March 12, 2007

Sperm donor recognized as one of three legal parents

On January 2, 2007, the Ontario Court of Appeal (the highest court in the province of Ontario) made the monumental decision that a child could have three legal parents (read the decision here). This case is already being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, as such a redefinition has serious consequences on everything from step-families to polygamy. Perhaps Ontario birth certificates would now be able to provide three blanks: Parent A, Parent B, and Parent C.

The case involves a lesbian couple and a male friend who donated his sperm to help the lesbians have a baby. The male donor (who has his own family and children) chose to stay casually involved in his new son's life - he has dinner with the lesbian couple once a week. Most importantly, both he and the lesbians recognize that he is this child's biological father, and the lesbians allowed him to stay involved in that capacity, although they are the "primary caregivers" of the child.

This is a new trend that I have noticed taking root among homosexual parents. Since they can't hide the fact that they needed a third party to bring about "their" child, they come out of the closet about it - they "celebrate" it and create one big happy family, with the real father or mother becoming a very special friend - or in this case, a third parent.

The lesbian couple here went even further. They decided not to take the biological father off the birth certificate, because they recognize his importance and role (imagine, a donor father is recognized by everyone without the blink of an eye as a rightful legal parent! ). Makes one wonder about all of the social parents who waste so much blog space fighting against the idea that donors are real parents.

Rather, the lesbians sued to ADD the nonbiological lesbian "mom" as a third legal parent - and they won.

While the implicit recognition of the importance and rightful role of donor fathers is a good thing, the "three legal parents" decision is very disturbing. If three parents, why not four? (If the lesbians had used both a sperm and egg donor, the court would presumably have had to recognize four legal parents). Why not ten? Perhaps it really does take a village to raise a child. This is the true redefinition of parenthood and the family, and could snowball us straight into a world we do not recognize.

The outcome of this case shows that when we divorce biology and parenthood, we end up in a vertiable mess of unknown proportions. Once we allow biological strangers to get their name on the birth certificate AS IF they were natural parents, just because they love and care for the child, it's hard to keep the floodgates closed.

One problem is, love and care are unstable - they are not as immutable as blood, and it's hard to hang lifetime duties, responsibilities and rights on such flimsy hooks. If the lesbians break up, the nonbiological lesbian will now be forever involved with decision-making about that child.

Another problem is that love and care can be provided to a child by any number of people. There is nothing about love and care that is necessarily limited to two people. For example, if the biological lesbian mom discovers that she is bisexual, and she gets into a new long-term relationship with both a man and a woman, and these now love and help to raise the lucky child, why shouldn't they become the fouth and fifth legal parents?

March 08, 2007

How is egg or sperm donation any different than donating a kidney?

One of the arguments often advanced by those who favor donor conception is the comparison of egg and sperm donation to organ, blood or tissue donation. They will say, for example:
If my kidneys didn't work, would you have a problem with me accepting a kidney transplant?" No? "okay, then, my ovaries (testes) don't work, so I accepted an egg (sperm) transplant."
Would you get a blood transfusion if you needed one to save your life? That is someone else's donation, is it wrong? I don't think so.
This argument is an integral part of the "education" (some would say indoctrination, or rather, brainwashing) received by donors to prepare them for their altruistic task.

Thus for example, the website of the Abraham Center for Life (a baby "Ikea" with ready-to-assemble babies for sale), features an egg donor who is described as being "clearly psychologically prepared for the procedure". The donor dutifully and beautfully states that:
"I am not emotionally attached to my eggs. I do not go into mourning every month that I ovulate and lose an egg. I am not giving my couple a baby, I am giving them a chance to create a child. I cannot create their child. It is their desire, action, persistence and sperm that creates the child. If it were not for their desire to have a child, this particular child would not exist. I cannot guarantee that they will have a baby. All I can do is donate my eggs and the rest is up to them and God."
It would be a mistake to dismiss this argument as marginal to the repro tech industry, as it is central to the whole mindframe required to support donor conception. Indeed, the whole industry rises or falls on the truth of this one basic claim.

In order to believe that donor conception is ethically acceptable, both the donors and the social parents ABSOLUTELY NEED to believe that the donor is not giving away his or her own child, but merely a "cell."

That's because it is ethically acceptable to receive someone else's freely-given organ or tissue (though it is not ethical, and it is in fact illegal, to buy and sell these).

However, it is quite another matter to "donate" your own child to someone, or to accept a "donated" child. If the donors and social parents woke up to the reality of what they are doing, they would not sleep quite as well at night.

So they cling to the deception that an egg and a sperm are just like a blood cell, a kidney, or a liver.

Of course, this is false. There is only one way for anyone to have their own genetic child, and that is through their own egg or sperm. The whole purpose of your egg or the sperm is to create a child that is genetically yours. Whenever a child is created using your egg or sperm, that child is biologically your own child. You will always be the biological mother or father of the resulting child, and the bond between you will be natural and immutable. No power on earth will be able to eliminate this biological relationship.

This of course is a significant difference from donating blood, liver, kidneys, and any other organ or tissue in the body, which can't be used to create another living being that will be your own child.

So while the well-indoctrinated donor repeats hypnotically "I am not giving my couple a baby, I am giving them a chance to create a child. It is their desire, action, persistence and sperm that creates the child," the truth is quite the opposite. If the Abraham Clinic were to revise its statement in accordance with the truth, rather than with marketing propaganda, the statement would say something like this:
"I am not emotionally attached to my eggs. I do not go into mourning every month that I ovulate and lose an egg. However, by nature I do get emotionally attached to my own biological children, which can and will be created whenever these eggs are fertilized and develop into a baby.

These children also by nature get attached to me, because we share a unique bond that cannot be replaced or eliminated, as I am their own mother. I have a natural responsibility to care for my children, and they have a right to be cared for by me.

I am not giving my couple a baby, I am giving them a chance to create my own baby and keep it and raise it as if it were theirs.

I cannot create their child. But my eggs will enable them to create my child.

It is their desire, action, persistence and sperm, together with my eggs, that creates my child.

If it were not for their desire to have a child, this particular child of mine would not exist.

I cannot guarantee that they will have a baby. All I can do is donate my eggs, and they can combine them with their sperm, and the rest is up to them and God. This is the case in any conception, since even in a married relationship, all the couple can do is try, and the rest is up to God.

However, even though I can't guarantee anything, whenever a baby does actually result from my eggs and their sperm, it will be half my own baby. It will be as close to me biologically as any baby can ever get, and as close to me as any children that I choose to keep and raise. It will be my son or daughter, whom I have allowed to be created with the intention of giving him or her away to an infertile couple."
Maybe if egg and sperm donors were prepared by signing statements like these, they would no longer be so surprised when they meet their resulting donor children. Currently, donors sometimes seem to be utterly shocked by the fact that their donor children are, well, so THEIRS.

For example, one man who donated sperm in the 1980s was tracked down by one of his donor daughters, and agreed to meet with her. He said of the experience: "Seeing her was very emotional...The profile, the mannerisms, everything was so much like me that it was scary."

Like, whoa, she is SO much like me! How could this have happened? All I did was donate sperm, and then one day I meet this look-alike who seems like my own flesh and blood! Too weird.

So Bob has decided that "this experience was so overwhelming that he is not sure that he will do it again. ''If the bank comes to me and asks me to do this [meet his donor children] again, I'll probably say just release medical information but nothing other than that,'' he said.

So sad.

March 05, 2007

On being ugrateful for having been born

Several times I've encountered the following argument from people who are pro-repro tech: "If you are against reproductive technologies, then you are saying that the people born with the use of these technologies would have been better off never having been born."

The same argument is used to silence the children of egg and sperm donors, if they happen to question the goodness of their conception. Are they saying that despite living happy and fulfilled lives, they would rather not exist? How ungrateful and how very sad.

The presumption in this argument is that as long as you are alive, you should be grateful and happy about the circumstances of your conception, because after all, it created you.

The absurdity of this argument becomes visible when it is transplanted into other circumstances:
  • If the children of rape say they are against rape, are they saying they would rather not exist?
  • Do the children of incest, pedophilia and prostitution have a duty to support incest, pedophilia and prostitution?
  • Must the children of one night stands support random hookups and unprotected intercourse?
of course we are always grateful to be alive. However, it would be absurd to have an obligation to support the way we were conceived, not matter how unethically it happened.

Despite the fact that it gave us life, we can recognize that the way we were created was unethical and has caused us and others great pain. We can be against hurting others in the same way that we were hurt.

It is thus no contradiction to be glad for one's life, and yet against the perpetuation of this failed experiment upon other children in the future.

March 02, 2007

Why It's Not Enough to "Know"

A new fashion is here among the parents and providers of donor conception. It is now a good thing to tell your children that they were donor conceived, and even to be proud of it. It is "coming-out-of-the-closet" time! By saying these things openly to our children and everyone else, we will MAKE everything okay!

An article on the Donor Conception Network by Olivia Montuschi, the mother of a DI daughter, is typical of this trend.

One reason why this new movement has come about is because past generations of DI parents have found that they can't fully enjoy and develop their relationships with their children when they are in fact living a lie, when they are hiding an enormous and fundamental secret that their children have a right to know, and when they spend their lives in trying to conceal the truth and in fear of when their child could accidentally find out. (Montuchi even describes one DI mom who believed that her recurrent cancer had been due to the strain of keeping the "Secret", but she still believed it was all worth it).

Another reason for the change in approach by DI parents is the negative experiences of many parents whose children have indeed accidentally found out the truth at an older age. Montuschi goes through these effects, and even discusses how big the risk is that a child could accidentally find out.

So, forced into a corner because the quality of their parent-child relationship is at stake, DI parents are finally waking up to the fact that "parents' rights to secrecy would not be considered as weighty as the rights of a child".

That's all great, and a step in the right directon. Telling the truth is certainly liberating for the parents who live with their dark secret, and it probably releases some of their guilt.

However, it's not nearly enough. These DI parents and providers seem to think that just by telling their children "oh, by the way, we intentionally robbed you of your real mommy or daddy, because we wanted a baby of our own", their children will smile and say "that's okay, I love you and I consider you my real mommy and daddy."

Of course, children need a lot more than that. What they really need is to know and be raised by their real mommy or daddy. It's not enough just to tell them that their real parent exists somewhere out there, and that they were purposefully separated from him or her because a stranger really wanted to love them.

Playing Tricks on Ourselves

There is a truly golden 1998 article on the Donor Conception Network by Walter Merricks. It is called "Is It Ethical?" The subtitle is: "Is it ethical deliberately to bring into the world a child who will be unable to know half of his or her genetic provenance?"

Merricks acknowledges that biological origins are probably "at least as" important as a good upbringing. He admits that DI children may experience "future despair and 'genetic bewilderment'" and "conflicting feelings of loss and sadness," and that these consequences of donor conception "will perpetuate themselves through the next and the next and the next generation." He also realizes that children may "blame, argue, resent or revolt" against their social parents.

Yet despite all of these realizations, Merricks unexpectedly concludes that it is in fact ethically okay to put children through this mysery. He says that social parents are still practicing "responsible parenthood" as long as they inform their children that they are donor conceived and as long as they "offer them some strength and confidence; and try to prepare them for life as best we can" "in the context of a loving relationship."

What a classic display of twisting the truth to fit our wants and needs. Merricks' conclusion simply does not follow in any way from his admissions about the effects this has on children.

This willfull self-blindness is evindent in other articles on the DCN site. Talk about a fascinating social study in human behavior.

For example, read "The Things Children Say - The text of Alison Cobb’s talk to the Bristol National meeting." There, Alison discusses her two DI children, who were told from birth that they were donor conceived. Her son has been fairly mute about it all. However, Allison discusses the trauma that her daughter has gone through as a result:
"Octavia was a different kettle of fish entirely and started being quite troubled by the whole thing. She was very moody and would come out with comments such as "sometimes I think you are not my real Mummy" ...She also became very close to Daddy and was inclined to slightly push me aside....One of the concepts that she found very difficult to handle was the realisation that she wouldn't look like me. This was not something we had mentioned to her but she had obviously worked this one out for herself."
Her daughter felt "not belonging, different, not like her friends etc, etc." Finally, her social parents decided to send her to professionals, and she's seen various people to talk about her problems.

Alison's daughter has obviously had a very tough time dealing with her origins. She is still in school, so only time will tell how this issue will continue to effect her.

And yet, Alison seems completely unrepentant and appears to still support DI despite her child's problems. She ends on a chirpy note: "I am aware that there will be major issues to deal with in the future but right now we feel we have climbed the first hurdle and still have two very happy and secure and affectionate children."

Really, your children are happy and secure? I guess that's why your daughter is seeing doctors and counselors to get over her grief and confusion.

March 01, 2007

Jill Hawkins, mother of seven, mother to none

Jill Hawkins is a true "baby vending machine." Drop in 12,000 pounds and your husband's sperm, and nine months later, you get a baby to take home with you. Jill is a "traditional" surrogate - one who uses her own eggs and carries the baby to term, only to give it away to someone else once it is born. (see photo here)

The poor woman has been single all her life. She has no children at home -only cats. She has struggled with chronic deep depression, even attempting suicide. She has struggled with her weight. She has struggled with feelings of loneliness and neediness.

And at 27, she found the magic answer to her troubles: she would find meaning and love in life by giving away her own children to grateful infertile couples. She got a high from the feeling of pregnancy, which made her feel important and validated her weight. She fed off the pampering and attention she received from the infertile couple who were waiting for her to deliver. Even afterwards they owe her a debt of gratitude - though of course, she is no longer really welcome and sees her children once a year (read an interview with the social parents of Jill Hawkins' 6th baby here).

Oh, and the financial reward was quite an incentive for Jill too: "There's the emotional turmoil to think of as well as the health risks. But the money's lovely and it allows me to have good holidays and do the things I want with my life."

So that is what she did - seven times. She always claimed she didn't want children of her own - but now she finally admits that she would indeed like to have children. Except, at 42, it's very unlikely she'll have any children of her own.

Of course, she already does have children: two girls (14 and 3), four boys (12, 8, 5, 4), and a newborn baby. Only, she's given all of these children away to strangers for 12,000 pounds each.

Jill says of these children: "I think of them as my friends' children. Their real mothers are the women who are bringing them up, loving them, nurturing them and shaping their lives and personalities."

She may say this and really believe it, in which case she is deluding herself. I wonder if her children will be similarly deluded.

One thing is sure: neither she nor the "social" parents can speak for the children and guarantee that they will be fine with this arrangement. All pretending and role-playing aside, the fact is that Jill is the real, biological mom of these children. Her parents are their real grandparents. Her siblings are their real aunts and uncles, and their children are the real cousins. The children will someday grow up and fully realize this fact. Everyone will tell try to convince them otherwise. But in another article, even Jill admits the truth: "It is still half my child."

How can one not feel extremely sorry for Jill? Her story is truly heartbreaking. She even admits that giving her own children away was very difficult for her:

"initially you do feel very empty and upset. Your body has spent nine months nurturing this baby and suddenly it's not there anymore, so emotionally it can be quite traumatic. The first time, with Lucy, was the worst because I'd never had a child before. I experienced feelings I'd never had before, overwhelming emotions of wanting to protect this little baby. I didn't know if I would want to change my mind or how I might feel once Lucy was born, whether I would bond with her. I never thought of her as my own and I never wanted to keep her, but it was very hard to deal with once she was gone. I went to my parents, who've always been very supportive, and just cried for days."

She also found it hard to give up her second baby: "I needed the money and was honest about it with the couple. But I regretted doing it for financial reasons. It made me feel depressed afterwards....I couldn't detach myself like I thought I could. I couldn't think of it as a business deal. It upset me."

The subsequent babies were also hard to give up: "I cry my eyes out every time. But afterwards I sit and think about the last few hours we had together and look at photographs....Eventually it settles down but it's hard for me. Most surrogates go home to their families but I come home to nothing....I'm all on my own and feel very vulnerable."

But as sad as one feels for Jill Hawkins, who has farmed herself out for love and money and sold her own children through neediness and greed, one feels even more sad for the children. They are the pawns that everyone is playing with here. They pay for it all by seeing their real mom once a year, by dealing with a deep sense of rejection and grief, by never knowing half of their family, and by having a harder time figuring out their own identity.

Why do we let desparate infertile couples, who in their child-fever are not able to think rationally, take advantage of women like Jill Hawkins?

Frankly, it's clear that we can't rely either on Jill or the infertile couple to make the right decision here. Only the state can be disinterested and rational enough to protect the interests of the child. Surrogacy should be against the law, because no one has the right to buy or sell a child. Parents should not even have the right to give their own child away unless they are truly unable to care for it. This is because it's not just about the adults - children have fundamental rights too, and even natural parents don't have the authority to violate them.