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My Daddy's Name is Donor

A new survey by the Institute for American Values showing that children conceived by Artificial Insemination-Donor have questions about their paternity . Some seem to wish they'd been born into an intact family.The trouble, of course, is that in most cases there is no intact family for them to be born into. The only alternative was non-existence.I never know what to make about surveys like this--when the alternative is non-existence. And I also wonder what the difference is between a survey of AID- kids, who express regret about coming into existence in this manner, and, say, a (hypothetical) survey of children born with significant disabilities, or in poverty, who express regret about being born in that physical or social condition.Would the Institute for American Values sponsor a survey of my hypothetical kind? And what kind of conclusions do they think should follow from the survey they actually did, as distinct from other possible surveys of this sort--when the alternative is non-existence?And if the response is, "well . . . it's different. . . AID is an immoral means, whereas having a child with a disability isn't or in poverty isn't," then it seems to me that the real argument doesn't actually turn on the self-assessment of the children about their well-being, but upon something else--namely, a conviction that the means involved in AID are illicit.And why not just be upfront about that?UPDATE: One of the authors of the study, has responded to this post. I think she's missed my point. So I'll try to put it in an nutshell. I'm not endorsing or opposing AID here--I'm looking at argument structures.These children may complain about their genetic heritage, but what does that complaint actually mean, since: 1) without AID they would not be themselves; ad 2) without AID they wouldn't exist. The alternative for them isn't an intact family, it's non-existence.

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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I read that survey, too. I can't imagine how anyone could donate/sell sperm/ova and know that a child of theirs was perhaps trapped forever in human form with the genes of a stranger from whom the donor/seller might have recoiled in real life.And why would a childless person pay to create a new baby when there are homeless children already alive? And why would anyone believe the sperm is really that of a tall handsome med student, when it could just as easily be that of the short ugly doctor who owns the fertility clinic? The biological imperative to reproduce led at least one doctor to use his own sperm to produce dozens of offspring in one city.

Speaking of repellent: look at the ads to the right. Does Commonweal get to approve the ads engendered (!) by its blog posts?

" seems to me that the real argument doesnt actually turn on the self-assessment of the children about their well-being, but upon something elsenamely, a conviction that the means involved in AID are illicit."But one of the reasons AID is illicit is precisely that the children thereby conceived have had their rights infringed:CCC 2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:Article 71. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.----------

The concern about falling in love with or marrying someone to whom you are unknowingly related was a new one on me. I've never known an adopted child to have this sort of anxiety, but perhaps there are studies that show this as well? If the comparison could be made, and if it shows that the results are not the same, that would be really interesting. In other words, if not knowing who your biological parents are does not produce this anxiety when you are brought up with adoptive parents, but knowing that one of your biological parents was a sperm donor does, then this is a more complex psychological phenomenon than simply "not knowing."

To fall in love with a stranger who has biological connections to you is one thing. To fall in love with a known person with biological connections to you is quite another thing.The first situation, while possibly a bit unsettling at first discovery, should not cause undue concern. For all practical purposes, that stranger is still a stranger. (Is there not a theory that we are all related within 6 degrees of separation?) The second situation brings up all kinds of psychological and social problems that our society is not prepared to deal with. Forget about the church; I'm talking reality here. And, yes, I do NOT consider many of the church's shibboleths to have anything to do with reality; only power and control.

"The concern about falling in love with or marrying someone to whom you are unknowingly related was a new one on me. Ive never known an adopted child to have this sort of anxiety, but perhaps there are studies that show this as well?"------Adopted children are most likely the offspring of a man and woman who had few, if any, other children. Odds are against their meeting a sibling. Children whose biological parents sold ova/sperm may have numerous siblings. They are likely to meet, especially in a small town such as the one where the sperm bank doctor I mentioned above operated. As they grow up, these children naturally are interested in their origins, so they Google, etc., and find that it's highly likely that they have siblings. Men who sell sperm do so repeatedly. Pay their way through med school, etc.

And what kind of conclusions do they think should follow from the survey they actually did...The report has several recommendations (pp. 77-81) worthy of consideration. Heres one of their final ones:Even if all the above recommendations became realities tomorrow, we would still, as a society, be supporting the practice of conceiving children some number of whom will struggle with significant losses. In no other area of medicine does the treatment have such enormous potential implications for persons who themselves never sought out that treatment (that is, the donor offspring). In ethics, one possible guideline is to ask not 'Are more harmed than not?' but rather 'Is anyone harmed at all?' A significant minority, at least, of donor offspring seriously struggle with losses related to the circumstances of their conception and birth. We must confront the question: Does a good society intentionally create children in this way?


Im not sure if this gets to Cathleens point, but it does seem to me that the purpose of the survey is to uncover problems among children by through AID. Take these statements from the exec summary: We learned that, on average, young adults conceived through spermdonation are hurting more, are more confused, and feel more isolated fromtheir families. Hurting how? Are they seeing counselors? On anti-depressants? And feeling more confused and isolated from their families than whom?Nearly two-thirds agree, My sperm donor is half of who I am. How are respondents construing this question? That the sperm donor is half of their genetic material? Unquestionably thats true and not surprising. Or are they saying that half their personality and identity belongs to a complete stranger, which would be more disturbing, of course. But its a poor survey question.Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. What does disturbed mean? And how disturbed were respondents? It would be interesting to know how this question was worded. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them theywonder if they are related. My father was conceived by a bigamist and used to grill people with the same surname to try to find out if they were related. My husband, whose family cut ties with his grandfather, pulled into a car dealership with his grandfather's surname to find out if he was related to the dealers. A friend's adopted daughter, who seems to be the most well-adjusted kid I've ever met, used to wonder if people with red hair were birth relatives. This is a pretty common phenomenon for people who have gaps in their knowledge about their biological origins. Curiosity does not necessarily imply that there's a problem or disturbed state of mind. About half of donor offspring have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even when parents tell their children the truth. Again, what do concerns or serious objections mean? And how was the question asked?I object to aspects of the fertility industry that feed the notion that there is some God-given right to having a born child by any means science can provide. I think playing fast and loose with reproductive material cheapens notions of human life and, to some extent, feeds the mindset that abortion is a good solution if your baby isnt perfect.The survey attempts to establish that children born of one of these means--AID--are seriously harmed psychologically. I think, at best, what theyve shown is what we already know, that children born outside an intact family or who are not 100 percent biologically connected to their parents will be curious, perhaps sometimes anxious, about their origins. Will this give pause to those who are considering AID or other artificial means of conception? I highly doubt it.

Fascinating issues are raised by philosopher Derek Parfit in his discussion of a "Repugnant Conclusion": For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living

Considerations of the Repugnnt Conclusion" principle struck me at first as silly hair-splitting. Why? Because, first, it assumes that the hypothetical philosopher-king who have control in such a hypothetical population would actually know whatt a good life for each person would be. Second, it assumes that the people would be amenable to following the lead of those theoretically wise men. But then it occurred to me: every time the Congress is faced with a new taxation bill it is deciding how many people will have the benefit of more money and hence have more opportunity to buy the actually good things of life as opposed to the non-rich, i.e., those who will not have such opportunities to buy whatever happiness is buyable. In other words, the Repugnant Conclusion is often operative in our own culture to some extent. So how great is our right to happiness relative to the happiness of others? So when is it right to raise taxes? Or not? Actually, I don't see how these questions are answerable. But I've changed my mind about their being silly.

I should add that the point in the Parfit artical about non-existent individuals not having any rights in the first place is a good one. And it seems to me that the argument above about the non-existent kid having a right to happiness or anything else is sheer nonsense simply because there ain't no such kid..

But one of the reasons AID is illicit is precisely that the children thereby conceived have had their rights infringedP Flanagan,I think I may be repeating what Ann says, but isn't it rather odd to claim that someone's rights are infringed by the very act of bringing him or her into existence? Is it better not to exist than to exist my means of artificial insemination? And better for whom? Should those conceived by artificial insemination claim a right to nonexistence? (I remember saying, as a kid, "I didn't ask to be born!") Does artificial insemination violate the rights of the nonexistent to be made "existent"? And by the way, if every child has a "right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage," the rights of 4 out of 10 children conceived naturally and born in the United States are violated in that they are born out of wedlock, and the percentage of out-of-wedlock births continues to grow. I would have to say that it makes more sense to me to argue that it is unfair to bring a child with disabilities into the world than it is to bring a child into the world by means of artificial insemination.

". . . isnt it rather odd to claim that someones rights are infringed by the very act of bringing him or her into existence? "David --Indeed. And it shows, it seems to me, how far away from metaphysical foundations many current ethical systems have gone. A system not founded on and bounded by * what is* and what is capable of being is a system for never-never land. This is why those who are against contraception who talk of the rights of the people-who- would-have-been conceived are talking nonsense. There *are* no people who would have been conceived,, so "they" can't have rights. Put linguistically, "they" has no referent. "Sich words are wind/ that wasten soon in vain". Or something like that.

I had a friend who was one of more than 10 children who used to wish his family were smaller. My own father was mentally ill and I have wondered many times what life would have been like without a parent who carried his own private black rain cloud around with him wherever he went. And imagine, if the "Olmsted" solution had been carried out in Phoenix, four little children would have been left to wonder what their lives would have been like if their mother had lived. But you need to tread especially carefully when the only counterfactual is non-existence -- and I think one problem with studies like this is the failure acknowledge that, indeed, the "what if" is not an "intact" biological family but a social construct that effectively would have prevented your mother from giving birth to you. "I wish I knew my biological father" is a far cry from "I wish I had never been born."

Yes, Barbara. That was the point I was hoping to make. And I assume that this "family values" ganization would be opposed to wrongful life suits--which are based on the same sort of counterfactual. But they're obviously not thinking about structuring arguments in any more than an ad hoc way. But I think this group is more concerned with achieving ad hoc policy objectives than the soundness of its arguments.

The ads at the right have changed.

I have never in my life read more ridiculous analysis! The children born by artificial insemination to anonymous donors are not even considering non-existence! The study was conducted to bring to light a whole set of emotional and physical concerns that these children have. If this "business" continues to be unregulated more children will suffer. Do we care about children? Do we care that the Catholic Church has steadfastly condemned this very practice? Do we care that they were right after all? No, you people only care about existential realities and unrealities that have absolutely nothing to do with childrens' wellbeing. This study is groundbreaking and should be heeded well.

Agree, Liz. It seems like mockery to talk about "non-existence".

???? If the study's recommendations are heeded, these particular children wouldn't exist. They --the particular beings they are-- came into being by the union of a woman's egg with a donor sperm--wouldn't ever have come about. Their suffering would be avoided by avoiding their existence. Whether the procedure should be banned for other reasons is a separate question.

The psychological issues faced/endured by adopted people are often dismissed/discounted in similar fashion. Would they have preferred life in an orphanage? Life on the streets? Would they have preferred being aborted? Etc. Perhaps the anxieties of the children of sellers/donors of sperm/ova could be relieved to some extent by requiring the names of their progenitors to be given to them, along with DNA evidence that the named person is really their biological parent. No secrets. No anonymity. In addition, medical and genealogical histories should be provided. It comes as a relief to some adopted people to examine their family trees on Even if their real parents didn't want them or couldn't provide for them, they're still part of a family of real people with real names, occupations, countries of origin, etc., etc.Some find that they're related to their adopted parents.

I agree that those are serious questions and should be addressed.

(Did you ask that the ads for ova sales, etc., be removed?)

I didn't see them--was that what you were talking about? Wow.

Yes. I didn't realize you hadn't seen them. Quite a few. Like the ones that appear in college papers for ova.

It is true that these children wouldn't have existed without these procedures. But isn't still possible to regret circumstances of one's conception, without wishing that one had never been born? For example, maybe children of rapists are grateful for their existence, and happy to be alive, but nevertheless regret the rape and some of the results of that act. I think they can do so without being inconsistent.

Pete, I think you can do that. But I don't think the example you gave is quite apt. Rape is a wrong to the mother, too, whereas the argument here is that the parents have harmed the child. And so we have an independent reason to ban rape.

I would go back to my friend, smack in the middle of 10+ children, who held a lot of anger against his parents for what he viewed as their self-indulgence and indifference to the well-being of their existing children. What would the church tell him? That the circumstances of the birth of all people are fortuitous, if not providential -- it's a miracle any of us are here at all -- we can spend our lives wishing for a more perfect beginning, a better home environment, more congenial parents, and so forth -- or we can make the most of what we have been given. This is true if you are born in poverty, have parents with disabilities, and in nearly any other circumstance where there are good arguments your parents should have thought twice before bringing children into the world. This is what you would tell children conceived with IAD, I submit, if you weren't predisposed to dislike it on theological grounds.

Barbara --I think Nancy raised this basic question sometime before == how can having a child be a good thing yet not good at the same time? As I remember her answer was simply that it can't be true that it's not good.But there is a dilemma there, as your friend who is one of 10 illustrates. The existentialists are right -- life is absurd. But the Church hasn't done a good job teaching us how to deal with absurdities. It doesn't even recognize that there are moral dilemmas. Woe, woe, woe. (Sorry to be so negative these days, folks, but that's what happens when you have to look at the bad stuff.)

BioNews July 19, 2010My Daddys Name is Donor: Read with caution!09 July 2010By Eric Blyth and Wendy KramerEric Blyth is Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield and Visiting Professor in the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Wendy Kramer is co-founder of the Donor Sibling Registry ( in BioNews 567The My Daddys Name Is Donor report is co-authored by Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Institute for American Values (IAV)s Center for Marriage and Families, who produced IAVs previous report highly critical of donor conception (1), Norval D. Glenn, of the University of Texas at Austin, and Karen Clark, of, and published by the Commission on Parenthoods Future, a New York-based Christian think tank, in association with the IAV, in May 2010 (2).At the outset we should declare our alignment with the authors desire to acknowledge donor-conceived peoples right to access their ancestral, genetic and biological background.Nevertheless, we have serious misgivings about the report, which is based on an online survey utilising Survey Sampling Internationals SurveySpot web panel drawn from more than one million American households (3). 1610 adults aged 18-45 years took part, of whom 562 were adopted as infants, 563 were raised by their biological parents, and 485 conceived as the result of sperm donation. The authors claim that their sample is representative (p. 5) or very nearly representative (p. 6), although a more accurate claim would be that it is representative of the millionplus American households that had signed up to receive web surveys on, well, anything (p. 20) and who are offered cash and other rewards for their participation, rather than of the US population as a whole.Representativeness apart, the first thing to be said about this report is that it eschews all deference to modesty. In a single sentence, its claim to be the first effort to learn about the identity, kinship, wellbeing, and social justice experiences of young adults who were conceived through sperm donation (p. 5 our emphasis) discounts every previous research study in this field, and may well explain the absence of reference to any existing studies (except for a cursory end-note [pp. 123-124]). It also probably explains why there is no evidence that the specific questions posed in the study are grounded in existing research involving donor-conceived people. What is less easily explained is why ethical review for this study was not obtained an essential pre-requisite for all serious research involving human participants. Dissemination of the report via IAV, rather than through an academically credentialed institution, also suggests a lack of competent peer review at any stage.Somewhat incongruously, the authors intersperse their own findings with comments from other people totally unconnected with the study, but known to be opposed one way or another to donor conception. Whilst we are not claiming that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to reporting research, this unorthodox approach serves to obfuscate rather than illuminate.However, the major concern with the report is the authors extensive misrepresentation of their own data so as to best promote their message that donor conception is bad, even when their own evidence doesnt support it. Space limitations mean that we can provide only illustrative examples here:1) The authors report the following findings: 65 per cent of donor-conceived participants agree that My sperm donor is half of who I am; 45 per cent agree that The circumstances of my conception bother me; 47 per cent report that they think about donor conception at least a few times a week or more often and draw from these the exaggerated claim that donor offspring experience profound struggles with their origins and identities (p. 6 our emphasis). The one statement that might suggest any sort of struggle the circumstances of my conception bother me- generated the following responses from donor-conceived participants: 19 per cent strongly agreed; 26 per cent somewhat agreed; 20 per cent somewhat disagreed; 30 per cent strongly disagreed and five per cent didnt know. In other words, more than half didnt care.2) This strategy is repeated when discussing payment to donors. The authors assert that nearly half [of donor-conceived people] are disturbed that money was involved in their conception (p.6) and with donor conception the growing child struggles with the dawning realization that his or her biological father or mother sold the goods to make the child without even a look back to say goodbye (p. 72). But what do their participants say? Twenty per cent somewhat disagreed and 33 per cent strongly disagreed with the statement it is wrong for people to provide their sperm or eggs for a fee to others who wish to have children. Added to the six per cent who dont know, then 59 per cent of donor-conceived participants had no strong concerns about donor payment (p.84).3) They make a big deal of the fact that donor-conceived people feel that no one really understands me repeating this on no less than three occasions (pp. 7, 39, 45). However, once again, the participants themselves tell a somewhat different story. As many strongly disagreed with the statement I dont feel that anyone really understands me as strongly agreed with it, although overall, slightly more agreed (either somewhat or strongly) as disagreed 53 per cent vs 46 per cent (p. 104). Of course, this statement is pretty vague and doesnt necessarily have anything to do with donor conception. In contrast, when the study focused on very specific issues about donor conception itself, the level of support from donor-conceived participants is high. For example, 56 per cent disagreed with the statement If I had a friend who wanted to use a sperm donor to have a baby, I would encourage her not to do it (p. 82). However, this does not sit easily with the authors agenda. Instead, in order to emphasise their anti-donor conception message, on two occasions (pp. 14 and 65) they focus on the observation that 37 per cent of the donor-conceived participants agreed with the statement.4) The data are again misrepresented when reporting participants agreements with various expert opinions: 44 per cent agreed that Donor conception is fine for children so long as parents tell children the truth about their conception from an early age; 36 per cent agreed that Donor conception can be hard for children, but telling children the truth early on makes it easier for the children (our emphasis), and 11 per cent agreed that Donor conception is hard for children even if their parents tell them the truth (p. 100). These findings are distorted in the summary soundbite: About half of donor offspring have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even when parents tell their children the truth (p. 57).The report has highlighted issues that warrant further serious study. For example, we were surprised to read that 20 per cent of donor-conceived participants claimed to have acted as gamete/embryo donors or surrogates and that 52 per cent would consider being a donor or surrogate (pp. 35-36) a finding that does not accord with our years of experience of working in this field. Nevertheless, it needs to be investigated in future studies. However, judged on its own merits, this report is seriously flawed and the authors analysis should be treated with extreme caution.SOURCES & REFERENCES1) E. Marquardt (2006) The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Childrens NeedsNew York: Institute for American Values |2) E. Marquardt, N. D. Glen and K. Clark (2010) My Daddys Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm DonationNew York: Institute for American Values |3) Survey Sampling|4) SurveySpot |

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