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.