Public Discourse 12 Feb 2013
In 2006, as a Probate and Family Court judge in Boston, I began hearing a case filed by a self-represented woman who requested an order that a sperm facility disclose the identity of the father of her two young daughters. She gave as her primary reason that the children suffered from health issues and needed a complete medical history from their father. As a secondary ground, she cited the children’s need for financial support. After multiple hearings and several trips between the Probate and Family Court and the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the complaint was dismissed in 2011. By the end of the case, the process of anonymous sperm “donation” struck me as inhumane, and sperm “donation” in general as thoughtless, even though many of the individuals involved behave in understandably human ways. In today’s article I explain the problems for fathers and children created by sperm donation.
First, the process of providing sperm degrades and objectifies men… The men’s profiles are then paraded on the internet like cattle at an auction and women shop for sperm based on features like height, weight, eye color, SAT scores, and athleticism.
Second, selling sperm corrupts our society’s concept of fatherhood. Humans should care for their children. It has always been considered a tragedy when they fail to do so. Our society already suffers from an absentee father crisis. What message does it send to children when men so obviously don’t care when, where, or to whom their children are born? The boom in the sperm sale business will damage children’s perception of what it means to be a man and a father. As anthropologist Margaret Mead has written, “the supreme task of any society is to teach its men to be good fathers.”
Third, the sperm sale industry deliberately creates fatherless children. Thanks to better treatments for male infertility, fewer heterosexual couples are purchasing commercial sperm. Instead, the buyers are primarily single heterosexual women and lesbian couples.
Fourth, sperm sales encourage the commodification of children. As improbable as it may seem, some children born are not fully accepted and loved because they fail to develop as advertised.
Fifth, while the harms I’ve discussed apply to both “identity release” sellers of sperm—sellers who agree to let conceived children access their biological information once they turn eighteen—and anonymous sellers, anonymous sperm sale is particularly inhumane. Thanks to the efforts of adult commercially conceived children, buyers can now learn more easily that donor anonymity is often painful for the child conceived to endure. Olivia Pratten, who is donor-conceived, wrote in 2010: If biological roots didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have a whole fertility industry whose priority is to maximize the genetic continuity of the parents using the technologies. If it didn’t matter, no one would care about having their own biological children. People who are infertile grieve not being able to pass on their lineage to their children. I grieve the same thing: not knowing the person who gave me mine.