This essay is from today’s Motherlode blog. It’s by David Dodge, a gay man who lives in NYC. He’s provided sperm so that a lesbian couple he knows can have a child. He did this as an act of friendship and so, I think, is rightly described as a sperm donor.
The essay recounts all the things he thought about as he considered his friends’ request for his sperm. I think it gives a great sense of the issues that anyone contemplating providing gametes for third-party reproduction ought to think about. Indeed, I think it’s a list of considerations that women considering being surrogates ought to read and think about, too.
For those who are worried about the identity issues that might arise with a sperm donor, I’ll note at the beginning that it is clearly the plan that he will be known to and, to an as yet undefined degree, involved with the child. At the very least this ought to allay concerns about family medical history questions. Should a question come up the people to ask will be available.
Does it also allay broader concerns about identity and using third-party sperm? Since these aren’t concerns I share, particularly, it’s really not my place to say where it does or does not allay them. It seems to me that it must do so at least partially–there will be no need for this child to search for her/his sperm provider. She/he will know from the outset that such a person exists and they’ll know who he is. And if he is known to the child, then it seems to me many of the questions I’ve seen raised can be asked and discussed. I’m sure there’s more to say here, but I’ll let others who have the concern take the lead.
Two things are really striking to me here. One is the range of issues Dodge raises. Everything from the responses of his extended family to speculations about what might happen in the future given different eventualities. I think he’s quite right to think about all these questions. Far better to do so in advance, even if some of them (some of the “what happens if” questions) don’t ever become relevant.
The second thing is that to a large degree he cannot have answers–and he seems to see that. Now I don’t mean to say that all things are unknowable. You can, for example, know the law. And you can plan for the law. What happened in Kansas with the sperm donor (discussed a bit here), should not happen. If you consult a lawyer a good lawyer you can control some of the issues he raises. (If the KS sperm donor and the lesbian parents had entered into a written agreement, for example, the outcome in that case would be quite different.)
But where a sperm provider will be involved with the child and her/his family there are many things you cannot know–what will the child call him, for instance? There aren’t guarantees about that. And so you can think about them, you can talk about them, but in the end you have to live with the uncertainty. And before you provide the sperm you’d better decide you are okay living with the uncertainty.
This essay struck me at a good time. As I said in the last post, I’ve been thinking about surrogacy. Here, too, it seems to me that it is critical that people really think things through. Not everyone can be a surrogate (either gestational or traditional). It’s the same thing here: Not everyone can provide sperm for friends (or eggs). (By the way, I think this works both ways: Not everyone can happily use third-party gametes and not everyone can feel okay about using a surrogate.)
One real danger with all the new technologies that ART brings us, it seems to me, is that you don’t take enough time to really know yourself, your own desires and your own capacities. You use technology because you can–it’s very tempting. It’s good to see an essay demonstrating a more studied approach, for I really tink this is the way we have to go.