Risk and reproductive freedom

A recent article in The Atlantic titled “The Overlooked Emotions of Sperm Donation” discusses concerns about the emotional problems and conflicts that can occur in families that turn to sperm donation is a way of creating a child amid infertility. The article focuses mostly on heterosexual couples dealing with male infertility who have used sperm donation. In those families there are commonly emotional problems faced by the man when the couple has a child to which he is not genetically related, and there are problems that can occur between the couple who is raising the child and the sperm donor and his family when a known or related donor is involved. The author expresses concern that many couples who choose sperm donation are not aware that these emotional problems can commonly occur and fail to reflect carefully about these concerns or do preventive counseling to deal with them.

The article is well-written and raises concerns that people need to be aware of, but there are some things that are missing. The author briefly addresses the emotional concerns of the child and mentions that there have been some children’s books written to help children deal with those concerns, but the emotional difficulties for a child conceived in this way are very significant. There is also no discussion of whether concern about the emotional difficulties for all the parties involved including the child, the parents raising the child, and the donor and his family might be a reason to consider not having a child by means of sperm donation. There is an underlying assumption of reproductive freedom, the idea that people should be free to fulfill their desire to have a child by any means that they choose. The author properly advocates for the position that potential parents considering this option should be fully informed about the emotional risks as well as any physical risks and should consider preventive counseling, but never mentions the possibility of deciding not to create a child in this way because of the risks.

When we discuss the risks of reproductive technologies, whether those be physical risks or emotional risks, we need to remember that imposing risks on a child to fulfill the desires of an adult individual or an adult couple is a serious moral concern. Despite our society’s focus on autonomy, there are some things we should not do to meet our own desires when doing so puts another person at risk, particularly if the person being put at risk is a child that we are creating.

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