Surrogacy and Genetic Connection

This story–a fairly recent one–typifies the conflicting attitudes towards genetics that I think are often on view in public discussion and within families.   I don’t mean to offer any particular judgment about the actions detailed here.   I just want to point out what I think is an essential tension at the heart of this story.

Geromy Moore “always knew he wanted to be a parent.”  I don’t actually know whether that means that Moore always knew he wanted to raise a child–that is, to be a psychological parent–or whether that means he always knew he wanted to pass his genetic material on to the next generation.  Probably both? Certainly for many people these two things are deeply intertwined.

In any event, it appears that the genetic connection part mattered to him.  As the article concludes:  “having a child that has his genes was worth the time, money and legal wrangling.”

To accomplish this goal, Moore used gestational surrogacy.  (For more discussion on that, check out the tags on the right.)   As the article makes clear gestational surrogacy is an expensive and somewhat complicated route to parenthood.   Moore went to a California surrogacy center (since defunct) that in turn sent him to a surrogacy center in India.

But of course, Moore couldn’t create a child using his sperm alone.   He needed an egg.    Moore and his now-husband, Peter Dandridge, chose an egg donor on- line.   I assume this means that the donor is anonymous–unknown to them.  (I could be wrong about that assumption of course.)    Cecilia was born through gestational surrogacy and is now two years old.   She is genetically related to Moore and to the unidentified donor.   As Dandridge has adopted Cecilia, I might also note that she is genetically related to one of her legal parents and not to the other.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with this–I don’t think there is.  But it does seems like there’s a varying view of genetics.  Genetic connection is very important (which is why Moore went to the lengths he did) but it isn’t important at all (which is why it is okay to have used an egg provider who does not seem to play a role in the child’s life.)   Genetic connection is important (and contributes somehow to Moore’s role as father, but it isn’t important, which is why Dandridge, who has no genetic connection, can also be a father.)

How can these things fit together?  Perhaps because genetic connection means different things to different people?   Maybe it means a lot to Moore but not so much to the egg provider or to Dandridge?   Thus, Dandridge believes he can be a full parent (in the social/psychological sense) without genetic connection while Moore felt the additional connection was valuable?    For Moore, genetic connection is a critical part of legal parenthood but for the egg provider it was just an egg?   I certainly hope these assumptions are correct, because it seems to make a harmonious future for this family more likely.

But I do wonder.   For instance, does Moore feel he is more of a parent than Dandridge because of the genetic connection?  (Remember, the genetic connection is important to Moore.)   Does Dandridge feel that he is less of a parent for that same reason?  Does Moore feel that he is?   Other people will certainly make those judgments (and will consider the egg provider to be more of a parent than Dandridge, too).   What’s the consequence of that social messaging?

I’m reminded that many lesbian couples have been confronted for years with the question “who is the real mom?”   For lesbians it’s never clear if that’s a question about genetics or pregnancy/birth, but whatever it is, it’s telling.  And couples like Moore and Dandridge have to work out how they will negotiate those moments.

I really do not mean to pick on this particular family.  I don’t know anything about them beyond what is in that story.   I use them only as an example of how attitudes about the importance of genetics seem to vary with perspective.

There’s one other point I’d note.  We do not know what Cecilia’s attitude towards the importance of genetics will be.  I don’t think it will necessarily be important to her.  I don’t really know what shapes a person’s attitudes in this regard.  I’m sure family is influential as is society.   But given the importance Moore places on genetics, it seems possible that Cecilia, too, will conclude that it matters.      And then you have to wonder about what she might make of her connection to Moore, to Dandridge and to the woman who provided the egg.

If this all feels rather muddled (as it does to me) it’s because I don’t really know what my point is.   It’s complicated. Even within a single household there are what I can only see as conflicting attitudes.  That’s the tension I want to spend some time thinking about.

12 responses to “Surrogacy and Genetic Connection

  1. I wonder if genetics is still important to Dandridge (the non-bio Dad), but that the importance can be addressed by his partner being genetically related to the child. In other words, can the couple “be one” for the purposes of genetic connection, in the sense that they want their child to have a genetic connection to their joint entity – “the family”? I feel I’ve heard it expressed this way by lesbian couples on occasion.

    • Perhaps. I suspect each family works this out for themselves. Some probably do embrace what you suggest. For others, each accepts that the other places different values on things. I think that is completely possible, too.

      Perhaps I should slightly shift my point. It’s not that the dilemma for the individual family is impossible–it isn’t. I’ve seen it managed many times in many ways. But if I think about this from a broader and more theoretical level it just seems to me that there is an inconsistency. And to the extent one might premise law (generally) on some underlying ideas, that inconsistency seems problematic. Not perhaps insurmountable, but worthy of note. So for instance, if the law privileges genetic connection (which it could do) then it is hard to justify a market in genetic material.

  2. “The couple picked three candidates and interviewed the women via Skype. Cecilia’s biological mother identified herself as a medical student who plays cello and does ballroom dancing. Moore also wanted a donor who would be willing to get to know Cecilia when she grew up.”

    That tells me that she is known…or willing to be known when the child is an adult.

    I think someone who values a genetic connection and chooses to use anonymous sperm/egg is a hypocrite because they want it for themselves, but not for the child who is being intentionally created.

    Some people need genetic connections, some don’t. Time will tell how that specific story plays out with the non-genetic parent.

    As you know I highly value genetic connection – but I don’t think it is needed to be a family, but, it should ALWAYS be the child’s choice to have it, or not. The decision should only be made by the child, so of course, that makes me against anonymous donors who do not want the child to know who they are when they reach adulthood.

    • Boy, am I out of practice. You’re so right. Bad reading on my part.

      It does seems like we know that genetic connection will matter to some people and not to other people. It also seems to me that we cannot predict which category an as-yet-unconceived child will fall into. Thus, anyone planning to do this has to consider the possibility that the child will care, and might care deeply. I am inclined to think that this creates some sort of parental moral obligation to have the information available to your child, or at least to think long and hard about failing to do that. Which is to say I’m inclined to agree with you.

      There’s a practical aspect to this, too. Guarantees of anonymity seem increasingly frail with emerging technologies of DNA testing and information sharing.

  3. This is all really tough. While I cannot fully understand someone in a same sex couple that cannot conceive a child with their partner as an infertile man I get where he is coming from.

    For me having a genetic connection to a child was important but being a parent is more important. I feel like I can pass things down to a child through any type of relationship. I’m a volunteer in my local Big Brother Program and hope that I’m able to have a positive impact on my little. Whether I do is a different story.

    But I get why someone would want a genetic connection above all. Heck it’s why I attempted to have a child with my wife in the first place.

  4. This is what I have always called the paradox of surrogacy.

    My husband and I are the fathers of two young children via gestational surrogacy. One child was conceived with my sperm and the other with my husband’s. Both children have the same egg donor (so they are technically biologically half-siblings).

    Personally, I have always felt very strongly about having a genetic connection to my children. When we were investigating options for creating our family, we met with doctors, egg donor agencies, and with other gay male couples who have had children. It was amazing how the future role of the donor was dismissed. We were encouraged by professionals to choose an anonymous donor and our friends acted like the donors didn’t even exist.

    I thought this was odd? Disingenuous? I remember thinking, here I am, feeling very strongly about a genetic connection, and then I’m going to tell my children someday that the other half of their genetics isn’t important, or doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist? This rang false to me.

    If you visit the Donor Sibling Registry, you will see they have done extensive research of donor-conceived children. One survey of over 700 donor-conceived children demonstrated that approx. 93% of donor-conceived children were interested in meeting their donors and most expressed this interest by age 7.

    We were very lucky that an acquaintance agreed to be our egg donor. We have all the legal contracts — she has no parental rights and no parental obligations. But now our children can have a relationship with their other genetic parent. There is no mystery and there are no secrets, and hopefully there will be no shame and no “adoption fantasy.”

    We know that not everyone will be able to use a known donor, and that we are very fortunate. But if one is using gestational surrogacy to create their family, it is unfair to the child to dismiss a connection to the donor.

  5. the meaning of genetics is much less clear cut when talking about a female parent than a male parent. especially when 3 aspects of motherhood- pregnancy, genetics, and child rearing are spliced between 3 people.
    i believe the importance of genetics in the fatherhood is the culturally mainstream one, while motherhood is a mishmash.

  6. There are so many things that can and do go wrong in the parenting arena, I really believe this obsession with genetics is pointless and gets us no where. However, it is a convenient argument to use when the ultimate goal is to discriminate LGBTQ folks or needlessly limit their parenting options.

    • one could make the exact opposite claim- that the downgrading of genetics despite its importance to paternity in mainstream cultures the world over, is but a convenient tool to boost the narrow interests of same sex couples.

      • I’m not happy with the inclusion of the modifier “narrow”, but I will skip that.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “paternity.”. I think of paternity as being genetic fatherhood and so no one can challenge the idea that genetics is essentially to paternity. Perhaps the question is more about what meaning or weight we assign to genetic fatherhood (paternity to me) in defining legal or social parenthood?

        I wonder if you are really making a broader point. If one thinks that ideally children should be raised by their genetic parents, then lesbian/gay families cannot be ideal families–because two women or two men cannot be the genetic parents of a child. So endorsing lesbian/gay families necessarily means rejecting the idea that an ideal parent is one who is genetically related? And also arguing that the person who is genetically related doesn’t have to be a parent? I think the logic here is solid and it’s an important observation.

        • i agree -those are the logical conclusions to my comment,although my intent in writing it was more limited- it was in response to the insinuation that the favoring of biological kinship is necessarily politically motivated, any more than the opposition to it.

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