Friday, October 29, 2010

Cryo Kids Speak Out: Vancouver Sun

'Cryo kid' speaks out
Vancouver Sun, by Denise Ryan

Kathleen Ruby LaBounty, a 28-year-old "cryo kid," has spoken out in defence of Olivia Pratten, the B.C.-born journalist petitioning B.C. Supreme Court to change laws around anonymous sperm donation.

LaBounty, who lives in Houston, Tex., provided an affidavit in Pratten's case, and has followed news reports and online commentary about the trial. ( "Cryo kid" refers to her being conceived using sperm that had been preserved by freezing -- cryogenics.)

"I'm shocked by how negatively people are responding to her online, as if she's being self-centred," LaBounty said.

The lack of empathy she perceives points to an underlying issue: Children born of sperm, egg or donated embryos have a unique and often isolating relationship to one's self that others may not fully understand.

A study from the Commission on Parenthood's Future found children conceived by sperm donation are more likely to suffer from isolation and depression, and are roughly twice as likely as biological children to struggle with substance abuse.

Pratten is in B.C. Supreme Court arguing that every child has a fundamental right to know his or her biological origins. She hopes to see B.C. adoption laws amended to ensure that physicians keep permanent records of gamete donors and that offspring have access to those records when they come of age.

"There is a whole generation of us out there now," said LaBounty, whose parents chose artificial insemination with donor sperm when they discovered her father was infertile.

Both her parents are supportive of her quest.

"My mother saw the sperm donation as a medical treatment. She never considered the implications of how I would feel," LaBounty said from Houston, where she is a research counsellor at Baylor University in Texas.

How does she feel? Incomplete. Curious. Angry.

She's not angry at her parents. She's frustrated with a medical and legal system that don't support, or understand, the needs of donor children.

"I couldn't get records from the clinic where I was conceived."

She feels it's unfair that decisions about information concerning her -- and others conceived the same way -- are made by everybody but her.

When she was eight, LaBounty's mother told her, "There is something special about you."

"At first it was almost like a fairy tale, it was almost magical," she said.

When she got to college, she started to wonder: What was her heritage? Why could she draw almost photographic likenesses without ever having studied art? Where did her indigo blue eyes come from? Why did she develop diabetes when she had no risk factors?

She started to chase her medical records and discovered the men who donated to the clinic her parents used were promised anonymity. "It was a contract the donors signed with the clinic and my mother. I had no say in it," she said.

As well, it was common practice then for clinics to mix sperm from up to three sources to make it more unlikely kids could track down their origins.

LaBounty became preoccupied, and tracked down and wrote to all 600 male medical students who attended Baylor in the period when her mother was inseminated.

Vancouver adoption counsellor Lee Crawford said the preoccupation with solving the mystery is natural, and keeping information about children's biological origins away from them can be damaging. "That mystery takes up our time, we can become preoccupied, obsessed. We can't settle that internal sense of who we are."

She believes it is inhumane to bar human beings from knowing their origins.

About 250 of the men LaBounty contacted responded; many had donated sperm to make the $25 in pocket money as students. Many had spent a lifetime, like her, wondering about a mystery person they might be related to.

"I got one letter from a doctor who said he'd donated because he was gay. He said he'd been waiting 26 years to get a letter like this. He so wanted to be my biological father."

A DNA test showed he was not a match. So far, 17 men who were possibly her donors have done DNA tests, and she has developed close relationships with some of them.

"They've all nicknamed me their Baylor pseudo-daughter," she says with a laugh.

LaBounty wants more thoughtful regulation to protect children like her who "were created to fulfil a biological desire."

Her mother wanted a biological connection with her child, and chose sperm donation over adoption. "It seems like society recognizes women's biological desires, but not ours," LaBounty said.

Pratten's case is a human rights issue, Crawford agrees.

"This person that is created is not a sperm. Your child is connected by 50 per cent of its genetics to another person, and your child is going to have to try to reconcile that."

To live with the feeling of a missing link is psychologically distressing. "It transcends personality. It's a human need to know where the origins of the story are," Crawford said. "Nobody is thinking about these children that grow into teens, that grow into young adults living with that mystery."

What is more devastating, she said, is "the sense of powerlessness and lack of control they end up living with, not feeling heard or respected by society."

Crawford hopes reproductive medicine will eventually catch up with and protect the needs of the offspring it produces. "I like to call it 'person donor,' not sperm donor," she said. "We need to change the language to person donor and donors need to understand they are co-creating a child."

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