A Timely Essay on How DNA Might Matter

Here’s an essay that I think is a nice complement to the last couple of posts.   It’s from the NYT Motherlode blog and is part of a series by Amy Klein.    In this one (published a week ago) she considers whether using a donor egg would matter to her.

There are several things about the essay that I think are noteworthy given the recent discussions here.   Most obviously, this is an instance of an individual making precisely the sort of calculation I think one needs to make–weighing the pros and cons before proceeding with something obviously serious.

You can also see consideration of both sides of the balance.  On the one hand, apparently the odds of successfully bearing a child are apparently much better with the third-party egg.  That’s obviously a plus.   On the other, she worries about her own connection to the child–how would she feel knowing the child had a genetic link to her husband and someone else–someone not known to her–but not to her?

But notice, too, that her concerns about this are individual and not categorical.   What I mean is it isn’t that she thinks “this is a bad idea for everyone.”  She’s thinking (as I believe she must) about what it means for her.    Again, there aren’t categorical reasons not to do it–it isn’t necessarily bad.  The question she asks–as I think she must–is whether it is right for her.

Then notice the things that weigh on her mind–the things that make her really pause:   First (and it turns out to be less importantly) is the stance of the US government on citizenship:

The State Department requires that “a U.S. citizen parent to have a biological connection to a child [born abroad] in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child at birth. In other words, the U.S. citizen parent must be the sperm or the egg donor in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to a child conceived through ART [Assisted Reproduction Technology].” Solomon is an American citizen, but reading that information felt like a stab in my uterus: a government agency was saying the baby wouldn’t be “mine.” 

(Emphasis added.)

Second, the view of Orthodox Judaism about whether the child will be a Jewish child.  (The views here are split.)

What’s important to me here is to notice that these things–the view of the US government and the view of the rabbinate–are changeable.   The US could, if it wanted to, adopt a different view of US citizenship.   If it did so, it wouldn’t be saying the baby wasn’t hers and that would, or at the very least might,  make a difference in how she feels.   Same thing with the rabbinate.  If it wasn’t split–if there were a clear consensus that all that matters is the religion of the woman who gives birth–that might change how Ms. Klein weighs things in the end.

This is social construction in action.   Our ideas about who is and who is not a real parent are shaped by institutions we interact with–the US government, religious authority and so on–and also by the culture in which we live.   (Ms. Klein has friends who have similar experiences and I’m sure this contributes to her view, too.)  These things are subject to change over time.   And one could argue that they should change–that, for example, the US ought to change its view on citizenship for children conceived via third-party gametes.

The last thing I want to note is the conclusion Ms. Klein reaches here:   She’ll try a few more times with her own eggs, saving the third-party gamete option as a last resort.   In the end, though, she says:

I know one thing: in the end, it will be our baby either way.

That, it seems to me, is most crucial–it is where it has to end.   Whatever path one chooses (and I think each person has to choose her/his own path) this is the conclusion you have to reach before going forward.  If you think it won’t be “your baby” then really–that way lies sadness.


5 responses to “A Timely Essay on How DNA Might Matter

  1. Maybe we should research the old rules about slave trading to determine ownership and citizenship of other people’s children by American citizens?

    “Most obviously, this is an instance of an individual making precisely the sort of calculation I think one needs to make–weighing the pros and cons before proceeding with something obviously serious.”

    It is not true that just because someone weighs the pros and cons before proceeding, that therefore it’s OK to proceed. That’s called “rationalizing.” It would be far better to prohibit creating a human being except by married sexual intercourse (including sexual intercourse done in vitro) so that people weren’t forced to ponder these questions at all and people retained human dignity and equality and weren’t exploited or insulted.

    • It seems as though you are starting with some assumption about which people can claim initial ownership of children–for how would we know if a child born via ART is “someone else’s child” unless you have some definition that says it is?

      I don’t think giving away gazettes (or selling them, for that matter) is remotely akin to slavery. I don’t really think sperm or eggs are very much like people, really.

      I know from other conversations that you favor conception by married (and necessarily hetero) sexual intercourse. This is also the position of formal Catholic doctrine, so you’re hardly alone. It’s a position I can at best partially understand and disagree with. There’s nothing magic (to me) about creating children via intercourse. There’s nothing magic about creating them within marriage, either.

      I don’t think everyone can be a good parent–and lots of people who can engage in married heterosexual intercourse probably shouldn’t be parents. I think people ought to decide to be parents and ought to assess the pros and cons as they seem them. Each person’s analysis will be different and not everyone will make the right choice. But surely we are better off if people at least consider whether they are willing to undertake the responsibilities?

      • No you can’t do that with me that bit about saying sperm and eggs are not like people. They are parts of people and those people have absolute total authority and control of their own body, where it goes and what it does, up to and including reproductive acts like insemination, fertilization, conception, reproduction are never under the control of anyone other than themselves even though they may allow another person to have custody of their tissue. The purpose of anatomical gifts must be expressly consented to and the person giving the gift has every right to put whatever conditions they wish on them allowing someone else to have possession of their tissue. We would not want anyone to ever think they owned the title to another person’s body or that they’d bought veto authority over that person’s right to do whatever they wanted with their own body or it’s parts. Consent to an anatomical gift can be withdrawn and their body part has to be returned to them if it still exists and has not been transplanted into someone else’s body. Obviously once a man inseminates a woman it is within her body and her body is not under his control. Obviously if a man has a medical professional inseminate a woman on his direction and with his consent, like sperm donors do, his sperm once in her body will cease to be under his control cause he has no authority over her body. But when a man’s sperm is in a garbage can or in a vile in a freezer or in his own body he can opt not to make good on a promise to have offspring with a woman. He does not have to go through with it just because his sperm is paid for and in a freezer. He has not truly enslaved himself in a contract he cannot get out of – but damn close. People really believe they bought and own the rights to his cells and that its them that conceives the child if they pay the bill to inseminate a woman with his sperm. They also think that gives them a right to call themselves the parent of his children that they bought his sperm and now it’s theirs and the children made with his sperm are theirs as well. Everyone acts like that’s true and the economy is sure operating like it’s true which is astonishing. Its just a service contract. He’s being paid to get women pregnant and not raise his kids. They are buying his absense and his silence, not his body like property.

        Let’s say an infertile guy purchases some sperm to “have a child with his wife” That “they decided to have a child together”. If you buy a house, it’s your house cause you can truly transfer title on property on objects; can’t truly transfer title on people or their bodies. You can try, go through the motions, even pay for their body or part of their body but you can’t ever refer to their body part as your body part. You can say its your sperm but their dna, but really what part of a person’s body does not contain their dna? Then what did you buy? Their reproductive freedom and decision making power? You think its you deciding to make their offspring for them? Really? No. They are the one that made the decision to have offspring by getting some random guy’s wife pregnant – that was the decision of the guy who produced the sperm. His choice his action, all the husband is doing is facilitating and accommodating the guy in getting his wife pregnant. If the donor really wanted to he could withdraw consent to his anatomical gift at any time prior to the insemination cause it’s his body, his choice whether or not to have offspring.

      • “I know from other conversations that you favor conception by married (and necessarily hetero) sexual intercourse. This is also the position of formal Catholic doctrine, so you’re hardly alone. It’s a position I can at best partially understand and disagree with. There’s nothing magic (to me) about creating children via intercourse. There’s nothing magic about creating them within marriage, either. ”

        See there I agree with you wholeheartedly 100%. Nothing magic or scientific when we boil it down. Being married is not what creates a person’s offspring and neither is it heterosexual intercourse that makes a person’s offspring though they might be influencing factors in how a person comes to have offspring it really makes not a bit of difference how it happened. What we need to focus on is not how or why people are deciding to have offspring or even who they’d like to raise their offspring with. We need to focus on making sure people who have offspring all have to follow the same rules so that their offspring are all treated equally. People who don’t have offspring who want to raise someone else’s offspring need to all follow the same rules for obtaining parental authority over other people’s offspring, no short cuts no back room deals. Holding someone else’s kid out as your own should at best lead a person to become a legal adoptive parent if and only if at some point the absent parent’s identity is determined and their consent is obtained or authority is terminated because their child is unsafe in their care. We need to stop viewing people as objects obtained via marriage or via adoption or via sperm donors. If we focus on treating everyone born fairly – without different laws for different people based on varying circumstances, we will arrive at a place where people who are not raised by bio parents know there was a good reason for it, their safety was at stake etc. Right now we think its possible to buy the rights to someone else’s offspring and make it all OK by telling their offspring that they were so wanted. Look at all we went through to get you dear. Expect people not to think their bio parent gave them up because you did not write his name down on the birth record? Because he did not intend to be a parent? He sure as hell intended to be a parent in the technical medical sense if he agreed to have offspring. All he did was consent not to raise them and not to tell anyone they were his kids. It’s the very height of being given up by a parent when they won’t even admit to being your parent long enough for a judge to OK an adoption. It’s chicken shit is what it is. Yellow and cowardly chicken shit.

        • Wow, can you enlighten us your background and why you have so much hate towards non biological parents? I think it would help all of us better understand your perspective.

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