Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What About The Children? - by Renee Smith at the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network

Published January 28, 2009

Kathleen LaBounty is 27 years old and has no idea who her biological father is. Kathleen's problem is complicated further by the fact that she was conceived through sperm donation during the period of mandatory anonymous donations in the early 1980's. Her mother had always told her she was "special," and when she was 8, Kathleen found out exactly what that meant. As she grew older, Kathleen developed a strong desire to find out who her biological father was. Her only clue to finding him is that he attended Baylor College of Medicine. Kathleen has written letters to over 600 graduates in hopes of finding her biological father. She is also searching for her donor-conceived half brother who was put up for adoption after he was born with a mental disorder.

So far Kathleen has received over 250 responses from Baylor graduates. She has met 15 of them in person and has undergone DNA testing with several of the men. Her search has turned up very little since she started, however her efforts have not gone unrewarded. Kathleen has developed relationships with several of the donors as well as non-donors. The graduates that have contacted her have been very supportive and encouraged Kathleen to keep searching.

Kathleen is one of many donor-conceived children who are searching for their biological parents. The biggest hindrance to their searches has been the choice or the mandating of the donor to remain anonymous. At face value, one would think that a donor has the right to be anonymous.

Unfortunately for Kathleen and others, anonymity cuts the important link between a biological parent and child. Couples seek sperm and egg donors in order to conceive a child that has a biological connection with them. However, the biological connection the parent so desperately craves is severed between the donor and the donor-conceived child before they are even born and have a say in the matter.

In 1997 the Supreme Court set precedence for adopted children in Doe vs. Sandquist. The ruling stated that an adoptee had the right to information about their biological parents when they turned 21. There is no such precedent for donor-conceived children. Unless the donor chose not to remain anonymous, the search for a biological parent is very difficult with very few leads. Donor-conceived children and adopted children experience similar emotions. They have the same curiosity to discover their missing element, their other biological half. These children also face the same problems. Kathleen became ill, and doctors were unable to determine the cause for a long time. Had Kathleen been able to hand the doctors a copy of her biological father's medical history, they might have found the cause of her illness, diabetes, sooner than they did.

Beyond the practical reasons why donor-conceived children should have access to the identities of their biological parents, there is something intrinsically unfair about not considering the feelings and emotions of donor-conceived children as they grow up without half of their biological source. Granted there are many children who grow up like this due to natural occurrences of death or separation of parents, but the difference is that parents and donors make the choice knowing that the child may likely never know who the missing person is.

The solution to these complicated problems is to ban anonymous gamete donations. In 2005, the United Kingdom banned anonymous sperm donations. The number of donors had actually risen slightly, but the number of women undergoing fertility treatment has dropped. Men are more conservative and vocal about how many women receive their sperm. If the children want to get more information about their donor they can receive the information when they turn 18. Such a law in the United States would benefit donor-conceived children greatly and would not significantly harm the fertility industry.

My Daddy's Name is Donor

At first glance, the message on this bib (which is also available as child and adult t-shirts) may seem funny, disturbing, sad, or perhaps even a combination of all the above. Yet again, the message - My Daddy's Name is Donor - is minimizing the man's potential importance in our lives and poking fun at the fact that our biological father is simply a nameless, faceless person whose existence doesn't matter to us. However, we don't remain opinion-less babies forever. We all grow up and have the ability to come to our own decisions. How many babies who wear this bib will reach adulthood and not be satisfied with their only knowledge that their biological father's name is "donor"?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Upcoming Documentary!

An incredible single woman considering sperm donation as an option to create a child produced a documentary as part of her master's film making program. In Anne Catherine's journey to determine whether or not donor conception is the right decision for her, she visited with donor-conceived (Ryan Kramer and me), past and current sperm donors, cryobank directors, recipients (including Wendy Kramer), and her own relatives with an infant conceived naturally.