It’s not me having second thoughts–sorry if that heading mislead you. A couple of different things have gotten me thinking about gamete providers and second thoughts.
First there is this decision–a significant one, I think–from Illinois. It’s been in the newspapers, but you can read the actual opinion as well. It’s long and deserving of some real consideration. (I’ve also written about it before at an earlier stage of the proceedings.) For my purposes here, though, I’m not going to dwell on the opinion. (I’ll do that another day, soon I hope.) A bare-bones version of the facts will do.
Karla Dunston and Jacob Szafranski were dating. Karla was facing chemotherapy that would very likely destroy her ability to produce eggs. I think this was before the days of reliable egg freezing, but whether this is true or not, Karla thought to preserve her genetic material by having the eggs fertilized and then freezing the pre-embryos. To do this, she needed sperm. She asked Jacob if he would provide the sperm. He agreed to do so.
If you read the facts in the opinion you’ll see that precisely what the plan was is a little vague. This does not seem to be a case where a couple creates embryos planning to use them together. The relationship here was neither that serious nor that stable. So it seems that Jacob agreed to provide sperm so that Karla could create embryos that she might use at a later date, very likely without him as a parent. It seems to me he had, in effect, agreed to serve as a known sperm donor. (Notice that here “donor” seems the right word since he wasn’t paid.)
Now if all had gone smoothly there would not be a 56 page court opinion. But it didn’t go smoothly. Jacob had second thoughts. He didn’t want Karla to use the embryos.
There’s another reason I’ve been thinking about regrets: While the opinion in that case is quite recent, there’s a blog post that’s been around for a while. Leah Campbell was an anonymous egg donor when she was 24. (Here “egg donor” is her term, so I’m using it, but she was compensated for her participation in the enterprise. Could make you question the “donor” part.)
She knows that children were born using her eggs. This was seven years ago and while Campbell doesn’t say she regrets her decision (indeed, she says “I refuse to ever regret my decision to donate”) I think it is fair to say she has at least some second thoughts, or maybe further thoughts , especially about the anonymity part. She’d like to know the children who were created, and would like them to know who she is. (I’m rather surprised that the global publicity her blog post gained didn’t seem to accomplish this.)
I don’t really think any of this is surprising. I’ve written here in the past about regret. Providing gametes that will be used to create a child you will not know or will know but will not raise is a serious decision. It’s also almost assuredly a decision many people would look at differently at different stages in their lives. What might seem like a fine idea at 25 might not seem like a good idea at all at forty.
But of course, this isn’t only the case when you’re thinking about providing gametes. There are many serious decisions people make in their 20s that they may come to regret. To get married, to have children (in some conventional way), to place a child for adoption, to enlist in the armed forces, to take/not take a particular career path, to get a particular tattoo and so on. The question for me isn’t whether or not some people will regret their decisions—I’m sure some will. The question is what to do about that.
One extreme choice–one I reject–is to prevent them from making the choice they might regret. You could make it illegal to do the thing and then no one could decide to do it and no one would have regrets about having made that decisions. But, as I say, I reject that approach. I think the cost (restricting people’s freedom) is too high.
Short of that, you can try to structure the situation in which the choice is made so that people will stop and think carefully. (You can also impose limits on who can make these decisions–as we generally do by requiring people to be over a certain age.)
Decisions about providing gametes tend to be structured that way. In general people providing gametes for ART will always have time to reconsider. The overall process for both egg and sperm providers requires repeated visits over time. And you can actually see several opportunities in the process described in the Chicago case where Jacob might have reconsidered. But of course, he didn’t. And that’s the thing about providing opportunities–some people won’t take them. And then they are left with second thoughts and perhaps regret. I think that’s just the price of having freedom to choose, I guess, but it is a price we should acknowledge.