Who’s your Daddy?

Sometimes I ask my students if they know how many ways there are to make a baby.  At my last count, I identified as many as 19 methods to produce a baby through assisted reproductive technology (ART).  Some of the techniques are ethically troublesome because they result in surplus embryos or the destruction of embryos.  Other reproductive practices give rise for concern because they entail the commercialization of procreation (e.g., commercial surrogacy, egg donors, etc.).  It must be acknowledged that, in many cases, not only does ART remove reproduction from a loving sexual union between husband and wife, it makes the possibility of earning money the main motive for involvement in procreation.  Furthermore, in the case of children produced by donor gametes, there is the issue of maintaining a pretense of biological parenthood as well as apprehension about when and how to inform the child of its biological heritage.  Other practical concerns include the question of whether the child should have access to the donors, and how the child will explain his/her situation to others.

Just today there was a report of the discovery of 150 offspring produced by one sperm donor with “more on the way.”  Cynthia Daily, the woman who tracked down all the offspring observed that, “It’s wild when we see them all together – they all look alike.”  Then again, essentially the use of donors promotes procreation without the commitment on the part of the donor to parental responsibility.  As Dennis Hollinger observes in his book, Sexual Ethics and Reproductive Technologies, “Generally the sperm donor is anonymous and there is no bond between the mother and the donor, and no responsibility on the part of the donor father…”  Or, stated more bluntly by Daniel Blankenhorn in Fatherless America, “The sperm father completes his fatherhood prior to the birth of his child.  His fatherhood consists entirely of the biological act of ejaculation.  He spreads his seed, nothing more.  He is a minimalist father, a one-act dad.”

This is not to suggest that all ART is unethical.  But rather, as with any technology, it can be, and has been, frequently misused.  Unfortunately, there is little regulation of sperm banks and fertility clinics in general.  As Debora L Spar (president of ‘The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception’) remarked, “We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm… It’s very clear that the dealer can’t sell you a lemon, and there’s information about the history of the car. There are no such rules in the fertility industry right now.”  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/We-are-family-One-sperm-donor-150-offspring/articleshow/9891308.cms

Thus, it stands to reason that stricter guidelines should be established to regulate the ART industry.  Without guiding principles, more children will be born not knowing the identity of their Daddy.


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