There have been many articles, blogs and commentaries written lately about these types of news stories (see below), most focusing on the relevant laws, and the rights and responsibilities of the parents. Not one that I have seen has addressed what seemed to be the most glaring issue – what might be in the best interests of the children at the center of these controversies?
We know that families are formed and defined in many ways. Our families are the people that love us and whom we love, and oftentimes they are also people with whom we share DNA. So yes, DNA does make a family. Again, it’s not the ONLY way to make a family. Biological ties should not continue to be negated by the reproductive medicine industry, nor by the families that use it to build their families. We have done enough research, and have heard from thousands of older donor conceived people, and we know that many have a great desire to connect with their unknown genetic relatives.
We know that DNA matters. So for some parents who define, minimize or negate the donor’s importance as “just a piece of genetic material”, we now know that to most donor conceived people this “donated” cell, is one half of their identity, their ancestry, and medical history.
Here are what a few offspring joining the DSR have told us, just this month:
(Please do not share these quotes without my permission. I have anonymized where necessary.)
“I was born into a family of unconditional love. My moms took months to pick the perfect donor and things happened and now I have four wonderful mothers. The only regret my parents have was not being able to give me a sibling because my donor had maxed out. I didn’t really mind not knowing who my donor was until I turned 18. Now it’s all I can think about. I’m just trying to reach out and see if I can find any siblings.”
“I would like to know if I have any siblings and would like to meet them and to hopefully meet the man that help give me life.”
“I was conceived by a donor egg. My mom says she does not remember any of the basic information about the egg donor (ethnicity, medical history, etc). I have called the clinic where I was conceived multiple times, left messages and never gotten a response back. The only information I have is the serial number of the petri dish I was made in, because the clinic gave my mom the petri dish as a souvenir. I am ****. I got that number tattooed on my back, I guess it was my way of trying to re-establish control and ownership of my own body after I had been told I had no legal rights (seeing as I was the product, and not one of the people involved) to my own genetic history and information. I love my mom and her family, but it has always been extremely obvious that I do not share genetic material with them; aside from physical appearance, we have absolutely nothing in common in terms of shared interests, aptitudes, dislikes, taste or personal traits.”
“I just found out today that my father is infertile and my mother is my only true parent. I would love to find out who my siblings and father are. If you can help that’d be awesome.”
“I recently learned as a result of a population finder DNA test that the father who raised me is not my biological father. I received confirmation that my mother did, in fact, use a sperm bank in order to conceive me. Unfortunately, my mother is unwilling to reveal any information about where the treatment took place.”
“Its scary when I think of trying to find out who my father is. . .what if he wants nothing to do with me? The idea of finding my siblings however is more comforting though. We all just want the same thing, to find out where the other parts of us are. I want to be able to talk to someone who has had similar experiences as me. My sister is also a child of a sperm donator, and although we have the same mother, we have two separate fathers. We’ve grown up together, I love her more than anything, and I don’t consider her a “half” sister, but I would love to meet someone who shares the same DNA as me. . the genes I received from my father. ”
“Hello, I found out that my conception was the result of an artificial insemination when I was 13 years old. Although I’m very fortunate to have a loving father who has been an important and active part of my life since birth, not knowing anything about the other half of my genetic code has always been in the back of my mind. Now, at 32 years old, I have decided to take action and reach out to see who else shares my genes and possibly solve some questions that have been long unanswered.”
“I didn’t have much in the way of questions about where I came from until some time last year. I asked my mother and she won’t really talk about it. So now I’m here.”
“I recently found out that my dad isn’t my dad he past away a year ago so now I need answers…”
And even the children of former donors are curious:
“A few days before he passed away, my Dad revealed to my two brothers and I that he had donated sperm. I have added this information to this site in case we have any half-siblings who might be trying to find out more about him and welcome any questions from anyone who would like to know more.”
I hope that as more cases like this come into the public spotlight, that we start hearing the donor conception “experts” as well as the folks in the legal systems start to consider the rights and needs of the children who are at the center of these controversies. The “experts” need to stop turning a blind eye to the very people they are making life altering decisions about.
So now, here is a commentary from an adoption website where “first/birth/natural/real mothers share news and opinions”.
Birth Mother, First Mother Blog
WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 2014
“Assisted reproduction ignores the best interests of the child
Last week, a Chicago judge awarded custody of frozen embryos to Karla Dunston over the objection of her ex-boyfriend, Jacob Szfranski, who donated the sperm used to create the embryos with her ova. In 2010, 38 year old Dunston, a physician, learned she had cancer and treatment would render her sterile. After the embryos were created and frozen, Szafranski decided he did not want to be a father and sued for custody of the embryos.
A trial court ruled for Dunston based on the fact that her desire to be a mother outweighed his desire not to be a father. An appellate court reversed, holding, according to the Chicago Tribune, that “the case should be decided based on contracts and agreements between the two parties rather than just who has more compelling interest in the fate of the embryos.” (emphasis added). On Friday, the trial court again awarded the embryos to Dunston. Szafranski said he will appeal again.
We sympathize with Dunston’s desire to be a mother but it makes us a uncomfortable to bring children into the world whose father fought repeated court battles to prevent them from being born. We’re aware of women who gave birth although the father urged an abortion and we don’t fault these women. In those cases, at least, it was possible the child could receive support from the father and perhaps even have a relationship which has often proved to be the case. In the Chicago case, however, if children are born, Szfranski will have no responsibility or rights.
CHILDREN AS PROPERTY
Last week I wrote about a California Court of Appeal decision giving Jason Patric a fighting chance to father his baby. Patric and his on-and-off girl friend Danielle Schreiber agreed to create a child via IVF using her ova and his sperm. After baby Gus was born, Patric and Schreiber lived together for two years. When they split, Schreiber sought to cut Patric out of Gus’s life using a California law that gave no paternal rights to sperm donors. A lower court agreed. Last week, the Court of Appeals reversed holding that while Patric had no rights under the sperm donor law, he should have a chance to acquire fatherhood status under a law giving an unmarried father rights if he “receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child.” Notable was a lack of consideration of the benefit to Gus in continuing to have his father in his life.
In an earlier case, the California court held that the law applies equally to ova donation. Thus where one partner of a lesbian couple donated her ova and the other carried the twins conceived through IVF, a lower court held that the ova donor had no right to the children. The California Supreme Court reversed because the couple lived together and intended to bring the children into their joint home. That the children might be better off knowing the mother whose DNA they carried was not part of the decision.
IN WHOSE BEST INTERESTS?
It’s troubling that in these cases and many others involved assisted reproduction, the fate of human beings depends on the laws of contract. There is no a mention of “best interests of the child,” hallowed words in laws governing adoption, child welfare, and custody disputes in divorce. The people responsible for the assisted reproduction laws apparently believed (or found it in their best interests to assert) that children created through technology will adapt to the parents the law gives them. Their position is bolstered by the concept of “psychological parent” introduced forty years ago by Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter), Joseph Goldstein, and Albert Solnit in Beyond the Best Interests of the Child. According to the authors, biological relationships were irrelevant; what counted was psychological relationships forged by day-to-day interaction, companionship, and shared experiences. The concept of “psychological parent” also led to laws allowing
grandparents, step-parents, and others to trump the rights of natural parents.
Today, we know from the experiences of those who were adopted as infants that the importance of biological connections does not disappear, that children are not blank slates. They share not only looks but interests, talents, and personalities with those whose genes they carry. Biological parents are parents, no matter what kind of agreements they have entered into and children benefit by knowing these parents. Domestic adoption practice has now incorporated these facts through open adoptions. Lessons learned in adoption need to be applied to children created through assisted reproduction.–jane”