Diblings?

While I’m on line I wanted to add a quick not about a thoughtful essay by Tamsin Eva over on the NYT Motherlode blog.   Eva is raising two donor-conceived children and used Donor Sibling Registry to locate other people who had used the same sperm provider she did.  Eva’s got her own blog and you’ll find a follow-up there that recounts something about the reaction to the blog post.

I think the essay pretty well speaks for itself but I wanted to offer two notes/reactions.   First, I’m reminded of how much individual responses and individual choices vary.  As Eva notes, she is heading into uncharted territory.   This isn’t easy, but it seems clear to me that she is trying to figure out how to do and then do the right things.

I think this is a common aspect of modern family life.  Not only are there countless family configurations, we don’t all respond to them in the same way.   “Dibling” is a useful word because donor siblings aren’t just siblings–they’re something different.   And what does it mean? We do not know–and it won’t mean the same thing to everyone anyway.

The second point really is an extension of the first one.  People like Eva really are feeling their way and trying to do the right thing.   It seems to me we ought to support them rather than hamper them.  Apparently (judging from her  blog post) not everyone thinks this is so.

And this is precisely where I worry about those who insist that DNA is the defining feature of parenthood.   If you take that view seriously can you be supportive of Eva and her crew?  Can you applaud her efforts to try and give her children a sense of shared lineage with their diblings?   Or is it all just wrong because these children won’t know their biological father?

I suppose what bothers me is that DNA-based parenthood makes things seem simple and clean and I don’t think that life is really like that.   I don’t know any more than Eva does where her family’s journey will take them, but I wish them luck and, given her willingness to be open and flexible, I think there’s an excellent chance that they’ve got a fine future ahead of them.

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17 responses to “Diblings?

  1. “People like Eva really are feeling their way and trying to do the right thing. ”
    Yeah, sure, now they sort of, maybe, kind of want to do the right thing but only AFTER they’ve done the wrong thing.

    You never did return to our discussion on ethical behavior as you promised.

    The attitude of many of these women is “Let them eat cake”, they are master and servant. They paid to have the father of their children be absent and that includes having the rest of his relatives be absent as well. Their children will be lucky if they explore the possibility of allowing contact with some of their siblings – but they’ll play it like they are leaving it up to the child to make that decision. So phony. They act like its some great gift to know who their father is 18 years after the kid is born so they will always be treated as an outsider in their own paternal families, how generous. Raising kids as only children when they are not only children is dangerous and selfish. People overestimate the power of the DSR I assure you. They’ll only know their siblings if they look and will only know those who post – they’ll never know ALL of them. And if they never know who the donor is it means they will never know all their cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents. Not knowing all their siblings will mean they wont know all their neices and nephews so their children will not know all of their cousins.

    There are not enough foundlings in the world for people who cannot have children of their own. Some want a complete foundling some just want a half foundling. ‘Oh why can’t I be knocked up by an A-hole that won’t give a damn about his kids’ or ‘why can’t two A-holes that don’t give a damn about their kid just leave their kid on my doorstep? – ‘just leave me enough information so that later if the child expresses interest in their genetic heritage I can appear sensitive and thoughtful.’

    • Just to clarify, are you concerned about this situation because of accidental incest (and not knowing the medical history of blood relations) or something else?

      • I’m concerned about it because it results in differential treatment under the law. Different rules for different people. Different classes of people with different rights. Lack of ongoing communication among family members about medical issues and the inability separate kin from genetic strangers when dating are just a couple of the disadvantages and indignities suffered by families when people are not named on their own offspring’s birth birth records. There are tons more. Nothing good ever comes of differential treatment.

        • I know we’ve talked about differential treatment before, but I’m not sure it’s clear how slippery this can be. The law makes distinctions between groups of people all the time–the hard part is figuring out which ones are problematic, which differences should matter for what purposes.

          Consider treatment of adoptive parents vs. legal parents who are genetically related to their offspring. You can say that these people form a single group–legal parents–and that we ought to treat all legal parents the same–any deviation would be problematic. But someone might come along and for some purposes might want to treat genetically related legal parents differently from genetically unrelated legal parents. Depending on the purposes it might make sense to do so–so maybe we’d let them. But it does depend on the purpose of the differential treatment and how it relates to genetic relatedness. If you said genetically related legal parent could enroll their kids in school but genetically unrelated parents couldn’t we’d see that as an equality problem.

          All I mean to do here is offer a reminder that the differential treatment arguments are not simple and that the devil typically lies in the details of how you articulate the specific concerns and arguments.

          • genetically unrelated parents are allowed to enroll children in their charge in school. Step parents are allowed to enroll their step children in school. Legal guardians are allowed to enroll those they guard in school.

      • Why do ask that? I hope you weren’t going to say that it’s because accidental incest can be avoided with simple tests before they have children. That’s a little too late in the relationship to find out you are siblings, first of all, and it would set up a situation where the lab would say, well, if you use a sperm donor then it won’t be incest, so no problemo. And we shouldn’t be expecting everyone to get genetic tests before they have children, I know the techno-progressive eugenicists and transhumanists all think that breeders should be sterilized and subjected to fitness tests before being allowed to breed, but they’re a minority, and they’re crazy.

      • John brings up a good point about the accidental incest thing; I too have read where people think it can all be avoided because they can test before they get married. By the time your ready to go to the alter, even if you are by some miracle still a virgin you’ve likely been pretty intimate with them. Which is generally not something people want to do with their siblings or their cousins or their aunts uncles nieces nephews or parents even grandparents. Most people believe that they could tell the difference between a 1st-3rd degree relative and a total stranger even when drunk in a dimly lit night club.

      • I’m sorry Kali those questions just crack me up because I have the sense you might have some ideas for managing that kind of collateral damage so that fewer people are impacted or that the losses are generally minor enough not to cause anyone any significant distress. Julie and I have gone round and round once before when she made a play for this sort of summit where there would be this open exchange of ideas so that both sides could meet in the middle to essentially find a way to make being treated as a second class citizen more tolerable so that the practice could continue unchecked. She ended up dropping that conversation and promising to return to it. She may seriously return to the topic or she may have figured that approach has some pretty big holes in it and simply moved on to others arguments she finds more effective. Any attempts to offset losses in order to continue the practice can’t ever be taken seriously because the response will always be that it is not necessary to place individuals in that compromised position to begin with it serves them no purpose. Excluding people from their genetic families does not serve any purpose its not necessary therefore there is no need to find an alternative to simply being a legally recognized member of their own family. Why would it be within anyone’s purview to tamper with a person’s ability to be recognized as a member of his or her genetic family. You don’t need to meet in the middle. The need to have another person all to yourself and cut them off from their family is not reasonable because fulfilling that need will be at someone else’s expense rather than at the expense of the person the act is intended to serve. So while I am concerned about those things there is no fix to be offered that would justify the continuation of current practices. Nope. I think the fix should be offered to the people who wish to cut a person out of their families. Like go through the process of adoption if you wish to raise someone else’s offspring because that is what other people who want to raise someone else’s offspring do.

        We need to fix adoption too.

        • Point me to where you think I dropped the argument and I’ll bring it back–I’m honestly not sure which iteration you’re referring to. Always up for a new go at it.

        • I think you’ve misunderstood my intention in asking that question. No, I don’t have any ideas about preventing accidental incest. I agree that accidental incest is a problem in case of prolific inseminators (either those who donate sperm very often or those who sleep around). In fact, there was a case in the middle east where a man had so many children with different women (the natural way, BTW) that he couldn’t recognize his own children and tried to hit on his own daughter. In fact, that is one reason why I privilege commitment shown through hands-on caregiving over genetic relatedness when it comes to determining legal fatherhood.

          • So, I still don’t understand your point. Not knowing your genetic family is problematic because of (a) accidental incest, (b) lack of access to medical history, (c) and …? What else is there? What other reasons are there for it to be essential to know one’s genetic family?

            • The wrong thing is to pay someone to stay away from their offspring and conceal the existence of their offspring from their other relatives for a minimum of 18 years.
              It is understandable that people want a child and it is understandable that they’d want that child all to themselves and not want to share that child with some other family. So how do people keep a child that has another family from running to them? By cutting their ties to that family so that if they try to run they will trip and fall with their untied laces dangling about their feet. They don’t know where to run and if they try they will fall and go limping back to the only family they’ve ever known, the one that raised them.

              Its wrong because if they felt genetic ties were so irrelevant they should have bet their own genetic ties rather than someone else’s. Now they could have done gamete donation and then named the donor and had the child intertwined with the genetic family and the child could have been entitled to receive support from his or her genetic father and been a full fledged legal member of his or her genetic family. That would have been fine and the husband could have taken his place as a step father and had all sorts of responsibility for the child and been bonded with the child to a greater extent than the genetic father and the child would have benefited from all those relationships but instead, the child was cut off from his or her genetic family and even if they one day connect with all those people they will never have legal recognition of their relationships.

              Maybe its not that they did the wrong thing so much as the law is wrong for excluding donor offspring as legal members of their genetic families. They should be entitled to everything any other genetically related child is entitled to receive. Now I know you’ll point to quasi marital children as not being entitled to their genetic father’s support etc. Well that law needs to change and its wrong for people to do it to kids outside of gamete donation as well. Gamete donation clouds the real issue which is that the law does not treat all minors equally and that is what needs correcting.

            • Being able to differentiate between a relative and a genetic stranger is essential to preventing inbreeding. Yes incest is a real big deal and there is no need for anyone to be in a position where they don’t know their immediate relatives other than the selfishness and irresponsibility of one or both genetic parents and possibly the selfishness and irresponsibility of other caregivers. Abandonment is an example of an act that puts a person in a situation where they do not know what their immediate relatives look like. Legal adoption can also result in the same thing. Kidnapping is another example. Paternity fraud is another example.
              Lack of access to medical information yes of course and the family’s lack of information on the absent person as well. Also failure to put the person responsible for their existence responsible for taking care of them is a failure of extreme proportions just in general. Adoption is at least a method of transferring a child into another family that attempts to protect the child. For all its failures, it does try to protect children.

              You have to remember that people don’t become parents of other people’s offspring unless one or both genetic parents fail to do their job of raising their own offspring. Someone had to fail their child in order for someone else to have a chance at doing right by them. Everyone over looks that.

              • You make it sound like adoptive families and the families with donor conceived children are abusive and the children are desperate to run away from them and into the arms of eagerly waiting, loving genetic parents. On the one hand you have this idealized vision of genetic parents being kept away from their children, and on the other hand you have this negative image of mean, selfish adoptive parents and parents with donor conceived children keeping those children away from their genetic parents. Why are you assuming this situation? Sometimes genetic parents don’t want to have relationships with their genetic children. That is why they donate gametes rather than use those gametes themselves. That is why they give up their children for adoption rather than keep their children to themselves. Are you suggesting that they should be forced into these relationships even if they don’t want them?

    • I’m sure you’re right that I didn’t come back to the ethical points–indeed, I think I’ve repeatedly started topics and not come back to them. Partly that’s the open-ended nature of blogging and partly it is that I get distracted. Perhaps it is time to return to them.

      You’re sure Eva has begun by doing a wrong thing and not only am I far from convinced that it is a wrong thing, I’m worried that the certainty you evince is problematic.

      It’s clear that Eva and her husband are being honest with the child, right? So this is an instance where there is no deceit to worry about. It might even be true that if the child wants more information about the sperm provider, Eva and her husband would do their best to get it. Indeed, we don’t know what sort of access to information they have.

      So what makes you sure that they’ve done a wrong thing? It’s that the child isn’t being raised by a one of the genetic parents, right? And here we are–what makes that wrong?

      I don’t think Eva’s child made the decision to seek out diblings, but I would bet that Eva was influenced by her understanding of her child’s needs. Isn’t that what parents ought to do? Not all children need the same things at the same times–parents have to be attentive.

      Perhaps this is a slightly different take on our perennial difference. I think children are quite variable in terms of what they need. They do not all need the same thing. This is part of why it makes sense to me to have legal parents–people on the spot who know the children and are dedicated to their well-being–to make important choices. So, for example, parents decide about what forms of child-care might be best suited to their particular child. I’m comfortable with trusting parents on these things and will give them a far wider berth than you will, I think. You’d insist (I think I’ve got this right?) that all children need to know (and be raised by?) their genetic parents?

      • No I do not insist that children need to be raised by their genetic parents because that would be discounting the reality that some genetic parents are ill suited to raising children. I think all minors should have the right to be supported physically and financially by their genetic parents and that nobody should interfere with the fulfillment of that obligation by their genetic parents without good cause such as protecting the child from harm by the parent. But people should have to prove that the genetic parent is dangerous with a conviction for battery or something. I think that there are times when financially or emotionally a parent can decide that their offspring should be raised by someone else but they should handle that hand off in the most ethical and careful way possible with a disinterested third party review and approval in court and that the child should still remain legally their child so that they are never excluded from their own genetic family when they are adopted into a new one. Why not handle it like we do with becoming someone’s spouse? No need to alter the whole identity of the child just to give some new adults authority to make decisions on behalf of the child.

        • I think that there are times when financially or emotionally a parent can decide that their offspring should be raised by someone else but they should handle that hand off in the most ethical and careful way possible with a disinterested third party review and approval in court and that the child should still remain legally their child so that they are never excluded from their own genetic family when they are adopted into a new one.

          What do you mean by “the child should still remain legally their child”? The child is being raised by someone else, physically, financially, emotionally. So, what are the rights and responsibilities of the genetic parent as a “legal parent”? Noting down their name and address on paper in case of medical needs? What else? A requirement to live in the same geographical location as their genetic children so the children can know their genetic siblings? What if they have genetic children in multiple locations? Should everyone be required to move to the same place? Should the genetic parent as a “legal parent” have decision making power? What if there is a disagreement? Do the adoptive parents have veto power or the genetic parents?

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