[My thanks to Karen Clark who provided a link to the actual study. (But alas, a 2011 version of the study. Still interesting, though.) Of course, it is an academic paper and as such is difficult for me to work through, so for the moment, all I have to add here is this link. The remainder of the post is as before.]
There are many things we disagree about here but I think there is one thing about which there may actually be consensus: We all agree that the well-being of children is of central importance in our discussions. (Of course, as soon as we turn to discuss what exactly “the well-being of children means” our consensus probably shatters.)
Anyway, with that broad consensus in mind, a recent paper written by Susan Golombok and others should be of interest to all of us. The paper was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. I have not linked to the actual paper, but instead to press coverage of it because I haven’t found a way to read the actual paper yet from my current location and so this is the best I have.
Anyway, Golombok and her team did a comparative study of children conceived via third-party gametes, children born to a surrogate and children who were the product of natural conception. They compared the four groups of children (they actually had separate groups for those conceived with third-party gametes into those conceived with third party sperm and those conceived with third-party eggs) at ages 3, 7 and 10, focusing on how well adjusted the children were.
The reporting is frustrating because in a number of places it seems to me ambiguous. I’ll come back to that in a few moments. But there are some interesting findings. The researches found that the children conceived with third-party gametes were indistinguishable from those who were the product of natural conception. At the same time the children who were born to surrogates did seem to have more adjustment problems–“at least at age seven.” (This cryptic comment is one of the things I’ll come back to at below.) These results:
suggest that it’s more difficult for youngsters to deal with the idea that they grew in an unrelated woman’s womb, than with the concept that they are not biologically related to one or both parents.
There’s a way in which this makes sense for children at age seven, I think. Seven year olds probably aren’t particularly well-versed in genetics but do know about pregnancy and birth. Thus, surrogacy creates a difference that might be more important in their world than does use of third-party gametes.
Of course, as the press article makes clear, this can change as children grow. Children in their teens may care more about genetics than about surrogacy, or perhaps they care about both. (This is connected, at least in the press coverage, to the adolescent development of identity.)
As I said, I’ve found the available coverage of the story frustrating. I’ve found multiple stories about the study on the web but they are essentially identical, containing the same ambiguities. For instance, one striking finding–the one that generates the headline–is that children born to surrogates may have more adjustment problems–“at least at age seven.” Now does this mean that by age 10 the problems observed at age 7 have eased? Or does it mean they reach no conclusion at age 10? Or something else? I think it is the first of these, but I wouldn’t stake anything serious on that reading.
There are also seemingly contrary statements about the being honest with kdis about their origins, whatever they are. While the article notes that experts agreeing that honesty is essential it also refers to studies that showed no harm from concealment. I don’t think this last reference includes the Golombok study, nor do I know what studies there are. (I assume that all the children in Golombok’s study knew about their origins, but I could be wrong about that, too.)
It’s worth nothing that Golombok’s study is small (a total of around 140 kids in the four groups). But it is longitudinal–covering the first ten years of their lives. And Golombok hopes to continue the study into the children’s adolescence. There are a host of other questions I have at the moment, some of which will probably be resolved when I get the actual study, so perhaps I’ll just stop here. More to follow.