Who’s Your Daddy?

The controversial dating site BeautifulPeople.com, that recently removed 5,000 people from its database for gaining too much weight, is now going into the baby-creation business.

Ugly people can buy beautiful donor sperm and/or ova and make themselves a beautiful baby. Would-be donors will be screened through internet polls.

Isn’t that just heart-warming?

Remember way back when a rich guy named Robert K. Graham opened a fertility clinic that accepted donations only from Nobel Prize winners? Everyone called him a Nazi and other stuff like that. The  Repository for Germinal Choice closed in 1999, but did create over 200 children. There’s a big mystery about where those children are today and whether or not they lived up to the intended “genius”potential.

Slate did an investigative piece a couple of years after the clinic closed to try and find some of these kids. So far, it seems these kids are just regular, ordinary, unbrilliant kids. The entire feature can be found here if you’re interested.

I’m more interested in the ethics of the whole business of creating humans from anonymous donations. Margaret Somerville, founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University has been studying this topic.

Somerville feels that we may be causing a lot of harm to future generations of donated gamete-conceived children.

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.

Canada has seen a significant shortage of sperm and ova donation since it became illegal to pay donors in 2004. Before that, sperm donors were 90% college/university students looking for a fast $75 to masturbate.

Now, Canada’s reproductive laws are so messed up  that people have trouble wading through what they are and are not allowed to do. They often end up having to engage in all sorts of “loophole” activities to get themselves pregnant via anonymous donors. (Donations from friends, family members or acquaintances are an entirely different story) 

Loopholes and gaps in our reproductive laws seem to be enormous. People can buy sperm or ova from the US, which currently still has plenty, since they still pay donors. Canadians can still find donors or surrogates and pay for their “expenses.” In short, there are still plenty of ways to buy fertility.

Also, technically, you can even buy both sperm and ova and create a beautiful baby from BeautifulPeople.  New Zealand is enacting legislation to make double donor conception legal. It’s not illegal in Canada, but it hasn’t been too popular so far.

And it’s all totally anonymous. Neither you nor your child will ever have access to the donor information beyond basic data like a guarantee from the clinic that the donor is healthy and disease free and the donor’s height, weight, hair/eye colour and general interests — no photos.

In Britain, Australia and New Zealand children can apply to get the donor’s name when they’re adults.  In Canada there still isn’t any legal requirement to even maintain permanent records. Donor-conceived adults are working to change that.

So, in light of all that, if you conceive a child through gamete donation, ethicists will ask —  what happens to that child’s right to know his/her biological history? The whole secret adoption mess took forever to straighten out. Only after decades of children demanding access to their birth records are they finally allowed to search for their birth parents.

It’s one thing for a kid to find out that he was the result of a drunken teenage “accident”, but, as Margaret Somerville explains, it’s quite another 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? 

Furthermore, in Canada there is no upper limit to the number of offspring a donor can contribute to. Other countries have limits between 6 and 25.  

So, if one clinic in Canada is producing even 25 kids from the same donor, what are the odds that some of these kids will grow up in the same area? Maybe get to know each other without even knowing that they’re half-siblings?

What, if any impacts do you suppose there would be on these children deliberately removed from their biological families — and I think the important emphasis is on the word “deliberate”

Check out Kathleen R. LaBounty’s blog Child of a Stranger  for her story as she tries to find her anonymous sperm-donor father.

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12 responses to “Who’s Your Daddy?

  1. (I should start by saying that I have never understood the drive that people have to have children.)
    -I’ve always wondered about all of these “donated” kids maybe ending up marrying a sibling.
    -Every adopted kid I have ever known felt strange and abandoned.
    -Every woman that I have known that has placed a child for adoption either pines for them just waiting for the time to pass to reconnect or lives in fear that the kid will find them to reconnect.
    -If adopted people have so many issues, I can only imagine the issues of the “donated” kids.
    I should go check out that blog.

  2. Ha! Breeding for beauty and brawn might work – but not for intelligence or success…

    I just read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_%28book%29

    In it, he asserts that intelligence and good looks take a backseat to things like when you were born (both the year and at what point in the year) as well as something he calls “10,000-Hour Rule”… using the Beatles, Bill Gates and others as examples, the author states that many, if not all, of those who have experewinced over-the-top success have worked at their craft for a minimum of 10,000 hours.

    This, in addition to the time of birth theory, is the determining influence on whether or not one is capable of being very successful in life… not just brain and beauty. So the evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld may have been able to create a race of beauts and brawn… but they woulda been losers.

    Of course, any book named “Outliers” is going to win me over, given what I do for a living.

    But it is a good read.

  3. Ooh, I’ll have to read that.

    This is fascinating stuff. So many angles and sides and pieces to look at. And, um, well, I don’t know what to think. Not yet.

  4. Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away…. I was requested to be a “sperm donor”. It was a person whom I knew quite well and still do, but we couldn’t go through with it.
    For starters she didn’t agree with my condition that the child would have to have my last name (bare minimum) and that if she wanted this then we would have to get married.
    She told me that she wanted one child. Not two.
    Right or wrong, I can see that many women do want the child but not necessarily a husband or a father for the child. Is this simply the re-establishment of nature’s true order – where the male is not involved in it’s cub’s upbringing?

  5. I believe that the ending of donor anonymity in the UK was long overdue. It was actually ended as a result of a case brought by two donor-conceived people to the European Court of Human Rights. Other countries that have ended donor anonymity include the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand.

    According to HFEA figures, the numbers of UK sperm donors have gone *up* four years in a row since the ending of anonymity, thus reversing a three year decline. The 384 donors in 2008 was the highest figure since 1996, and 160 more than in 2004 just before anonymity ended.

    http://www.hfea.gov.uk/3411.html

    I don’t have a huge problem with sperm donors being paid, or the numbers of children per donor being increased, but we should never go back to the days of anonymous donors. The donor-conceived are the ones who matter in this, not the parents, not the clinics, and not the donors.

    If a sperm donor wants to be anonymous, then he simply shouldn’t be a sperm donor. I was a sperm donor over 20 years ago, and if I have any genetic children looking for me, I’ve made it as easy as possible for them to find me.

  6. Geewits – I have known adopted adults who have no interest in their birth parents – at least so far, so it’s possible that there will be “donated” kids who won’t want to know about their biological parentage, but I suspect it will be very few. And I agree that before I would consider a procedure like having a baby created from an anonymous stranger, I would exhaust all other possibilities first – adoption, out-of-country adoption, sperm donation from someone I know, etc., etc. And then I might even give up before considering a stranger’s sperm.

    Trashee – I’ve read bits of Outliers and have quoted it before on this blog – especially the bit about the 10,000 hours. Generally speaking I’m very suspicious of non-fiction stuff like this that claims to have the answers to a whole bunch of unanswerable stuff. It’s interesting reading nevertheless. And genetics are a weird thing anyway. I’ve seen some butt ugly parents have a gorgeous child and vice versa. And intelligent, talented people have a child that’s neither and vice versa.

    Ellie – I hope you figure it out soon and let us know what you think!!

    Lebowski – I think if you’re marrying someone it’s not considered a sperm donation anymore. And, although I think it’s perfectly possible for a woman to raise a child by herself, I don’t think it’s ideal. I also don’t think it’s ideal for parents to split up half-way through the child’s upbringing and then making the kid divide his life between two households, and then they have to get involved with new step-parents and perhaps step-siblings. I don’t know which one is less ideal.

    Mark – Thanks for the comment Mark and for your perspective as a donor. I’m surprised that donations have gone up again in the UK. It must be a whole new breed of donors now who are of your frame of mind, rather than the students-short-of-money donors that were the norm before? Can I ask what motivated you to donate?

  7. Like Geewits I don’t understand that drive. Which probably explains why I never had kids. It just seems weird to me when there are so many children available for adoption…

    On a related issue, within a few weeks the Quebec government will be paying for artificial insemination for couples who want to go that route, the arguments being that Quebec’s birth rate is very low and since abortions and vasectomies are paid for, artificial insemination should be too. Opinions are polarized to say the least. On the negative side people are looking at the cost, not only of the insemination process but, since many of these new mothers will be old(er) their pregnancies will be risky, thus costing much more to follow, in a system that already can’t handle the demand.

    Personally, as I said above, I just don’t get the drive.

  8. beautifulpeople.com? hm, smells like eugenics to me.

    i never thought of donors as men giving away their children. maybe because i don’t believe that live begins as conception, so how could a sperm = child. i do agree that annonomous donations shouldn’t be allowed. every child should be allowed to know who their biological parents are, whether they were adopted or conceived through donation. you provide some interesting points to consider. i need to read more and ponder.

  9. Remember those old margarine commercials? “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” and then she’d zap them with a lightening bolt or something. Given that there are 6 billion or so of us, I suppose it will all work out in the end. A bit hard on some individuals, however. I know someone who as his 2 sisters removed by the Children’s Aid when they were babies, although he was left in the home. He was too young to remember that he had siblings (I think) and I have no idea what he was told as he grew up. I have often wondered what would happen if he had met one of his sibs when they were adults, because people are often drawn to others who are similar (“opposites attract” notwithstanding). Anyway, he has met and is going to marry someone who is not his sib (she was not adopted) so that speculation is moot.

  10. There’s a new movie out called The Kids Are Okay (something like that) about a boy finding his sperm donor father-his moms are lesbian. My ex sold his sperm to raise money many years ago. I wonder if any of his children will ever show up. They will be in for a heck of a surprise.

  11. Jazz – Well, I guess the drive is a basic human instinct for survival of the species. However, we do manage to mitigate other drives we have when necessary and our brains allow us to think about other options. I think there are degrees of IVF and circumstances that need to be considered before a blanket statement about whether or not the province should pay for the procedure or whether or not the procedure should exist in the first place. Generally speaking though, I agree that there are usually other options and that perhaps this should not be something covered under the provincial health care plan.

    Smothermother – It’s not so much men giving away their children as it is having given away this child’s “life essence”. They are donating this sperm with the express purpose of creating a life. And once that life exists as a fully developed human being. That human being can consider that donation his/her life essence. How you were conceived, by whom, under what circumstances has an impact on your life. We all like to think our parents were in love and that we were really wanted at that moment when our “life essence” began. But ya, read more. It’s interesting stuff.

    Julia – I guess the reproductive health clinics think the risk of siblings meeting each other is very slim. They have some formula (for the ones that actually have limits) of 25 impregnations by the same donor in a population of 800,000. For a lottery those would be pretty good odds.

    LoLa – The fact that you are easily freaked out aside, this is all kind of odd and troubling, isn’t it? (It’s nice to see you back in the comments, by the way)

    Linda – Ha ha. Still, they’d probably still rather know something than have the whole thing a mystery. With any luck his donation didn’t take or nobody chose him and they had to throw it out or feed it to the lab rats or something.