Who’s your daddy?

Do children conceived via sperm donation have a right to know who their father is? Slate editor David Plotz takes on the potential ban on gay sperm donors, saying that donor anonymity is a more important issue. He’s right that it’s ridiculous to ban sperm donations by any man who has had sex with another man, especially when the screening process for sperm is so thorough. And while he’s not necessarily arguing that children have a right to know who their biological parents are, he seems to be leading the reader in that direction — and I’m not sure that’s one that I’m comfortable going in.

Donating body fluids or eggs, or even giving birth to a child, doesn’t make a parent. If a guy donates his sperm, or if a woman gives up her child for adoption, they don’t give up their rights to privacy. It’s tricky, because I believe that children have rights too, but I’m not sure that their right to know who their birth parents are trumps the adults’ rights to maintain anonymity. Thoughts?

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9 comments for “Who’s your daddy?

  1. May 19, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    I absolutely do not think that donor anonymity should be challenged. I have a son by anonymous donor semen, and I specifically chose an anonymous donor so that my son won’t be able to find his sperm donor later on. This man simply provided some sperm and some genetics. For that, I’m grateful. But his involvement in our life is limited to that. He’s not a parent. He’s not a father. He’s simply a #. A very important #, but just a #. There are plenty of sperm banks that offer “known donor” services, where a man can choose to provide his name/contact information if a child, at the age of 18, wants to find him. And there are other sperm banks where all the donations are truly anonymous. If a man wants to be a “known donor,” he currently has that choice. If he wants to be an “anonymous donor,” he has that choice as well. And all people who buy sperm from a bank have the ability to choose either. All the various options are available. So … what’s the problem?

  2. May 19, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    I think it’s really important for kids to be able to find out where they came from, specifically in terms of family histories for diseases and such. IMHO, the child’s safetly and peace of mind are far more important than a donating parent’s privacy. If privacy is that important, then maybe they shouldn’t have donated such an intensely personal thing as half their genetic code in the first place.

    Of course, on the other hand I feel the kids have no business tracking down and actually personally interacting with the donating parent if that parent doesn’t want to be tracked down. I just feel that they should be able to get any family history information from that parent that may be useful for their own peace of mind (or even to just satisfy their curiousity).

  3. janet
    May 19, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    I think it’s very different with sperm donation, but in adoption the trend these days is toward open adoption. There are still women who want to relinquish their parental rights and never have any contact with the baby again, but it’s much more common to want to maintain a link of some kind. If this option had been available 40 years ago, many women might have chosen it. A lot of the rhetoric about protecting birth mothers’ privacy comes more from the old adoption bureaucracy than from the women themselves, many of whom (not all) welcome contact.

    It’s a difficult situation, because there are competing rights here, and they need to be balanced. The rights of the adoptee are always the first to be waived; after all, s/he is the only one in the adoption triad who has no choice at all (usually) about the adoption itself.

  4. May 19, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    I think anonymity should be maintained for donors (sperm/ova/embryo) as well as in cases of adoption if that is the choice of the biological parents. In adoption, anonymity should only be waived if it is mutually acceptable to the adult child and the biological parents if it was not arranged as an open adoption. Biology only determines family medical; history (and many families are woefully unaware of their family medical history when adoption isn’t a factor)- it’s not a determinant of parenthood.

    The PA Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case in which a sperm donor was sue for child support he’s been paying $1520/month in support for the past 5 years (he was sued when the twins were 5).

  5. mythago
    May 20, 2005 at 1:51 am

    So … what’s the problem?

    Ask the kid.

    I am all for anonymity for minor children, and for making a clear distinction between people with parental rights and people who contributed biological material but aren’t parents (i.e. donors). I’m not so much in favor of people being legally kept in the dark about their potential medical future.

  6. mythago
    May 20, 2005 at 1:52 am

    Oh, and on the Pennsylvania case, all you need to know about that problem is right here:

    Pennsylvania is among at least 19 states that by 2004 had not adopted a version of the Uniform Parentage Act, which ensures donors cannot be forced to take on the responsibilities of active fatherhood.

  7. May 20, 2005 at 9:08 am

    Because everyone keeps talking about medical history as an important factor in the discussion of sperm donation, I can only assume that you haven’t participated in the process. Sperm banks provide an incredible amount of medical/social/behavioral information about their donors. I often joke that I know more about our sperm donor than most people know about their husbands. Truly. For all the straight married people, can you tell me the complete medical history of the last three generations of your husbands family? How about his aunts and cousins? I can. Sperm banks provide ample information to assure that a child will have all the information they will ever need. If you’re curious, look at the California Cryobank website. Pretend you are shopping for sperm and look at the profiles they provide. If you are super curious, you can request a “long profile” for about $10, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by the amount of information that’s included. Check it out. I was surprised.

  8. Nora
    May 20, 2005 at 11:35 am

    As a birth mother, I am very much in favor of maintaining anonymity for donor/birth parents. I would support a knowledge bank of sorts for necessary medical information with no identifying information attached (and strict penalities for leaking any identifying information).

    That’s the only curiosity that needs to be satisfied — and really only needs to be satisfied if there’s a genetic issue involved.

    I don’t believe in satisfying curiosity just because someone wants to know something. None of us know everything about our heritage. We only know what we were told by our parents and grandparents and other relatives. I’m sure all of us have parents and other relatives who have secrets they’ve not shared and probably never will. And I’m sure all of us have kept secrets from our parents and our siblings as well that we wouldn’t want to be forced to share, or to have come looming back into our lives in spite of promises to the contrary made at the time we were living those secrets.

    No, not all birth mothers want to be contacted, and some of us would be quite angry and non-receptive indeed should their privacy be intruded upon, and some of us will take every precaution necessary to make sure that never happens.

  9. May 21, 2005 at 10:45 am

    As I said earlier, many people know little of their family medical history (patients are frequently poor historians of their own medical history). Contacting a biological relative (even one who’s willing to be contacted) doesn’t mean the adoptee will get any relevant updated family medical history. Additionally genotype does not necessarily equal phenotype, the heritable components of a majority of the illnesses you’d predict from Family MHx are frequently multifactorial. Sometimes, relying on your family background/medical history to assess risk or evaluate a differential for a diagnosis may lead you astray (there are lots of stories of folks whose docs had difficulty diagnosing obvious cases of Tay Sachs because there were no known Jews in either parent’s family tree and the disease had never presented in either family tree – recessive genes have a way of hiding).

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