Sometimes it seems so difficult to make progress in thinking through these issues. This is one of those times. Yesterday I began consideration of anonymity and secrecy in the use of third-party gametes. Really it is just about secrecy–haven’t gotten to anonymity yet. I had it in mind that today I would move on. But the more I think about even the little bit I wrote, the more I find there is more to consider.
Though I think it is worth reading the last post (and yes, I’m biased here), I can put it in a nutshell: I think concealing the fact that you used third-party gametes from the child who was conceived with those gametes is a bad idea. (And just to be clear, I do not take the same position vis-a-vis the world in general. I don’t think you have any obligation to announce your use of third-party gametes generally.)
But what follows from that statement? Most obviously, if I were the person deciding, I’d be honest with the child and tell them about their origins. Probably no one objects to that. Many would agree that it falls within my discretion to tell.
The more interesting question is should parents using third-party gametes have a right to make a different choice–the choice not to reveal their child’s origin to the child? To put it rather crudely, do the parents (and remember, here I mean social and legal parents) have a right to pass themselves off as genetic parents?
While I think that as far as the world goes the answer to this is “yes” I’m just not so sure as to the child. My thinking is in part shaped by pragmatic concerns. I think it is increasingly likely in our world today that a child will eventually learn that she/he is not genetically related to both parents. And if the information has been intentionally concealed then the discovery is typically going to be fairly traumatic, often seriously damaging the parent/child relationship, an outcome I hope we can agree is not desirable. Since we cannot know which children will learn of their origins and which children will not, we need to protect all children from this outcome.
I also find myself thinking about this from the other side: what exactly is the positive interest of the parents in concealment? How would you make a case for this right?
The obvious analogy (though perhaps an imperfect one) is to adoption. Do adoptive parents have a positive right to conceal the fact that the child is adopted? And again, I mean conceal it from the child. Where would such a right come from?
Unsurprisingly, if I add my worry about the child learning anyway to the lack of a strong basis for the parental right, I come out on the side of disclosure.
But what exactly does that mean? Does it mean that the state calls each family in and tells the child about its origins? Surely not. Does it mean that the state mandates each family to tell each child in a specific way at a specific time? Again, surely not. After all, parents do have very strong rights as against the state and are entitled to talk to their children as they choose to.
So perhaps what it amounts to is two things, neither one of which is an outright command by the state that the parents tell, but when taken together make it likely that they will do so (in a manner and a time of their own choosing.) First, you could require prospective parents to have some sort of counseling about telling/not telling. I know that many of us are leery of counseling in an era where it has been deployed to prevent women from choosing abortion, but not all counseling is coercive. Sometimes it really can be informative and perhaps this is one of those times. It might include information like what happens when a child who has not been told learns anyway, the different ways in which parents talk to their kids about this, the likelihood of successful concealment and so on.
Second, the state could announce that it would make the information available to the child when the child turned a particular age (18 comes to mind) if the person concieved with donor gametes asked for it. (I think once a donor conceived person is no longer a child they likely have their own entitlement to information nothwithstanding a conflict with their parents.) There’s obviously a lot to think about here, but for brevity I will leave it all packed up for now.
As I write this it occurs to me that there is at least one necessary condition for any of this to make any sense: It has to be easy to ensure that the third-party gamete person has no legal rights akin to those of parentage. Otherwise parents have an entirely separate reason for maintaining secrecy–to ensure the integrity of the family.
So you see–the more I think about this, the more there is to say. Onward next time……