back. I mean it to cover situations where people use gametes from a person who is not intended to play any sort of parental role with the child. In the case of a couple using gametes from someone else, that person is the third-party as the first and second parties are (in my counting) the people who are intended to be parents. The terminology fits the single parent a bit less well because there is no second party, but I’ve used it for consistency.

      There’s an analogy to other uses of the term “third-party” elsewhere in law, too. In a conventional lawsuit you have plaintiffs vs. defendants and additional people who the defendants drags in are called third-parties even if you started with more than three original parties.

      My sense is that you want to call the sperm provider a second party because he is the second person providing gametes? You could certainly build a conversation around that usage but I don’t want to shift gears at this point. Also I want to emphasize the relationship of the person to legal parentage not to genetics.

    • Women married to sterile men also lack a suitable agent. If you’re telling lesbian couples “just find a man who can get you pregnant” you can say the exact same thing to the wife of an infertile man.

      The only real difference is that married heterosexual couples will visually manage to “pass” as a biological family with more ease – which is not in and of itself a good thing. It can sometimes be a bad thing. Adoptive parents are now almost invariably open with their adoptive children. As are single moms by choice and homosexual couples. Concealment is too difficult in these cases. But heterosexual couples who use DC still choose not to tell at staggering rates – an estimate is 90%, but no one knows for sure. Why? Because they can get away with it.

      • I’m with you as far as you go, but I’d take it one step further. Heterosexual couples can get away with concealment AND they don’t want to tell. If they were eager to tell then they’d tell anyway, right? But they’re not comfortable or happy telling. This, I think, is where I want to tie into stigma/shame and all the rest. They don’t want to tell because they are ashamed or because they are afraid their children will be ostracized or whatever. And, as you have said, they have the choice not to tell where as for single women or lesbian couples it’s not really an option.

        This makes me want to think harder about what makes them not want to tell. It must be strong because isn’t it increasingly clear/widely stated that being honest is better? So whatever it is, it’s strong enough to overcome the advice they are getting.

        Partly I think this is bound up with our idea of masculinity (sp?) and fatherhood. If the essence of fatherhood is planting the seed-providing the sperm–then the men in these couples must be worried about being seen as frauds or imitators or inadequate. They’re not capable of doing the one main thing men have to do to be fathers–and maybe to be real men.

        This is one of the reasons I think it does men such a disservice to put such emphasis on the production of sperm and on the use of sperm in defining parenthood. It makes it that much harder for men to acknowledge that they cannot do it.

        I don’t think there are many comments on the blog from men who are unable to produce viable sperm. But I do often think about how it would feel to read some of the posts about how essential that genetic link is–and I think it is more true for fathers than for mothers.

        I’ll stop now, but I’m sure you can see my drift.

        • There must be a way to eliminate the stigma of male infertility (which I am strongly in favor of) without forcing those of us raised by (a) non-biologically connected parent(s) to censor ourselves and forbidding us (as society all too often does) to express the importance of the genetic link.

          Can we not encourage men in their struggle with infertility without silencing those who are expressing the complexities of living in a genetically unrelated family? Can we not encourage them to live the experience of raising another man’s biological child bravely and authentically (I like Marilynn’s expression) if this is the path they choose? For the sake of those children?

          • I did not mean to suggest that we should trade off one of these things for the other. I’m a great believer in the capacity of people to have complicated and interrelated sets of beliefs. I think there are things we could do to reduce the shame and stigma of male infertility and that this might have a number of beneficial consequences. At the same time we could encourage those planning to use ART to understand the special needs of the child they create. Perhaps you could tell people that raising a child conceived with third-party gametes is a life-long process, as with adoption and as with raising a child generally. You could reassure people that they are just as much legal and social parents as their contemporaries who are raising genetically related children–but that they need to provide their children with resources and support as they deal with the issue of the manner of their conception.

            I’m not sure telling them they are raising another man’s child is language that precisely does that. Indeed, it seems to me that saying “this is another man’s child” is counterproductive. But I’m hoping that this is a quibble in a larger picture. And ultimately I’m not happy about the state requiring that children be told specific things at specific ages–I think the parents, who know the child better than anyone, are in a far better position to choose the right time/place/manner.

            So I think there’s a lot of agreement here and I think it is rather a large process. But notice that all of this requires accepting and even almost embracing the use of third-party gametes. If you oppose the use of third-party gametes generally then the language you use in opposition is likely going to undermine the goals just discussed. (At least, that’s my thinking right now.)

  16. No, I think you’re conflating bio-medical issue with a social issue, and that would be wrong to do… Nobody chooses a bio-medical problem.

    • I’m not sure why choice matters here. And even if it does, were two women given the option they’d probably love to create a child using their only their own genetic material, but they don’t have a choice.

      It seems to me that you’re working on some sort of assumption that the man/woman couple having a child is natural and therefore more acceptable, even if the particular man/woman cannot naturally reproduce. By contrast a woman/woman couple having a child is unnatural and therefore unacceptable? It’s not a line of argument I endorse, but it seems like what you’re driving at. But don’t let me put words in your mouth.

      • Choice is central to what I’m ultimately driving at. Men simply don’t have them. Women hold ALL the reproductive cards in a stacked deck.

        Thanks for the discussion though, you’ve helped me clarifiy some ideas.

        • I think you’ve put your finger on something very important here. Men and women are differently situated. Figuring out how to work with those differences is endlessly difficult. I’m not sure I’d say that women hold all the cards, especially as I look around at all the efforts to control women’s exercise of control over their own fertility (restrictions on birth control and abortion).

    • When you’re using third-party gametes, no bio-medical issue is being addressed – only the social issue of a fertile person not interested in being in a partnership with a fertile person of the opposite sex in order to procreate together.

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