Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Donor or not to donor... Part I

I know I've been MIA for a few days.  I've been busy delving into the news coverage surrounding the recent court challenge brought on by BC woman, Olivia Pratten, who is suing to find out the identity of the sperm donor used to conceive her.   I'll likely be talking about this here and there as more coverage comes up...

To say that I have conflicted feelings about this case, as well as the rhetoric being used to discuss it, would be a serious understatement.   

Let me start by saying that overall, I think that Canada needs to change its assisted reproduction laws.  The United States already makes it possible for donors to choose whether or not they are willing to be contacted when children conceived using their sperm reach the age of consent.  Like with adoption, some donors want this to be an option, and some do not.  Donors do not have any financial obligations towards genetic offspring, nor could they sue for custody, as far as I am aware.   In Canada, it is not legal for donors to be anything other than completely anonymous, which is my opinion, is just legislative laziness. 

Should either of our kiddos feel a glaring hole in their lives because they can't meet their donor, I certainly would want for them to be able to do that, because what I want most in this world, more than anything else, is for our kiddos to be happy, fulfilled, secure in themselves. 

HOWEVER (and this however is big, bold, underlined, and italicized because I mean it very, super, extra, incredibly, and emphatically) the rhetoric being used to discuss this case is very disturbing and unsettling to me.  Like, causing me to lose sleep kind of unsettling.  

One article, which I couldn't even bring myself to look at was titled: "Do you know who my Daddy is?" which makes me want to punch someone's lights out 1) because it invokes the voice of my children to make its point, which I resent the hell out of, and 2) because as I had previously expounded on, a donor is not a fucking daddy, people. 

Another article, linked here, I really wish I hadn't read.  The author, Margaret Somerville, compares both adoption and assisted reproduction to residential schools, invokes rape as a metaphor, and compares my sweet babies, who couldn't be conceived any other way, to the making of designer children made from the DNA of beautiful people, and then terms them "genetic orphans".    You may get the sense, while reading this, that I think Margaret Somerville is a special, special kind of person.  And you will be correct.

I cried while I read it.  I cried after I read it.  I'm close to crying right now while I'm typing.  

Here's a few of the gems from Somerville's piece:

"Donor conception may be a completely avoidable human tragedy in the making, one for which we might be holding a truth and reconciliation commission at some future date, when offspring ask, as some are already doing, “How could you have done this to us? How could you have allowed this to happen?”

Is donor conception the 21st-century version of the wrongs we now recognize we did to some children in the 20th century? Are we repeating in a new context and in new ways the terrible errors and grave injustices that occurred with Australia’s “stolen generation” of aboriginal children, the United Kingdom’s “home children” sent to Canada and other British Commonwealth countries, and the “scoop” of native children from reserves into Canadian residential schools and white adoptive homes, all of which deliberately separated children from their biological families."

I'm not even sure I can adequately detail the levels on which this article is deeply, deeply offensive.   So for starters, let's chat a second about her logic.  In comparing donor conception to the aforementioned tragedies, she is missing the point that said tragedies involve children were stolen away from their families.  Families who were busy raising them - who knew them, who loved them, who were emotionally tied to them - who had an existing relationship.   One might surmise a child stolen away from their adoptive family or a donor-assisted family in such a circumstance would similarly suffer to a child taken away from their biological family.  It is not the shared set of chromosomes that makes the severing of the above mentioned families a terrible ordeal - it is the loss of family itself, whatever its make-up or origins. 

And a truth and reconciliation commission?  For serious?  Really?  No, really?

My children, and my participation in creating them, are a completely avoidable tragedy?  Wow.  Um, okay.

You would think that Ms. Somerville couldn't possibly get more offensive.  But then you'd be, you know, wrong.  Later on in her article, she asks:  "How will the child feel knowing that their genetic parent sold – and that their social parent bought – what is (as one donor-conceived woman put it) “the essence of [their] life for $25 to a total stranger, and then walked away without a second look back? What kind of a man sells himself and his child so cheaply and so easily?”

*and just when you think it could not possibly get any better*

"An argument that is used to support donor conception is that the child would not exist otherwise and, therefore, should not complain. One young donor-conceived woman, confronted with this argument, responded, “If I were the result of rape, I would still be glad to be alive, but that doesn’t mean I or any one else should approve of rape.”

Whew.  So - I've bought the essence of my children's lives and I'm akin to a rapist.  Super.  Super.  Super.   I'm just gonna head out back and shoot myself now.  

And then, there's the reference to the donor walking away from 'his child'.  Not so, friends.  Sperm does not equal parentage.  I've said it once, I'll say it a million times.  I love my donor, bless his heart, for spoofing in a cup for us and others like us.  I don't know if his actions were selfless, and I don't know why he did it.  (I do know, incidentally that it wasn't for 25$, because he's a well paid, well educated fellow).  His actions allowed my partner and I to become parents to two of the most beautiful, funny, little characters I had ever known.  His actions were and will always be a gift to us.  To reduce those actions to child abandonment is really quite crap-tastic.

I haven't missed, nor should you, the fact that Somerville uses these salacious quotes from children conceived through donor sperm.  I am not naive enough to believe that all children conceived through donor sperm are hunky-dory with it 100% of the time.  However, the term "vocal minority" is a term for a reason.  And kids who are a-okay with being conceived via donor insemination or other forms of assisted reproduction don't sell papers.  You get my drift here?  

Margaret Somerville masquerades as an ethicist at McGill University, but I think is more likely a poorly disguised poster child for right-wing christian theological dogma, (sperm is the essence of life?  Sperm?  hmmmm).  To say that her logic is flawed would be another one of my understatements of the day.   On top of this, she is a fear-monger.  I wouldn't have been so affected by her words if it weren't for the fact I'm hyper aware that my kids-  these beautiful, loved and incredibly wanted  children - will have to face up to ignorant crap from bullies like her in their lives. 

And I like to keep track of what we're up against...


  1. I hope she gets to read this :)
    "she" being Somerville herself.

  2. That quote from the donor-conceived woman is ridiculous. How many humans are conceived a drunken hazy error-of-judgement kinda night?! (one of mine, thank you very much). Good grief. The unlikelihood of any of us being born, when you think of it in an evolution-history-of-the-world kinda way is so FREAKING HIGH, that questioning the actual mechanism of your own particular conception and finding some sort of fault with it is outrageously petty.

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  4. An angry but logical analysis of a very flawed argument. I cannot believe that Somerville is an ethicist and a university professor. I am fearful for her students if she is not challenged. PW

  5. One night I listened to a CBC interview with a young lady in the US who was searching for her donor. She was distraught at the idea of not knowing her "father" and clearly felt a gaping chasm with hopes for other siblings and a full parental relationship. It made me cry. I have long considered the option of bringing a child into the world on my own. Even without an emotional investment in the debate, the flaws in her position are incredible, as you have pointed out. Additionally to your insights, I wonder if she has considered the logical extensions of her argument: what about the anticipatory consent of children born to drug addicted parents, parents with genetic disorders, parents with mental or physical disabilities, etc. While legislative reform in this area will raise much debate, one might think that an ethicist would more carefully consider the reliance on such rhetoric over reason.

  6. Thank you for the well thought out rebuttal to m somerville. I have had many internal rants and intellectual duals with this woman during her interviews on the CBC. Somehow she is the only ethicist in Canada that ever gets to express her views on reproductive technology, and they are so inconceivably illogical and positional. I certainly have a bias on the topic - but it wasn't without a lot of hard thinking on my part and doing what I could in advance to help my children maintain access to whatever information I could related to their donor.

    Having said that, this whole argument about the rights of children with respect to reproductive technology is so problematic. As CW and others have suggested, children are born into all sorts of difficult and challenging situations and/or wonderful situations - whether it be poverty unhappy marriages, alcoholism, etc. And even unknown parentage through "natural" (i.e., drunken one night stands") or technological means. That is life.

    What we as a society can do is to support children in the lives they are born into. Help the poor, support children whose parent dies at an early age, or who loses a parent to mental illness those with gay parents, of immigrant parents, of any minority, and let children know that they are more than their biology - whether they know their biological roots or not.

    Each one is uniquely themselves and special in and of their own right. If they are raised in a culture that supports and reinforces that, perhaps they will be able to protect themselves from the prejudices of people like m somerville.

  7. There is no need to make comparisons between our beautiful, very much planned and wanted rainbow children and those from drunken moments of physical heterosexism. Woman + Woman + Child = Family. Simple. I'm fed up with being implicitly asked to justify ourselves - or even being compared to the absence of a 'father' in straight families. Most of our kids don't give a rats about their donor. They recognise their two mothers as their parents.

    I am sooo over the homphobia -overt and covert.

  8. Oh my. I can't even click through to that link. It makes me sick to my stomach.

  9. Hi T,
    apparently Somerville (that was almost Somervile - more appropriate I think) is as usual deeply disturbed. Does she not realize that for the whole of evolution, many parental units were not biologically related to the small (species) units they parented? this is a truly bizarre suggestion, that we need to worry about a truth and reconciliation commission: she is delusional.
    Parenting never requires biology - and insofar as adoptive and other parents who use biological materials of a donor (not a parent, precisely) are being treated as irrelevant parents here, I find Somerville her usual delusional self.
    I've long heard her arguments as weak and as racist, classist, homophobic, definitely, and supportive of a very strange view that some people (including one of my siblings) has: that people "deserve" to parent their own biological children b/c that is somehow "natural" - a bizarre claim, which leads to all kinds of abuses of the idea of desert, for one thing. But your children are your children. Both you and your dear partner are parents in the only meaningful sense we have.
    Somerville does not deserve the attention she gets. But you know how this goes.
    xo Carmel

  10. As a Christian, I am continually appalled by how Christians so blatantly and blasphemously miss the whole point and then spew it in articles such as the one above. God loves each and every one of us, no matter how we came to being or what we do while we're here. To contend or criticize this is to think you are above God. Take that in your pie hole, Somerville. (not all of us are as eloquent as you Mama T!)