What DNA Will (and Will Not) Tell Us

I’ve written a post like this before, but it was a long time ago.  Both because there are different readers and because I’m sure I change over time, I thought I’d have another go at it.   I’ve been thinking about this because of the last post and also because of the movie “Stories We Tell.” which I wrote about a little while back.

DNA can tell us about things that happened in the past.  For instance, in the last post, DNA testing revealed that someone switch sperm samples at that Utah clinic.  DNA cannot tell us who did that or why they did it, though we can certainly speculate and have suspicions.   In “Stories We Tell,” DNA testing reveals that the wife had an affair with a man who is in fact the genetic father of Sarah Polley (the filmmaker).  

It may seem obvious to say this, but DNA testing can also help us find/identify those who are genetically related to us.  They help us understand our genetic lineage.  Again, you can see this in both stories.  The mother of the sperm donor is the genetic grandmother of the child in the UT clinic case.   The man the wife had an affair with is the genetic father of Sarah Polley.   Knowing these people–or at least having the opportunity to know them–can be uniquely valuable.   Whether you think about learning medical and family history or whether you think about discovering a new network of people in which you can locate yourself, there’s obviously a lot to learn.

I don’t want to understate the importance of the information one can learn from DNA testing, nor do I want to minimize the pain it can cause.  In both of the instances I’m thinking about here the information is both important to those involved and a cause of pain.

But there is (in my view, and I know I will part company with some of you here) a limit to what DNA can tell us.   DNA cannot tell us which people raised us and which people love us.  DNA cannot tell us anything about who we have profound psychological attachments to.   In both the cases here, those relationships were forged with the men who raised the children concerned over many many years.   They are no less substantial the day after the DNA test comes back then they were before.

So does DNA–or really knowledge about DNA–change those relationships?   I think the answer is that it can but, in the best of cases, it doesn’t.  Not fundamentally, anyway.  It’s true that the relationships were built on a false assumption was that the men raising the children were also the genetic fathers.   But h0wever important that assumption was at the beginning of the relationships, it is clearly not crucial by the time its falsity is discovered.  In both cases the relationships endure–the men remain fathers to their children, the children remain the father’s child.

This is to me what makes both stories bearable and perhaps in the end even uplifting.   When the father in the UT case says he is glad that he learned this information in his lifetime so that his daughter knows that he loves her just the same–DNA or no–it’s a wonderful thing (to me, anyway.)

It’s not hard to imagine cases with a contrary outcome–cases where the man rejects the child or the child rejects the man.   I’ve read about them.   That, it seems to me, vastly amplifies the cost of the genetic information and is the stuff of tragedy.

I suppose if I were to answer my own question I would say that DNA dictates as much as we let it.    And (from my point of view) it’s best not to let it dictate too much.

 

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99 responses to “What DNA Will (and Will Not) Tell Us

  1. i think the discovery that the relationship is not based on DNA changes the relationship absolutely. It changes it from an innate relationship to a relationship of choice. Surely, it can be even a better relationship. But it is most definitely changed.

  2. I live in Salt Lake City, was conceived via DI and born here. When my mother disclosed to me, in 1983, I naturally became interested in how it all worked. Around 1988, I heard a radio program featuring Dr. Ronald Urry, the andrologist who ran the Utah clinic and who had hired Tom Lippert. The outrageous statements that Dr. Urry made in this interview were the main catalyst for my becoming an advocate for openness and the end of anonymity. He claimed to have known many donor conceived children and that they were all happy about their conception. At the same time he advocated that parents should not tell their children. Not very consistent. It made me realize he was making it all up. I doubt he ever met any of us. In 1989 or so, I paid a visit to RMTI and met Lippert, whose name I didn’t know until the Salt Lake Tribune published it with his photo, which I immediately recognized. He assumed I was making inquiries about becoming a donor, which I let him believe. I actually just wanted to see what this kind of operation was like. Lippert rambled on in a very arrogant and disjointed way for almost an hour. While I was there, a man came out and placed a beaker of sperm on the counter. It clearly had no label. Lippert did not even look at it. Another donor came in a few minutes later and Lippert handed him an empty beaker. Both men were very different, one probably Greek and very short. The other was tall, a very fair Scandinavian. Both matched descriptions on the list of donors that Lippert gave me, with all his other literature. The Greek was a chef and the other man matched someone who was a 6’2″ Danish businessman. He came out about fifteen minutes later and also placed an unlabeled beaker next to the first one. I immediately wondered how Lippert would be able to tell them apart. His carfeless actions and arrogant attitude made me question the standards of Dr. Urry’s Andrology lab and the Utah Infertility Center itself. Now, from the SLTrib, I know that Lippert came from Marshall, Minnesota and had served two years in prison for kidnapping. The article does not mention that Dr. Urry also came to Utah from the U, of Minnesota in 1977, It is inconceivable to me, no pun intended, that Dr. Urry would not have known about Lippert since the 1974 sensational case featured F. Lee Bailey as his defense lawyer. That tells me that Urry is just as reprehensible as Lippert. It is also not surprising that such things happened then and still do today, to a lesser degree. I have collected dozens of clippings over the years of many cases of sperm bank mix-ups and outright fraud in the infertility industry, worldwide. This was the era of sperm bank scandals from UC Irvine, Cecil Jacobson, Dr. Korn, and Joseph Feldshuh of Idant infamy, all of them losing their license to practice. I also happen to know that the current clinic at the University of Utah has been sued several years ago for a similar mix-up, I do admire the ethics of the current director, Dr, Kirtley Parker-Jones, who has run the clinic with very high standards. She represents what the profession ought to be, but frankly it is not there yet.

  3. I would say that the information I’ve learned from my DNA and from meeting three siblings has been transformational. It does not change how I think of my dad nor what I think of my father who conceived me. At age 68, I know who I am and that hasn’t changed. What I have learned is what kinds of traits I share with my siblings and newly discovered father and his children. I have also gained an emotional satisfaction with these new relationships that I didn’t expect, which is far more important to me. I am happier now that the mystery has ended. There is no tragedy except that I should have known them much earlier, that all that secrecy and deliberate paternalism of the profession was so utterly and unnecessariiy cruel. I can also see more clearly that genetics does matter. It’s the quality of nurture that helps to manage the effects of nature.
    “It’s not hard to imagine cases with a contrary outcome–cases where the man rejects the child or the child rejects the man.”

    Julie, in my experience with many donor conceived people, learning about your DNA has little effect on whether a father rejects his child or not. That tends to happen long before the truth of one’s conception is even disclosed, because the father cannot accept the child as his own. Many of us do not learn about our conception until the father dies or divorces the mother. I do not know of any case where a child learns about her genetic father and rejects the father who raises her, or her father then rejects her.

    • Hi Bill,

      Thank you for sharing your story. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said in response to this piece. It all makes perfect sense. Your last paragraph really nailed it how the rejection of the child by the dad happens even before the child finds out about their conception.

  4. Julie, I agree completely with the following statement “DNA cannot tell us which people raised us and which people love us. DNA cannot tell us anything about who we have profound psychological attachments to. In both the cases here, those relationships were forged with the men who raised the children concerned over many many years. They are no less substantial the day after the DNA test comes back then they were before.”
    I’d add the following however – that a positive DNA test according to law does indeed identify who the father or mother of a person is. And so I’d rephrase your paragraph like this ” “Knowing who someone’s parents are does not tell us if the were raised by them or if they were loved by them. It’s possible for a parent to love a child they don’t raise and it’s possible for a parent to raise a child they don’t love or at least don’t love enough. Knowing who someone’s parent’s are does not tell us if they formed a parent child bond with them or with someone else, a brother, an aunt a guardian from outside their immediate family or a step parent. In both the cases here, those relationships were forged with the men who raised the children concerned over many many years. They are no less substantial the day after the DNA test comes back then they were before.
    What I find profoundly sad among the “love is enough” crowd is the lack of understanding about the fact that people are supposed to love and take care of their own offspring and that while it is wonderful that others step in and do the job for a parent who has failed to care for their child – it does not make it OK that the parent failed their child. It may well be unavoidable due to death, sickness, disability, mental illness, addiction or complete unawareness of the child’s existence but it was still their responsibility to have cared for the children they created and the child has of course suffered a loss in order to have gained the relationship with whoever raised them. They should never have had to be in that position where someone else had to step in and do the absent parent’s job. It is insulting and disrespectful to people to suggest that they should just be happy with whoever is raising them and forget the deadbeat who ignored them. Society does legally have an expectation that people take responsibility for their offspring and failure to do so is against the law in all but the instance of donor offspring. Even in adoption there is the expectation that the parents would first step forward and be accountable and have their reasoning examined before someone else takes over the parental obligation for their child. It is so disrespectful to suggest that some people are just born undeserving of their biological parent’s accountability, care, love support. That all they deserved was for them to co-modify them and make them for other people to love and raise.

    • There are actually two reasons why I think your restatement is wrong. (And with some trepidation I say that it is “wrong” rather than saying “I disagree.”

      First, only sometimes does a DNA test identify the legal parent of the child. IN many different circumstances, a DNA test DOES NOT tell you who the legal parent of the child is. So for instance, if a married lesbian couple use sperm from a third-party to have a child, a DNA test will surely identify the third party but it will not identify the legal parent.

      Second, you’ll notice that I used the term “legal parent” above. that’s because I think with the unmodified term “parent” it’s really impossible to properly assess the accuracy of your statement, which to me means it cannot be right. If you wanted to tell me that a DNA test will tell you the genetic parent, I’d agree in a flash. IT does that. But “parent” without a modifier might mean legal parent, it might mean social parent, it might mean psychological parent. In any of those instances the DNA test doesn’t tell you anything.

      It’s not a “fact” that people are supposed to love and take care of their own offspring. It is, to my mind, at most a hope or an aspiration–and not one necessarily shared by everyone. And even if you think it is a “fact”–the key words might be “supposed to.” Maybe they are supposed to but sadly, we all know that people often do not do what they are supposed to do.

      I agree that it is sad when a parent fails a child. very sad. But this still requires us to figure out who is a parent. I think you are using “parent” as though it always means “genetic parent.” In addition, I think we might not always agree on what it means for a parent (whoever that is) to “fail” a child. To be concrete, if a man provides his sperm to two women he knows so that they can have a child with the understanding that he’ll just be there around the ages, you might see him as a parent who is failing where I don’t see him as a parent and I don’t see that he’s failed the child, either.

      • The fact that positive paternity is how the State determines who the father is only sometimes is the part that is unfair and unequal and disrespectful. Since I now can reflect upon having had a boyfriend raised by two women deemed equal mothers by him who had a legal father out in the world and since I’ve now assisted a couple of donor offspring raised by two women deemed equal mothers as well, the statements by those who are donor offspring are not emotionally charged and are totally logical to me – they have two bio parents, why is it that one of their bio parents was legally allowed to abandon them? How is it that having their mother’s partner who they love like a mother is supposed to make it like they were not abandoned by their father and why would they all not be required to collaborate the way other parents who are not married have to collaborate and share custody and work it out raising them with their respective partners? Why must they have to totally loose out on their paternal family?

        • They aren’t abandoning them. Abandoning them would have been him leaving the child on a door step and not having transferred his parental responsibility to someone else. In the case of sperm donation the biological mother and the non biological parent (if applicable) assume full parental responsibility for the child.

          Paternity tests are just not applicable to sperm donation. It’s another irrelevant argument that is grasping for straws.

          • not really- a sperm donor has no idea who will end up being his offsprings parent. they could be the kind of people you wouldn’t leave a dog with for a day. you just have no idea. there is no screening process.

            • You can abandon a child.

              You can’t “abandon” sperm. But you can lose control over your sperm.

              I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of legal history. The state does not pursue men because of the mere fact of genetic connection.

              The state pursues men because of the _act_ of insemination.

              Professor Shapiro has repeatedly underlined the connection of _actions_ and legal parenthood. This is a concept that is critical in the legal history. If you miss the critical role of actions, you will fail to understand the tradition of legal parenthood in the United States and colonial America.

              In legal history, seduction was a tort, and later a crime. A father could sue a unmarried man for the act of impregnating his daughter.

              The father did not have a claim because of genetic connection. The father had a claim because of the _actions_ of the unmarried man.

              A “true” sperm donor does not inseminate. He leaves the sperm at a bank. This is a particular _action_. His individual _actions_ are _not_ involved in the insemination. Thus, according to legal tradition, he cannot be legally responsible.

              The absence of action removes legal responsibility. That is why historically, in the American legal tradition — a father, the state, and any genetic issue — do not possess legal claims in relation to a “true” sperm donor.

              • Tess he proposes the act of insemination and requests the assistance of a medical professional to aid him in inseminating whatever female wants to have kids with him. His medical release for the assistance part is no different than anyone else wishing to inseminate and make pregnant a female to have offspring with. It is of course his action as it is done not just with his consent but at his request specifically for the purpose of creating his offspring not merely accidentally but deliberately. It’s not like he goes oh there goes my sperm I have no idea what will be done with it and I have not consented to get any women pregnant that would be a total surprise! I did not ask for a doctor to assist me by offering fertility treatment which is to help me be more efficient at getting a woman pregnant by authorizing the doctor to take my sperm and manually fertilize an egg in a lab or inseminate the woman in the doctor’s office.

                • yea! We’re talking about actions!

                  This is my point — the law doesn’t see it that way.

                  He doesn’t have responsibility, because he did not perform the actions that contributed to the pregnancy. Literally — he did not inseminate.

                  • Unless the insemination occurs contrary to his instructions and without his consent – it is him that inseminates the woman. It’s his semen Tess. He got medical assistance doing it but that person is supposed to be acting on the direction of the man and woman who are creating offspring together. It is his semen, his choice, his action and if he elects to request assistance from a medical professional he can and it will not change the fact that he’s the father based on a positive paternity test. Gamete donors have an exemption purely as a service to people who want kids. It has nothing to do with the State assigning paternity to men who do the inseminating that’s absurd.

                  • He’s never met the woman. He can’t consciously inseminate someone he’s never met. Thus, he can’t be responsible.

                    It’s equivalent to a man putting a condom in a wastepaper basket and a stranger, later coming along and pulling it out and using it. He can contest any claims that the woman might make on him for child support. The law won’t hold him responsible for the child because he didn’t act to inseminate.

                    That’s also a critical legal difference between a known and an unknown donor. Daughter of Donor’s probably isn’t a real “donor” child because her genetic father was known to the mother and he acted in the process of insemination.

                  • Tess if you don’t see a difference between forcing a man to have offspring against his will and without his consent by taking his semen out of a trash can and a man who wants to have offspring who goes and actually seeks medical assistance not only in finding the women but also in helping him inseminate them more efficiently – if you can’t see the difference between violating a man’s free will and choice and forcing him to make offspring with someone he does not know and him electing to make offspring with a woman he does not know because he is in charge of his body making decisions about who he has offspring with and how he meets them and how his sperm gets into their body – if you cannot see a difference then you truly have no respect for human beings and their right to make decisions for themselves about sex, reproduction and the decision to have children or not. Conversation is over if you think it’s acceptable behavior to force people to reproduce without their knowledge or consent..

                  • Tess,

                    The man is also agreeing prior to donation that if his donation is used to conceive a child he is not legally or financially responsible for raising that child. But you are right he is not insemenating the woman. His only act is masturbation.

                  • Greg,

                    I agree — and it is a critical difference. In this sub-thread I’m playing with a legal idea. I haven’t fully explored it myself.

                    It reminded me of a conversation I had with a legal expert about the concept of abandoned property. We were discussing it in terms of home runs, and baseballs. When is the ball considered abandoned property?

                    Marilynn,

                    Your judgement of me is tedious.

                    Just so you understand — in this sub-thread I’m not discussing my own ethical concepts. I am exploring a legal idea about the law as it is and discussing how the law has seen legal parenthood.

                    Obviously — I do not control the legal system. But you are conflating the two, as if I have control over the legal system. This conflation is, quite frankly, bizarre.

                    I agree — the conversation is over.

                  • Greg,

                    In terms of baseball and abandoned property — the question would be: who owns the ball after it is hit into the stands?

                    And if someone catches the ball, drops the ball, and someone else picks ups the ball — who owns that ball?

                  • The person who catches that ball owns that ball.

                    I guess every time a man ejaculates or a woman has her period they are “abandoning” their children. It’s getting old with these strong emotional words that are used in these arguments to get a point across but when you really examine their usage none of it is applicable or relevant.

                  • The expert I was talking to was involved in one of these cases. I think the ball was dropped. It was an interesting case.

                  • “In terms of baseball and abandoned property — the question would be: who owns the ball after it is hit into the stands?”
                    A baseball is an object that is not part of a human beings body. A baseball can be bought and sold as property. Human tissue cannot be bought or sold as property and there is no transfer of title. If you sell or give me a baseball you have 3 days to change your mind but then after that it’s fair for me to refer to it as my baseball.
                    If you give me your sperm in a cup and you say “here this is yours I’m giving it to you” it would be yours still. I can’t say that it’s mine because it belongs to your body. It’s not just the DNA that stays yours its the whole thing there is no part of it that I could claim to be mine, Just because I have possession of your cells or tissue does not make it mine. Similarly having possession of your child would not make your child mine. Humans and their bodies and their offspring are not property.

                    And if someone catches the ball, drops the ball, and someone else picks ups the ball — who owns that ball?

                  • Technically, in the eyes of the law, sperm and embryos are property.

                    In terms of the baseball, it’s complicated. One way to think about it is _Popov v. Hayashi_. (Barry Bonds) A summary of the case is on wikipedia.

                  • Maybe this is the point of legal confusion — sperm is treated as property under the law. Babies are treated as people under the law.

                    You can “abandon” sperm as property, but you cannot “abandon” sperm as a baby is abandoned.

                    A man must do some specific action that makes him responsible for the pregnancy. It has to be more then generating sperm. He must have sexual contact with a specific woman (one-night stand) — or be in a specific relationship with a specific woman and act with intent (undergoes IVF with partner) — in order to be held responsible for a pregnancy.

                    But if a clinic used a vial of sperm in the wrong woman — a man would have an excellent claim if he wished to remove himself from the legal need to pay child support.

                    The law does not assign parental responsibility to a man simply through genetic connection.

              • Bullsht the state does not pursue men to pay child support because of the act of insemination. They pursue those with positive paternity because they are the father of their own children they caused them to exist. Nobody asks the guy how his sperm managed to fertilize the egg of the woman he shares the offspring with. People seek assistance all the time with fertilizing women’s eggs. As I explained the medical release form for the assisted reproductive services is the same no matter whether you are a donor or are a regular old patient. The lab or office process does not change based on what you plan to do once the kid is born. Like IVF procedures are not different for a person who is going to abandon vs someone who wants to raise. The other agreement they sign deals with whether they want to raise their kid when born but really the Medical professionals don’t care what people do once the kid is born. Their interest in hooking people up with people who are willing to abandon is for their limited purpose of turning a dollar. I’m sure they could care less whether anyone follows through with their promises.

                • “the state does not pursue men to pay child support because of the act of insemination.”

                  Yes, it does. That is exactly why the state pursues the men.

                  That is why fathers could sue men for damages in the early Republic.

                  It’s the action of insemination. The act assigns responsibility to the man.

                  The genetic test is merely to determine which man was responsible for the act of insemination.

                  • Look I agree in being responsible for our own actions but having offspring is the action not insemination. The man has to have offspring insemination alone won’t do it. Also if he had assistance fertilizing a woman’s egg with his semen it would not mean he was not the father. I’m so sure let’s see a guy use that as a defense to an order of support if he has a positive paternity test

                  • No, you don’t understand. He is involved with his actions, so he can’t successfully contest paternity.

                    But see my example of the wastepaper basket. That’s an example where he does not act.

                  • In other words: sperm donors are “donors” only because they do _not_ act. Sperm donors do not participate in the act of insemination — this is similar to the example of the condom in the wastepaper basket.

                    A woman cannot make a successful claim on paternity support unless the man acts. A man cannot be named as the legal father unless he acts. Actions play a central role in the assignment of legal parenthood.

                • The state pursues them because at no point did he essentially terminate his responsibility to parent and provide for the child. If there was a sperm donation where a donor agreement was never signed then the state can come after him or he could file for some type of custody.

            • The point is they know that if there sperm conceives a child someone likely the woman’s who egg it conceives with will raise the child. It’s not as if they are leaving the child on a door step.

              • Now I’m picturing a single sperm wrapped in a blue blanket and tucked into a baby bassinet — left on a church doorstep.

                • That’s because you only read the first half of what a sperm donor agrees to. Read the second half and when you are all caught up to speed with the most critical terms of the agreement you can rejoin the conversation and leave the sperm on the counter in the past where it belongs. Who needs to talk about their sperm once they have kids?

              • Oh it is a whole lot like leaving their kid on a doorstep. In adoption the state has to try and locate the bio father and mother to not onl get their consent but to ascertain if the reason is ethical or not. We are not supposed to allow adoptions to go through if it looks as if the bio parents are treating their child as an object for barter gift or trade, So there, for one is a total disregard for the dignity of their children.
                Also remembering Tess the content of their agreements deals with their offspring when born not just their sperm so forget the whole limiting it to sperm, the agreements specifically deal with them giving up their offspring. So given that the agreements deal with them giving up their offspring I bet most of these generous donor types would not so much as lend their car to a stranger for an hour so that they could experience the joy of driving yet they’d hand over their own offspring so that a total stranger could experience what it would be like if they were a parent. I bet donors would put more thought into finding someone to pet sit their dog or water their plants while they were on vacation than they do put into making sure that people are actually well suited to the job of raising a child for 18 years. I know that donors would put more effort and forethought into finding a babysitter for their nephew or their neighbor’s nephew than they put into finding someone to raise their kid for 18 years. Donors do in fact abandon without any idea if someone is going to be trying to act as a stand in for them. They have no idea if they are mating with another donor or if the child will be left with only one source of support. They abandon their children at birth. They totally trust that someone else will figure out the details. Really it does not even matter that it’s their own flesh and blood, it would be reckless and neglectful to simply walk away from any living creature without personally making sure that someone took over the responsibility of taking care of the creature. Ability to pay a fee to get possession of the living thing is not really the best way to thin the heard. So I think its pretty much the same as leaving a kid on a doorstep. At least with doorstep leaving you can leave the kid at a church or nice old lady’s house with a note pinned to the basket.

                • Oh my gosh, I have to agree to disagree here but this notion is so far out there and ridiculous that it’s impossible to have a logical discussion about it.

                  • They abandoned their offspring Greg, in writing

                  • There is no child at the time of donation. To abandon something you have to possess it first and since there is no child at the time of donation and only sperm it’s the sperm that is abandoned not any potential child.

          • Ugh there is no proof of that. Where is the proof, in court, approved by a judge that a man is aware of the existence of his offspring a specific named documented living human being that he acknowledged paternity of and then opted to relinquish his responsibilities to the state who would then thoroughly background check the unrelated individual before allowing the adoption to go through?

            • Yes, there is. It’s called the donor agreement. He transfers his potential responsibility before conception. No judge necessary when you have two adult parties that have a mutual understanding.

              • Why would a judge be necessary to deal with bio parents abdicating their parental responsibilities ever when all the adults can agree? I mean plenty of bio parents reached an agreement with the people who adopted their child back in advance of their child’s birth it’s just the agreement struck before birth is unenforceable really if the bio parent were to contest. Really I think that is what is going on here is that the bio parent who agreed to surrender at birth simply is not contesting so everything goes smoothly. Anyway why would people be able to become parents of another person’s offspring by a private contract in one instance but not in another? What do you think the purpose is of documenting the bio parents and investigating the ethics of the agreement?If it is good enough for donor offspring why not just scrap court approved adoption altogether?

                • Again adoptions are not finalized until after a child is born because the relinquishment does not happen until after birth. In third party reproduction you could argue the sperm is being relinquished prior to conception which is why the donor agreements are finalized prior to attempting conception. In addition when a child who is adopted is born they are born into one family and raised by another. In third party reproduction a child is born into the family that will raise them.

                  The two are not comparable from a legal perspective at all. There is no way to argue otherwise.

          • That is why the law needs to change. They are men with offspring and all people with offspring should be made to follow the same rules. There should be no donation of people’s offspring.

    • Actually, donor offspring are not the only children where the state does not require the biological father to take financially responsibility. I can think of at least two other instances off the top of my head:

      If a single woman is raising a child and neither she nor the father ever files for paternity, the state will not take any steps to force the father to provide for the child unless the mother requires financial assistance from the state.

      If a married woman has an affair and everyone agrees the husband will act as the father. (in some states, the married couple can overrule the bio dad, in some states the bio dad can overrule the married couple, but in all states if bio mother, bio father, and husband agreed that husband will be legal dad and support child, that’s the end of it)

      The state’s motivation in making some biological fathers pay support appears to be primarily motivated by a desire to give out less financial government assistance and not because the state believes it is morally required for the biological father to support the child. If the bio dad has to pay, the state’s financial contribution is at the very least reduced and in some cases eliminated entirely.

      • agreed. the state is not suppose to interfere with people’s private lives unless their assistance is requested.

        • What about when people are interfering with the rights and freedom of minors or elderly or any person who is in a dependent situation?

          • This doesn’t exist with donor conception. We’ve already gone over this.

            • Easy for you to say Greg but there are tons of people who are the offspring of donors who don’t feel as you and Tess feel and they are the ones who have the compromised rights. Their identities were hijacked as part of service agreements that bound them to perform a service

              • First of all, that doesn’t address the legal questions at hand.

                Second of all, there are “tons” of DC people who disagree with you.

                Excerpted from your friend’s study, funded by groups who want to eradicate donor conception:

                Table One: “Summary of the Data in Percentages”

                “I think every person has the right to a child.”

                Donor Conceived: Strongly Agree: 51%; Somewhat agree: 25% Total: 76%! Much higher then the people raised by biological parents or adopted parents. (Strongly disagree among donor conceived is only 9%. And this question — that everyone has a right to a child — is a radical and startling statement.)

                “Artificial Reproductive Technologies are good for children because the children are wanted.” Donor Conceived: Strongly Agree: 40%; Somewhat agree: 36%. Total: 76%!
                (Strongly disagree: only 6%! 6%!!!! These are your “tons” of people.)

                Again 75% — strong support! And from a population in which many were told late and grew up in a time in which they were more likely to be socially stigmatized because of their untraditional family structure. I would not have expected this percentage to be this high.

                “Our Society should encourage people to donate their sperm or eggs to other people who want them.” Donor Conceived: Strongly Agree: 40%; Somewhat Agree: 33%. Total Support 73%! What percentage strongly disagrees? Only 7%!

                So let us be clear. When you are talking of “tons” of the donor conceive population, are best estimate is 6-9% of the total may agree with you.

                6-9 Percent of the total. That’s a small number.

                A supermajority of donor conceived people disagrees with your position.

                • And these estimates are from a study that was funded by an anti-DC group. The questions in the study and lack of peer review was criticized.

                  Even if I take your group’s numbers from your group’s study — it still shows a super-majority of strong support for donor conception from donor conceived people themselves.

                  I do not understand how you all expect logical people to take your assertions in the face of this data.

                • Look I am not interested in how people “feel” about being treated unfairly. I see that they are being treated unfairly and it needs to stop as there is no justification for the differential treatment. You can sit there and say that I have never pointed out any instances where donor offspring or where adopted people or where frankly anyone who has a false or incomplete birth record is treated differently by our government but they are and I’m not the only one to have ever pointed it out so it’s not like I’m seeing things that are not there. My personal opinion is that study’s like the ones my dear friends published are of no use in making any legal changes because they don’t specifically cite the laws that need to change in order for them to feel like justice has been served. I want to see their actual legal situation change I’m tired of talking about feelings and emotions as they are going to be different for every person and not everyone is going to care as much as me or as Alana or as Karen. It’s not appropriate to have a different set of rules for them and their bio parents and I frankly don’t care if 99% of donor offspring LOVE having a different set of rules for them and their bio parents, it is not fair to bio parents and their offspring generally to have different rules for some than others and it’s a clear public health fiasco which impacts everyone not just them. So with all due respect to the 50 percent of donor offspring that love having a falsified medical records and love the idea of being locked out of their bio families and paid for by people that really really wanted them – there is no excuse for them to be excluded from all the rights and benefits that other people have and are able to exercise if their parents do the very simple task of telling the truth and being accountable for their actions. They are at a disadvantage and they can just decide not to avail themselves of those advantages when they gain them back if they are so happy the way things are. I don’t feel one but sheepish about knowing that there will be some people who don’t give a flying fk about their absent bio parent, those people still should be treated fairly and then they can ignore their bio family if they want. So Tess that is what I think of the study. It’s very interesting and was not intended to force legal change out of fairness. I intend to try and push legal change out of fairness so that study won’t further that agenda at all so there is not much point in me saying anything about it other than nice job K, Alana, Elizabeth, et. al. Kudos.

                  • But you don’t seem to understand this point: I do not think they are treated differently, in regards to legal rights. All children of legal parents are treated equally under the law.

                    You believe that genetic connection implies legal connection. That’s fine. That’s your view point.

                    However, I disagree. Furthermore, I do not see the legal argument that would support your view. Clearly, on this point, we must agree to disagree.

                    And I think the survey evidence underlines my contention, which is that a supermajority of donor-created people support ART, and support 3rd party reproduction.

                    More startling — a supermajority believe that it is the _right_ of every person to have a child.

                    That is a radical statement, and a very different viewpoint from many commenters on this blog.

                  • Tess,

                    On the legal arguments, I don’t think it’s a matter of agreeing to disagree. I think it’s a matter of facts and that you’ve proven in many cases that the legalities argument holds no water.

                    The moral/ethical arguments on third party reproduction, whether third party reproduction should be outlawed, whether a persons “real parents” are the ones who conceived them and the importance of genetics are a different story. Those discussion topics are ones that have opinions where sides can agree to disagree. But legal arguments with facts there is a right side and a wrong side and you’ve clearly made the case that you have shown the right side.

                • Wow, and you can’t argue that the people who took part in this study didn’t want to hurt their parents because they were anonymous and their parents would never have known how they voted. Thanks for sharing what is the inconvenient truth for some people.

        • What about when they are falsifying records and impersonating a minor’s bio parents/

          • When the parents are truthful up front there is no impersonation.

            • You know I’m totally bedraggled by you all including Julie acting like I just make this stuff up.http://jjlp.law.ucdavis.edu/archives/vol-11-no-2/10%20Gunderson%2011.2.pdf
              I’m not that smart. I have logical thoughts that surprise other people have had. Other smart people. The concept of personal responsibility for a person’s own offspring is already one that the vast majority of people are held to unless people are lying and sneaking around falsifying documents.

                • Marilynn,

                  Posting law journal articles about marital presumption does not mean that you are engaging with my arguments.

                  These articles do not rebut or engage the points I made regarding actions and legal responsibility. In short, they aren’t on point to our discussion.

                  You’re having a parallel argument on different legal points, sub-topics, and premises. But you’re not engaging this argument.

                  • OK Tess school me scold me tell me I make no sense but I’m confident that I’ve made a difference and will continue to make a difference. I’d love the law to change for the better but if it does not I’ll keep helping people get their records corrected because I know having the right names listed as parents on a birth record is their ticket to equal treatment. So good luck to you in your efforts to advance the condition of people treated unfairly too. too.

                  • I think it’s great you’re reading law articles.

                    And in a discussion about marital presumption, they would be interesting citations to bring up.

                  • Marilynn,

                    Where you want the law to change is that you want third party reproduction to be outlawed. There is nothing wrong with that and I hope you don’t think that there is something wrong with that. You’ve made a good logical argument on the moral and ethical end. Though I disagree with you, I think you would be able to convince others to agree with you.

                    But this legalities and being treated unfairly under the law arguments hold no water. They actually hurt the DC reform cause by making it sound ridiculous. On the surface it may rile people up but when the facts come out the argument is squashed. In reality you are distracting people from what is really hurting them.

                    For instance you have been able to manipulate DOD into believing this. She has even brought this up in discussions about her relationship with her half sister saying the legal changes would make their relationship feel more legit. The reality is what is probably hurting her is all of the years she lost in having that relationship with her sister. She is also hurting deeply from the man who was supposed to raise her rejecting her and making her feel like she was never worth his love.

                    You have turned a hurting women with a lot of sadness, grief and confusion into an angry person. You have effectively distracted her from what is really hurting her. Getting her help to work on the feelings she is dealing with will help her not getting her to believe changing her birth certificate will fix her problems. At the end of the day those issues will always be there and a piece of paper doesn’t change that.

              • There is just no teeth behind your arguments. Tess is right pulling journal articles that are irrelevant doesn’t make these arguments any more valid. I think you need to stick to the emotional arguments against donor conception. They have more logic behind them than these illogical legal arguments.

                • Thanks for the advice! The emotional appeal has worked so well for adopted people and donor offspring both! So what if the emotional angst approach is easily refuted and countered with anecdotal evidence that weighs about the same in terms of he said she said validity. Look it took two years for me to learn not to talk about all that emotional stuff and I learned it from Julie. It’s a rat hole and it keeps things exactly how they are currently. It also lulls people into believing that they can just keep paying bio parents to abandon their offspring so long as they tell them the truth early and often and provide them with loving substitute caregivers. It allows the parental abandonment to continue. There are more than enough abandoned kids that are not planned and commissioned. Have at those ones don’t go requesting additional bio parent abandonment to fill the needs of a market sector.

                  • But your legal arguments hold no water. You have yet to throw out a legal argument that makes sense. You aren’t going to enact legal change with legal arguments that don’t make sense.

                    In the case of sperm donation there is just one person relinquishing their cells to conceive a child. In the case of adoption there are two people that are either voluntarily or involuntarily terminating their parental rights and responsibilities. And not all children who are adopted are abandoned. Not all of them are just leaving the child on a doorstep and running away. Some relinquish their children to a new set of patent(s) and there are some children who are taken away from their parents by a government agency for the child’s safety. Unless you believe that only children who are left on doorsteps should be parenting by those unable to have children, what you are saying is false.

            • How can you say that they are not impersonating the kid’s relatives if the formal records are not the same as what they are being told the truth about? If they don’t get to live life in that truth they are told about what good is it?

            • Really cause the record should reflect the truth being told to the person. It should not be different.

              • What’s the goal of that? Is it to make it easier for the child to know who makes up half of their DNA or is it to cut the non biological parent out of having any importance or role in the child’s life?

      • Which is horribly unfair to the child actually which is why I support broader changes in the law not just focused on donor offspring. The fact that any minor anywhere at any time has the state’s assistance in determining the identity of their biological parent and holding them accountable giving rise to their legal kinship means all minors should have that same right. It is unfair that their legal rights are undermined by the actions of their biological mothers
        and fathers

        • You can certainly think it is unfair, just pointing out that donor conception isn’t actually an exception to this rule and the state’s interest is mainly financial at present.

          • And that throws out the whole legalities and equal rights arguments from that side.

            • No it does not throw it out at all. She’s right much of the advantage that most minors have with regard to the state’s assistance and protection in identifying their bio parents and securing support is in fact motivated by the financial interests of the state. Never the less this is an advantage that the vast majority of minors has and the result is that some people and their families are at a disadvantage and are not treated equally essentially at the mercy of people with offspring that are inclined to skirt parental responsibility for their offspring or worse impersonate biological parents. So there are a variety of ways that a person might end up with an inaccurate birth record in this disadvantaged position. Removing the exemption from parental responsibility for gamete donors and eliminating the marital presumption of paternity and eliminating the presumption of maternity for women who give birth all with the goal of holding people accountable as the parents of their own offspring. Like Julie I think people who step up to the plate and do the work for an absent parent deserve to have that quasi parent/child relationship protected but instead of dubing them “parents” dub them like honorary adoptive parents or dub them guardians. We have the court procedurues for a reason. Either they matter or they don’t

              • No you dub them “legalized babysitters” in reality they are parents.

                • Greg you said “No you dub them “legalized babysitters” in reality they are parents.” Who are you saying dubs people “legalized babysitters”? Can you explain what you mean by the term “legalized babysitter”? Are there illegal babysitters? Is this dubbing something that takes place out of court? Is the term slang for some other category of child care worker? Is it derogatory and is the term supported by law in anyway?

                  • What you have described and what you have implied what non biological parents are “legal babysitters”. It means the person has legal authority to babysit the child.

  5. In my interactions with people who are searching for their family I believe they have a hard time reconciling the fact that they wish they had not been given up because it would have meant they never would have been raised by whoever raised them. And I mean separation for every possible reason; if they love who raised them they feel weird about wishing their parents had not given them up. So my opinion is that the situation where their parents did not give them up or have them taken simply does not exist, it did not happen that way and since it did happen its a good thing they were raised by people they feel close to. What I think is reasonable for them to wish had happened and is reasonable to wish for future generations is that if parents are not going to raise their children that their children remain legally part of their family even though they are raised by someone else, this would make it so the person does not have to loose their legal standing as part of their biological family just because they are not raised with them. It won’t mean that their parents will necessarily be stand up people and stay involved in their lives but there would be no forced separation or severing of kinship and then people would do whatever they were going to do and their children would be living in that reality without wondering if things had been different etc etc. There is no reason why adults should not be made to collaborate in the care of their offspring permanently and then if they opt to abandon them let them do it with their child’s rights fully intact and respected. Leave their child with some legal recourse and leave the family with some legal recourse in their kinship to the child as well. It would do a lot for helping to make sense of that feeling about wishing their parent had raised them – how about if they can’t raise them having them have to cooperate and collaborate for the child’s welfare permanently and not cutting ties completely. We have to show some respect to people and recognize that there are two people who are supposed to care for them and it’s not enough to simply have someone else do that job and take over. It was not them that caused the child to exist and be dependent and so they must be held to a greater standard of care and permanency.

    • its too bad that they feel conflicted this way. i think people can be happy about having the parents t hey do while also being sad that they missed out on their bio parents. one doesn’t cancel out the other. no one should make them feel that they have to choose between the two emotions….

    • You know in all the stories I’ve read from the donor conceived the issues they have are emotional not legal. In just about every case they were either told late and/or rejected by their biological father. The other aspect is that those who are never able to locate their donor.

      The thing you are ignoring is that while the donor conceived may say they love their parents, they do resent them for either not telling them or rejecting them. So when a donor conceived person or even adoptee says they love their parents, it doesn’t tell the whole story of whether their parents and how they raised them contributed to their sadness.

      • I don’t know that it necessarily does certainly not if they did a great job. It is not about them or what they did or how great they raised the kid or even if they blew it. It is not about them and their family its about the family they did not grow up knowing. It really has nothing to do with the adoptive or rearing family. The focus needs to be taken completely off the rearing family its not about them. They have the kid all that is the secure part its the missing part that causes the problem.

        • A lot of it has to do with their parents. Someone whose parents do a great job parenting them are likely to have little issues. Those whose parents don’t are likely to have lots of issues. And even in the cases where the parents do a poor job it doesn’t mean the child won’t love them, it’s actually more likely that they will still love them. I know plenty of people who had a bad parent yet they still love that parent. So saying a child or adult loves their parents is meaningless without details of how they were raised and things they were exposed to in the context of these discussions.

          • right but again they wont ever say they had a problem with what they got – the issue is with what they were denied and was the denial unfair.

            • If they are denied knowing that they were donor conceived at an early age or were denied not having the parents that raised them rejecting them, I agree. Also if they are denied ever being able to contact the man who is responsible for 50% of their DNA, I agree as well.

              • Just remember that there is really nothing rearing parents can do to fully mitigate the fact that the child they are raising has an absent bio parent and absent bio family on at least one side and that is a big fat gyp for them. It’s easier for a person to accept that they were gypped out of their bio parent and bio parent’s family if there was a good reason for their bio parent not being there like death or disability or addiction or abuse or incarceration because then it’s understandable why someone else might have to step up to the plate to perform the duties of the missing bio parent. But with donor conception they are not drunks or drug addicts and they were not found guilty of abuse and they are not convicted felons and in most cases they are gainfully employed college graduates so its a big fat slap in the face that they could not stick around and do for them what every other bio parent is made to do for their offspring. If they are being raised by one bio parent and the other is absent because they have a donor’s exempt status it is a huge discrepancy to reconcile that one bio parent would want to be involved while the other would not and to top it off it is also a big deal that the rearing bio parent find’s it totally acceptable that the non-rearing bio parent is totally out of the picture. Knowing who the bio parent is when they turn 18 won’t resolve those questions or potential resentments and obviously those issues are not things that can reasonably be addressed by the partner or spouse of the rearing bio parent no matter how wonderful they are. The spouse can be fantastic and the kid can love them to death it won’t change the fact that their bio parent is absent and does not have a reason besides he was trying to give away his kid so somneone else could have a family. It does not even come close to addressing why someone would give away their kids to other people who wanted to have families and it does not address why the law would not protect people from being given up as gifts by their bio parents. It won’t address their loss of siblings, cousins and other kin, legally and generally socially. This is why the talk and efforts to meet donor offspring in the middle with a compromise where we keep allowing donors to be exempted but offer little bones like the end of anonymity or early disclosure or getting to know them when they turn 18 just is not as good as simply treating all people born equally with regard to their expectations of bio parents. If the law were the same for all bio parents and all offspring then everything would be fine. Having different rules in order to make sure people keep being abandoned by their bio parents in order to provide people with children who will play the roll of someone other than who they really are.

                • No different than divorce where one parent has custody while the other has visitation rights. There are damages caused to the child in those cases. I don’t think anyone would ever argue to outlaw divorce when children are involved.

      • sure you are right. In my estimation they have not had it broken down in terms of concrete lost rights until very recently. It is all about emotional issues but as you’ll learn from Julie emotional stuff is worthless if you want to change the law. See talking about the emotional issues keeps people talking in a circle where nobody has to change anything. The only way the law will change is if equal rights violations are demonstrated. And that is not hard to do but it requires starting to refer to their bio parents as parents rather than donors or bio parents. In order for the equal protection approach to hang together they really cannot straddle the fence about them being parents to avoid hurting feelings of their rearing family. They are parents in the technical medical scientific sense of the word and so that should be good enough for all kinds of changes

        • The rights that matter that are lost with anonymous donation is knowing who represents 50% of their DNA. The rest of the so called rights really secondary and not important to the donor conceived from what I’ve read.

          The only way the laws will change is if there is a lobby that influences politicians to enact change for the donor conceived. That’s how things work in this country. Unfortunately the donor conceived don’t represent enough of the population to enact change the way you think it could.

  6. “I suppose if I were to answer my own question I would say that DNA dictates as much as we let it. And (from my point of view) it’s best not to let it dictate too much.”

    “There is no such thing as identity, only operational acts of identification.” -Jean-Francois Bayart

    I believe identities are fluid, although it’s understandable that people might desire stability and biological essentialism in a confusing world. Undue weight on genetic connection derives out of, I suppose we could call, a “Tory” traditionalist outlook that works to preserve family power. Taken to the extreme, it masks the differing constituencies and inequalities within families. It devalues untraditional forms of families. It has a tendency to reify gender roles and inequalities between the sexes. Finally, it devalues the “individual” in relation to the needs of the “family line.”

    In the past few months I have read many interesting comments that advocates the inherent important of genetic connection. I come away not only unconvinced of inherent importance of genetic connection, but alarmed by the push for legal inequalities that may be connected to this advocation of blood ties. I had not expected the more radical promotions of genetic connection to be politically connected to other ideologies that advocate inequality in today’s society. That was an unexpected discovery.

    But upon consideration it makes sense that an undue advocation of blood connection is tied not only to inequalities within families and a devaluing of untraditional family forms, but to a narrow conception of citizenship itself. For example, these trans-national surrogacy and ART cases confront national boundaries and the concept of the “nation” as related to “blood” and “national traditions.” Just as untraditional family forms challenge definitions and relations that appear to be biologically essential, trans-national connections can unsettle the cultural boundaries of nations.

    But John Sayles says it all so much more elegantly in _Lonestar_:

    Otis Payne: “By blood you are. But blood only means what you let it.”

    • Uh it is critical that we hold people accountable as parents for their own offspring because we have to assume that there is no body else lined up chomping at the bit to raise their kid for them if they don’t feel like it and their kid should have a right to depend upon them first and foremost and then the State only if the parents fail to meet their child’s needs. The support of both biological parents is a right of every person born while they are under the age of 18 and the state will help secure the parents identity and support for the minor but they have to be made aware of the need. Also the law needs to really change so that we make it difficult to simply assign someone else to the job of parent without them going through the proper channel and adoptiving. The first people to be named as parents must be the child’s bio parents or the child has been black market adopted.

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