I’ve been thinking about the Pratten case (which has been discussed on the blog a bunch to times) and a couple of new studies that have crossed my path. All of these items make one think about how to manage the use of donor gametes. (In general, I prefer to call these third-party gametes, but it’s hard to only use that terminology when the popular press consistently says “donor.”
Anyway, use of third party or donor sperm (or eggs) has been discussed a number of times here. Typically those discussions are spurred by some specific story–like the Pratten case. But sometimes its just as useful to think about a question without a specific case in mind. I’ve been trying to do that. And I find myself wondering (again?) why there isn’t a fairly obvious middle ground that might draw people together.
I know a number of people are concerned that those who are donor conceived do not have access to information about their genetic lineage, which can be important both for health reasons and for some sense if identity. Any real compromise solution ought to take these points into account. At the same time, people use third-party gametes (and ART generally) to create families, and it seems to me important to take that, too, into account.
To satisfy the first set of concerns you’d have to ensure 1) that people know that they are donor conceived and 2) that they have access to information and perhaps, contact (if they want it.) (Maybe it is worth noting that I’m concerned here with the rights of the donor conceived rather than the rights of the donors/providers. That’s because I think adults ought to decide to become donors/providers.)
At the same time, what the prospective parents want is to be legal parents–to raise a child from infancy to adulthood. I think this implies a corollary–that the gamete provider is not a legal parent. But there’s no reason why a gamete provider couldn’t be recognized as something other than a legal parent.
And this, it seems to me, is where there ought to be middle ground. Why can’t we acknowledge the importance of the gamete provider without making the person a legal parent? Why can’t we ensure access to information and, in desired, contact without making te provider a legal parent?
There’s one potential hitch that is apparent to me. How does information about the provider get transmitted to the donor conceived child? There are, it seems to me, two possibilities. One is that the legal parents transmit the information. The other is that the state somehow undertake the role. The problem with the former is that I’m sure some people will worry that not all parents will transmit the information. The problem with the latter is that I hardly trust the state to transmit the information in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the particular child. (Perhaps I should make explicit an assumption here–that children will have different needs at different ages. The state would have to do some sort of one-size-fits-all solution which is why I’m skeptical about it.)
At the same time, while I think there are important differences between the issues around third-party gametes and adoption, I also think it is foolish not to learn from experience. Adoptive parents are far more likely to disclose information to their children today than the were fifty years ago. And adopted children are more likely to have information about their genetic parents these days then they were. This suggests to me that with the right incentives and the right circumstance (and the right education) people who use third party gametes will also come to be more reliable conduits for information.
There’s nothing at all new here, as those who have been reading along regularly will doubtless realize. But I haven’t tried to lay this out for a while and it seems increasingly apparent to me that this is the closest thing to a middle-ground I can discern. And so I wonder, what’s wrong with the compromise? Granted it is a compromise–but isn’t it fairly clear that that’s what we’ll end up with?