Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who's in charge here??

What do the mentally retarded, Australian aboriginals, and donor conceived offspring have in common?

All three groups have been the center of social experiments gone wrong by those of higher authority. 

In the United States, Nazi Germany, and several other European countries, governmental programs instituted compulsory sterilization during the first half of the 20th century as a part of a eugenics movement that reduced the reproduction of undesirable genetic traits, most notably mental retardation.  The Nazi’s sterilized some 400,000 people between the 1930s and 40s, while the US sterilized more than 65,000 Americans between 1900 and the 1970s. 

Even today, many parents of mentally retarded children opt to have their child sterilized because they fear, as the child grows older, they do not have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of sex.  I am not going to get into a debate of whether this practice is ethical or not, it is only an example of how a higher authority has made a life-changing decision on a person’s life based solely on what they feel is in that child/adult’s ‘best interests’.  No one ever asks these children what they would want, and many of those who are sterilized have the intelligence to comprehend and thus give informed consent to this invasive and permanent procedure.

The Australian aboriginals, like many other natives during colonization, suffered tremendously during British imperialism.  During the period of 1869 through 1969, aboriginal children were removed from their families by the Australian government and placed in foster care, institutions (as a means of eugenics), while others were adopted by middle-class Caucasian families to be raised essentially as a white child, in hopes to give them a better chance at success in life.  The latter was the government making a decision for that child, supposedly in his or her ‘best interests’, which forcefully removed the child from his or her biological parents (who were not incompetent in raising the child themselves) and placed the child with strangers to be raised in a foreign culture. 

In some instances, such as in Western Australia in 1905, a law was enacted which removed legal guardianship from the aboriginal parents and all children were thus wards of the state and the parents had absolutely no say in what was done to them.  These children were often forced into child labor camps and were essentially slaves of the state. 

These attempts at “resocialization”, which were meant to help aboriginals to adapt to the new modern society, have had vast impacts on those subjected to this program. 

Here is one reflection of one of these stolen generation children as an adult.  “I've got everything that could be reasonably expected: a good home environment, education, stuff like that, but that's all material stuff. It's all the non-material stuff that I didn't have — the know, you've just come out of nowhere; there you are.” (Bringing them Home: The ‘Stolen Children’ report, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity commission, April 2007)

Today, donor offspring are created and based on the infertility industry’s recommendations of what our best interests are, we are denied any right to know one or both of our biological parents indefinitely.  Recipient parents lie to their children about their origins because they feel that what the child doesn’t know cannot hurt him or her, and assume ignorance is bliss.  The government and society accept donor conception as a justified ‘cure’ for infertility and spend little time pondering how this technology impacts those who are most affected.  Everyone gets caught up in women’s rights, gay rights, and spend so much time hashing out if they’re conservative or liberal and why (and why the other is completely wrong and destroying the country…), yet no one looks at the children.

Scientists are attempting to turn stem cells into sperm and egg, as well as artificial gametes (simply because they can and they wish to see if it work…the could should theory is something that I won’t get into, but as a researcher in genetics myself I often wonder what we are potentially doing).  This in turn has raised debate in every facet, except the one that it should. 

We have the gay rights activists thinking that now same-sex couples may be able to procreate together without the use of a donor and have a child biologically related to both of them, and also see it as motivation towards same-sex marriage as they would equally be able to have children just as hetero couples can.  We have the homophobes opposed to this technology because of course they’re opposed to gay rights (and gays in general), and typically fear the legalization of same-sex marriage for whatever religious or moral stance they so choose.  The single women see this advance as the pinnacle of feminism, as they can eliminate any need for the male species – because of course all men are good for is reproduction! 

But has any of these people even once brought up the prospect of the children who could be conceived in such ridiculous and unethical means?!  They are too concerned with whatever THEY WANT and refuse to take a step back and realize we are talking about human beings here.  Not cell cultures, or laboratory mice, or even human embryos, but human beings.  While it might be one thing to take sperm/egg donations from consenting adults and use them to create an other human life, using stem cells from a human embryo to create sperm-like cells and egg-like cells in order to produce a child is out of the question.

Therefore, even if women’s rights and gay rights are trying to achieve equality for these groups, one cannot conclude that this need for equality leads to creating human beings in such a manner.  This begs the question, since nowhere does it state that procreating is even a right that must be upheld by the United States government, let alone a right that has supremacy over another individual’s right to mere human dignity.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Inquiring wannabe moms really do wanna know

I received several comments last week from Katy, a married woman in her 30s whose husband is infertile and who is thinking of using DI to conceive.  She asked me such pertinent questions regarding DC that I thought it would be a great post to answer her questions with my own opinion.  I also want to thank her for being so open-minded to investigate what I can only imagine to be difficult points of view in her decision to conceive this way.

Q1: It does not seem that you are a fan of the DI process for having children. I wonder if you could give me an impression of what you think would have been more appropriate for your mother. Do you believe that she should have not chosen to have a child at that time?

A1: As you’ve guessed, I am opposed to donor conception (at least as the system is currently set up).  I full well understand that for most people who resort to using DI/DE or any form of ART it is a last resort as their best option (having a biological child with their partner/spouse/boyfriend or being a relationship to be able to have a child without assistance) is not feasible in some way shape or form.  My being opposed to DC does not mean that I don’t comprehend what it must be like to be in this situation.  However, I still disagree that it is an ethical and moral way to bring a child into this world. 

Let me explain something about my mother here, she taught elementary school (retired last year after 30 years) and in the inner city she saw in what obscene conditions these children who she taught lived in and knew that despite her being single that she even by herself could do a better job than these parents of raising a child and wanted to do so desperately.

Her intentions to have a baby seem genuine, however, it is unfair regardless to bring a child into the world that before he or she is conceived will be denied indefinitely the right to know his or her biological father.  If she was so concerned about the welfare of these children in the inner city she would have chose adoption or fostering to truly help these children rather than DI and bring another child into this world.  She chose DI because she was selfish and felt that if all these inner city families with dad in jail and mom having 6 kids to different dads and selling drugs to make money – if this trailer trash could have a baby why couldn’t she?  She wanted a biological child.  That’s the bottom line.  She wanted a baby that was ‘hers’ and she wanted to experience pregnancy.  I don’t think the thought that a child created this way might not be happy about it ever crossed her mind.  I sit here as a 23-year-old who has known all my life and my mother still refuses to acknowledge that there was something denied to me that can never be fixed.  It’s only been in the past two months that she has actually shown any sort of support to my searching.

Q2: Do you resent her for doing that?

A2: Hmm…that’s a tough question.  I suppose it depends on your definition of resent.  I don’t hate my mother by any means.  I don’t even hate her for using DI to conceive me.  I am angry that once she married (“financial union”) when I was four the subject became taboo and I was left alone in a family that I didn’t belong.  I am upset that she can’t open her eyes and realize that there are so many complex issues concerning DC and that my feelings and views deserve to be heard just as much as her wants and needs. 

Q3: Do you think that you would feel the same way if you yourself were longing for a child?

A3: Yes, but no.  First of all, I love kids and I want to have kids badly when I am older.  I’m what people call a ‘kid magnet’ and everywhere I go kids seem to always come up to me.  I’ll be at a party with a bunch of families and I’m the one who sits on the floor and within 30 seconds I have 4 or 5 kids crawling on top of me sitting in my lap, wanting me to play or read to them, etc.  So yes, I truly can understand that desperate want for a child that many people feel.  If I am unable to find a husband or find out he or myself is infertile though, I would never think to use DC to have a child.  I would probably chose an open adoption or simply live without children.  This is probably a question that would be better suited for an older DC-adult though, as I’m still young and starting a family is not currently on my mind! 

Q4: And do you think that other people who you have come into contact with who are also donor conceived feel similarly?

A4: Yes, I am by far not the only one who feels this way.  I have links on my blog to other DC-adults who oppose use of donated gametes; there are organizations of DC-adults (such as PCVAI – people conceived via artificial insemination) who for the most part share at least some of the beliefs, especially in regards to disclosing to kids and anonymity.  I can honestly say I have no met a single DC-adult who agrees with donor anonymity (and I know probably over 100 either personally or via the internet).  There are also advocacy groups such as TangledWebs, which is opposed to all forms of ART.  As far as whether or not DC-adults agree with donor conception is variable.  There are many that are 100% completely opposed to all forms of DC/ART, while there are some that agree that it’s okay as long as the child knows that they are donor conceived, and then there are some who say it would be okay to use DC if anonymous donors were banned (such as in the UK, Victoria Australia, New South Wales Australia, The Netherlands, and many other European countries).

Q5: Is there a feeling that DI shouldn't be happening? Is this universal among children conceived through DI? Are there people who have considered it in more positive lights or would I be a fool to hope for that?

A5: As I stated above, my views are by far not the only views of DC-adults, however I feel that the next generation of children to reach adulthood knowing their origins, this perspective may very well change.  Yes, there are some children and adults who have not been “damaged” by being donor conceived, but as I have pointed out in other posts, many of these children are simply parroting the views of their parents and in many cases have been brainwashed into believing that their parents infertility trumps their own biological losses (see my post - All the world's a long as the offspring follow the script). 

As far as more positive lights, I suppose anyone can view their predicament in more positive light if they try hard, but what’s positive about having your kinship severed deliberately and indefinitely, not being able to be raised by both your biological parents, not being biologically related to you social parent, being systematically discriminated upon by the government, being hushed by a self-regulated industry, and being overlooked by many in the general public??

Q6: Is it any better if it is an open donor, if you are raised by two parents (straight/gay) or single parent?

A6: I guess I can only speak from experience here, and being from an anonymous donor and a single mom – those two things are definitely not better.  So I think moving to banning anonymity is the first step in America for fixing this antiquated system, so choosing an open donor I see as a must for anyone considering to use donated gametes to have a child.  Preferably one who makes him or herself known as the child is growing up, because what we’ve learned from offspring and donors who have met later in life there is a significant amount of loss even upon eventual contact.  If your only option is an open-ID donor who can be contacted at the child’s 18th birthday, then my advice is that is the only remotely ethical and humane option. 

I think a two-parent heterosexual home is better than a single parent or same-sex parents.  I am not opposed to women’s rights and gay rights by any means, but it’s a proven fact that children faire better in a home with a mother and father.  It’s not to say that children born of single parents or same-sex parents aren’t also succeeding, it’s just not having a father or mother (social or biological) in their life is still a loss worth mentioning.

Q7: And I guess my original post to you was asking very many questions but they really boiled down to this very one. Is this it? From your experience do most donor-conceived adults wish that they had never been a part of this process? Or are there people that aren't as critical of it?

A7: Again, I only speak for myself in what I say on this blog.  I would love to tell you that all DC-adults felt the same way I do, but that’d be a lie.  However, you have to understand that many DC-adults also conform to the norm for fear of hurting their families, and thus without their true feelings expressed we may never know how all donor conceived offspring really feel.

Q8: Is being donor conceived so much a part of each dc persons identity that it could possibly ruin their lives?

A8: Ruin their life...that’s a bit harsh I think to assume.  My being donor conceived I think of as quite an important part of who I am.  I don’t think I would have taken the career path I chose if I was not DC, I don’t think I would have had such dysfunctional family dynamics growing up if I was not DC, I don’t think I would have been as emotionally disturbed growing up if I was not DC, I don’t think I would have as low of a self-esteem and rejection/relationship issues if I was not DC. 

Now, that sounds quite bad I know, but many of these issues are also felt in same way or another in both DC-adults and adoptees.  I must admit, it is something that is always there…it’s not something you can just shove to the back of your mind and forget about.  Sometimes I wish I could – but I can’t.  It’s who I am, but to say it’s ruined my life is extreme and highly unlikely, but I do think that it has given my grief and hurt that cannot be appeased. 

Q9: This is probably a crazy sounding question in the context of all of these blogs but is there anything positive about it?

A9: Not to sound cliché or completely sarcastic, but without it I wouldn’t be here to speak of for those not yet conceived.  I could stand on the soapbox and recite my script and say it helps people have kids who normally can’t.  But of course you realize I am only mocking.  I wish I could say one thing really positive about donor conception, but the truth really is I can’t think of anything. 

Q10: Does it make a difference if an open donor is used?

A10: I don’t think there’s enough evidence of children born of open/ID-release donors to make a general assessment.  I would think that at least it would answer these burning questions that those of us older offspring have, but at the same time, there’s also the paradox that the child grows up to know their donor or biological father or mother (or however they are instructed to refer to him or her as), how will they feel when he or she has a child of their own.  There are cases in open adoptions where the child knows their birth mother, and years down the line she has another baby and she keeps it, and the adopted child is devastated and wonders why she didn’t keep him or her.  This has been noted in several open adoption cases, and could potentially be an obstacle in regards to open-ID donors. 

As for the parents worrying that the child might “love” the donor more, or see the donor as the father and not the social dad, this tends to be a self-conscious fear of recipient parents and used as ammunition as to why they’re not telling their child. The truth is, children will love their social parents unconditionally, as all children love their parents.  There is no reason to fear a child and his or her donor’s relationship, because even though it is important, that child can love three parents just as easily as he or she can love two. 

Q11: Is it a lot better if the child knows her whole time growing up or would it still really suck?

A11: I think it’s much less of a shock and less chance that the child is going to be angry with their parents, just so long as that openness continues.  Explain to the child even before they are able to comprehend what it means, as they grow tell them in age-appropriate terminology about their conception and allow communication and questions to be asked as often as needed.  The child may go through a stage where he or she asks every day about their donor, and then go months without mentioning it.  Allow the child to pick what he or she wants to call his or her biological father – don’t insist they call him donor because he wasn’t our donor; he was our parents’ donor.  He is with all due respect our biological father. Allow the child to search if he or she wishes, or even begin searching for siblings or the donor before they ask.  Keep any means of concern, as it is first and foremost, a decision you made that impacted the child the most.  If they disagree with DC, it’s not a personal attack against you, and should not be taken that way.

Even knowing all my life I was DC, I sometimes feel I have had a longer time to see what impact that has made on my life, but that’s not necessarily a negative.  I like to think of it as I have become more enlightened. 

Q12: I guess lastly what kind of advice would you give to infertile couples about options, etc? Or do you think it is better at that point just not to have children.

A12: I think that is a personal decision to be made by the infertile couples.  There are alternative options outside of ART – adoption and fostering children who need families is by far the best option in my eyes.  These kids are already here and for some reason or another they cannot be properly cared for by their biological parents.  These kids deserve every chance to have families to love them and care for them. 

So they’re not going to be biologically related to either of you, I understand that. But if you realize what sort of pressure using ART (and even more importantly using a donor) puts on a marriage I think that most couples would not proceed into donor conception.  There are oftentimes many issues that evolve or erupt in a marriage after the use of a donor to create children, such as arguments on disclosing to the children (even couples that were decisive before conceiving often change their minds later), the social non-biological parent feels ousted from the parent-child relationship and sees the child as a constant reminder of his or her infertility, complete lack of affection or care of the child from the non-biological parent, and while there’s no statistical evidence other than common discussion amongst offspring – we’ve found that divorce rates are astronomically high and many DC issues are underlying problems in the disbanding of the marriage.

Q13: Even if someone does DI do you have advice that would make it better for the child?

A13: I think I have answered this in other questions, but first of all do as much research as possible on the issues and familiarize yourself with some of the “less-appealing” views, talk to donor offspring, etc, and make an informed decision knowing what the consequences are and accepting that your child might not be happy about being donor conceived even if you do all the best things for him or her – it’s very much based on the offspring’s personality how they react to their conception. 

Use an open-identity donor.  Anonymity is the biggest obstacle for nearly all donor conceived adults, and while ID-release is not ideal it is far better than 100% confidentiality indefinitely. 

Talk.  Don’t tell your child once and then expect them to grow and mature and continue to understand what it means.  Tell them before they have any concept and it will be easier for you when he or she is at the age that they can comprehend what it means.  Age-appropriateness is key, and there are many books to help parents explain it for toddlers to school age kids, without getting too…graphic.

Keep the door open.  Don’t hound you child (especially once they hit that pre-teen age where for most kids they refuse to talk to their parents anyways), but subtly let them know that if they want/need to talk that you’re there.  Offer going to talk to a therapist or counselor if they are uncomfortable talking to you about it.  Family therapy is also a very positive option as it keeps the entire family on the same page and talking.

Search.  The DonorSiblingRegistry has parents who are still pregnant looking for siblings and their child’s donor.  While this may be slightly extreme, a child who has a half-sibling out there shows them from a young age that they’re not the only one out there and they have an instant friend to confide in about being donor conceived as they grow up.  Plus, there are advantages such as genealogical DNA tests if a female child finds a male half-sibling.  I’ve never heard of a child who has been angry that his parents found him a sibling, and it gives the parents a family who maybe lives on the other side of the country or the world that you have such a special connection to. 

Love.  No matter how cliché it sounds, raising your child in a loving and accepting environment is going to help him or her grow to be happy and healthy.  But remember, love is not all you need…always realize that even though you have this beautiful child, he or she does have a biological parent out there and he is half of that child’s identity as well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Babies for sale

In an age of made-to-order accessories, the business of procreating has become a lifestyle trend for the rich and famous, a painful credit card debt for infertile middle class families, a trophy of gay rights, a means of income/drinking money for college kids, and an immeasurable amount of grief for those so carelessly created to satisfy these covetous wishes. 

The production of human lives to buy and sell has become a multi-billion dollar industry.  Advertisements are often found pinned on university bulletin boards as a way to make money (and sometimes even ‘help’ people have a child).  The going rate for an egg donor is $8-20,000/cycle…more depending on the girl’s looks (tall, blonde, athletic, of course!), IQ, tests scores, education level, prestige of university – ivy league is a must, and Harvard eggs pay better than Princeton eggs – as well as ethnicity, musical or artistic talent, and previous successful egg donations resulting in pregnancies.  Sperm donors can make on average close to $16,000/year just to jack off in a cup, or as one recruitment ad put - "get paid to do what you already do" (UCLA study).   The most sought after sperm donors are over six feet tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, high IQ, and preferably majoring in the sciences or medicine.

This certainly rings a bell for me…it’s called eugenics!!

And these startling numbers are only the tip of the iceberg for the massive amounts of money trading hands.  Would-be parents are putting second mortgages on their homes to continue to pay for high-cost infertility treatments, which are typically not covered by insurances.  Now, if they actually get a pregnancy and are flat broke, how’s that to bring a child purposefully into that financial situation?!  To top it off, many doctors still implant multiple embryos during IVF treatments, thus significantly increasing the chances of twins, triplets, or larger multiples!!  This is not only a HUGE continuing financial burden on the parents, but the risks of pre-mature birth, developmental delays, and congenital defects also increase dramatically.  Are these fertility doctors going to help these parents pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical costs for quadruplets born at 25 weeks and all need multiple surgeries and constant care???  Hell no!!!  These poor parents, after spending countless dollars and years to get pregnant, have to watch their children suffering because of some doctor’s negligence.

Even Hollywood is catching on, as many aging actresses realized too late that their careers may have plummeted their chances of conceiving a child.  Lets get this straight...44 year old women typically can't conceive their FIRST child naturally at this age - maybe their 4th or 5th, but not their first.  For anyone who actually believes that a certain number of A-listers (I won't mention any specific names, but I'm sure you can guess several I'm referring to) in their 40's popping out babies are really theirs, I think you need a reality check.

Has anyone in the infertility industry asked what those of us conceived through such artificial means thought about being the product of a financial transaction?  Yeah, I didn’t think so…

Growing up I saw myself as a ‘freak of nature’ due to the method of my conception.  My mom paid her doctor for treatments and for the ordering of the sperm from Xytex.  I was conceived in a doctor’s office in a sterile environment from a frozen sample of donor 2035’s semen, which he was paid quite handsomely to provide behind closed doors with a playboy magazine or some trashy porn movie. 

It's a sad day when there actually IS a price-tag on a human life...

Do I ever question why he donated?  Most definitely.  He was student, most likely pressed for cash and probably figured who wouldn’t donate and get paid to jerk off!!  Do I wish he did it to be altruistic?  Honestly, no.  I mean, it would be nice to think that at least he was knowledgeable that he was producing his own biological children.  But at the same time how am I to respect someone who sold their child, regardless of their intentions. 

To me, it seems worse for someone to donate altruistically as they fully acknowledge they are potentially producing a human being, and thus selling his own biological children.  On the other hand, a man who was uninformed, as this guy shows.  “One sperm donor was dumbstruck when he was informed that one of his contributions had resulted in conception. ‘I hadn't really thought about the fact there were going to be pregnancies,’ he said” (UCLA study looks at sperm donation, 2007).  Obviously had no idea his donations might result in a pregnancy.  This lack of information is the cornerstone of the sperm bank’s business practice.  By disguising sperm donation as simply a way to make money, it takes away from the reality of producing a child.

Sperm and egg donors are even treated differently by the infertility industry, due in part to the “newly defined roles of parenthood” – the nurturing mother and the distant father. 

"Staff at egg agencies constantly thank women and encourage them to think about what a wonderful difference they're making in the lives of recipients," Almeling said. "The sperm bank staff is appreciative, but men aren't told how amazing they are and what a great gift they're giving. They're treated more like reproductive service workers” (UCLA study).

The industry also avoids any would-be donors who seem too interested in what will happen to their donations, if children result will they be able to meet them, etc.  Heaven only knows you have to keep the source of supply the in dark as to what they are actually doing - selling their biological children - in order to continue business as usual!  Egg donors especially are turned away is they ask too many questions or seem uneasy about the process.  Men it seems are less likely to jump to such conclusions immediately, and thus this is typically not an issue.

How can anyone believe an industry which defines itself in such medieval stereotypes, and assumes that since fathers are not that important in raising a child it’s okay to deny a child the right to know and be raised by his or her father?  I think society needs to take a long and hard look at what these methods of technology are really doing, and listen to those of us who are fighting back.  Really listen and hear our pleas, our stories, our pain – and see that we deserve to be treated with dignity as much as the next naturally conceived person.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

All you need

Paul McCartney once said, “all you need is love”, however despite what many in the donor conception community wish to believe, it’s not true.  There seems to be an overwhelming majority of recipient mothers that truly believe that just so long as they love their child, that he or she won’t feel any loss of their biological father.  I would like to stand up and say that this is nonsense.

So many times I hear people tell me that their child is so loved and so wanted, more wanted than children conceived during normal sexual intercourse since the parents had to go through so much for that child to be alive.  My response is that first of all, as a couple (or a single woman) is going through treatments in order to get pregnant, they believe that this child is so loved and wanted only because THEY want a child so badly.  They also cannot love that child as an individual as he or she has not even been conceived yet!  This change in pretense from personal wants and needs for a child into a child that is so wanted and thus loved has occurred without little resistance.  We as donor conceived offspring could not have asked to be conceived and be loved, as we did not exist at this time.  And as David Velleman points out, no donor conceived child was ever wanted (in the individual sense), the parents only wanted A baby, ANY baby, regardless of who that child is or who they were from (The Gift of Life, 2007).  It’s ridiculous to say we were wanted as we were wanted merely as that miracle baby and not as who we are as an individual.

My second argument of the love is all you need theory (as opposed to being raised by two genetically connected parents), is that how can genetics be a double standard??  What I mean is that we are told that genetics should not matter and that it is the parents who raise us who matter, and that nature really has little role in our identity aside from trivialities, and it’s all about nurturing and who changed our diapers.  Yet at the same time these are same parents who HAD to have a child that was at least biologically related to one of them and that’s why they had to resort to donor conception instead of adoption.  So you want a biologically related child because it’s important to you, but we are not allowed to feel grief that one or both of our biological parents are not raising us?!  

“Adults who support the use of new technologies to bear children sometimes say that biology does not matter to children, that all children need is a loving family. Yet biology clearly matters to the adults who sometimes go to extreme lengths— undergoing high-risk medical procedures; procuring eggs, sperm, or wombs from strangers; and paying quite a lot of money—to create a child genetically related to at least one of them. In a striking contradiction, these same people will often insist that the child’s biological relationship to an absent donor father or mother should not really matter to the child” (Elizabeth Marquardt, The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs, 2006).

Parents need to realize that their feelings towards their infertility, no matter how painful they may be, are in no way shape or form any more important or more validated than the feelings of their child towards their deliberate severing of kinship.  We are not five years old and believe whatever we are told anymore, and “adults” cannot continue to make decisions for us in our ‘best interests’, when we are also adults and should be on equal footing as them.  I’m not saying I don’t love my mother unconditionally, because I do, but it doesn’t mean I cannot condemn her decision to use a sperm donor.  While she raised me as best she could, and loved me as much as she could, I still suffered from such a fundamental loss that no matter what she could have done it would not have soothed such grief.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Legal Deceptions

Oxford dictionary defines birth certificate as: “an official document issued to record a person’s birth, including such identifying data as name, gender, date of birth, place of birth, and parentage.”  However, for hundreds of thousands of donor-conceived individuals this is in no way completely an honest account of their identity – and should NOT be considered official or original, yet it is.

So lets back up and explain what this really means in actuality.  When a donor-conceived baby is born they are given a birth certificate as in every child’s birth.  On most every other child’s certificate it has both biological parent’s names listed as mother and father.  Now, not to get caught in a loophole, there are of course cases where paternity is questioned and in that case, there may be an unintentional error recorded, or by chance mom doesn’t know who the father is and no one is recorded.  These are both sad situations, but can usually be cleared up later with paternity tests.

When a child is put up for adoption, even if adoption was the intention before birth, at least the biological birth mother’s name is recorded on the official birth certificate.  Upon an adoption being cleared, that original birth certificate (in the USA) is then sealed and a new amended birth certificate is issued with the adoptive parent’s as the legal parents.  So while I am not trying to condone closed, or secret, adoptions (far from it), I am using this as a pertinent example of how being donor conceived is even more of an atrocity in regards to tracing biological family.  Adoptees in the United States are a prime example of the efforts to despite sealed records, to reunite family members.  And some states will release a sealed birth certificate given that the adoptee demands one for whatever reason.

But for donor-conceived adults, we have no “original” or un-amended birth certificate.  Our original and thus official birth certificate is still a fraudulent legal document.  When we are born, our social parents names go on that official birth certificate with not even a mention that we are donor conceived, let alone our biological parent’s name listed.  This gets even more complicated for those children now who are born of “adopted embryos”, as now they have absolutely no biological ties to either of their parents, yet unlike traditional adoptees do not have even a sealed original birth certificate which identifies who they are.

Now, my original birth certificate was at least a little less deceptive as some other DC offspring’s, as my mom was a single mother by choice, there was no father recorded on my original hospital issued birth certificate, however when my dad adopted me at age 10 and now have an amended birth certificate (and social security card, and passport, and etc, etc….) which bears my dad’s German last name instead of my original and biologically connected Armenian last name (my mother’s maiden name).  But I won’t get into a surnames rant today, definitely another day…

The fact that there are children being born who have one or even two fake biological parents recorded, as fact, in their original birth certificate is completely horrific!!  Some states are even making this lie so simple that they have changed the format of birth certificates to instead of having two parents listed as ‘mother’ and ‘father’, they have original birth certificates which state ‘parent A’ and ‘parent B’, so that the same-sex couples are declared as both the legal parents of that donor-conceived child – as opposed to previously (and still in most states) where the non-biological mother or father has to legally adopt the child.  This is appalling, as it has completely nullifies the authenticity of birth certificates to a mere question of ownership.  They have become property rights instead of birth certificates, declaring those who shelled out the money for the child are hereby declared owners…oops, I meant parents!

Donor conceived adults across the globe are currently trying to justify that children born through assisted reproduction have the right to an accurate birth certificate, which at the very least designates that they were conceived through a sperm/egg/embryo donation, but hopefully have biological parentage recorded as well.            

The International Donor Offspring Alliance (a group of DC adults, donors, recipient parents and academics) believes that birth certificates should reflect true parentage state -

 “[w]e have concluded that a system of two-part birth certificates should be instituted. The first part, the Certificate of Parentage, would record the fact that conception had been by assisted reproduction and the names of the social and donor parents. The Certificate of Parentage would be available only to the offspring and social parents concerned.  The second part would be a Certificate of Birth, the same as the short-form certificate in use at present, recording the date and place of the individual's birth but no more. The Certificate of Birth would be acceptable as evidence for all those matters for which a birth certificate is currently required.”

This would in a sense be like what the US currently has with a short and long birth certificate, where the short form can be used for everything that typically requires a birth certificate for (school registration, passports, driver’s licenses, etc), and the long would include the biological parentage which would only be accessible to that child and his or her social parents upon request (whether or not there is a directed time, such as age 18, for this information to be dispensed, it would be recorded when that time came).


 “The fundamental proposition is that people have a right to know about their own lives and that that must include knowing who their parents are, including their biological parents - something which has been recognised in the case of adoptees since 1975 [in the UK]. That knowledge can only be safeguarded and transmitted if it is recorded. It is not open to recipient parents or anyone else to decide on a child's behalf that it does not need to know or can justifiably be deceived or deprived of information. Requiring that birth certificates record the truth does not impinge on recipient parents' lives in any way but it safeguards information, which properly belongs to the offspring. Including the name of the donor as well as the fact of donor conception is the only means by which donor offsprings' rights and their dignity as people can be honoured” (International Donor Offspring Alliance, 2007).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Genetic Sexual Attraction: Urban legend or ticking time bomb?

Recent headlines announcing a British couple that discovered they were long-lost twins separated at birth (Parted-at-birth twins ‘married’, BBC, January 11, 2008), has born a new interest into the need for people to know their biological parents and subsequent siblings.  A friend of the couple told the House of Lords that the twins felt an “inevitable attraction”.  While it is not stated publicly it is assumed that this could only be a case of genetic sexual attraction.

So what exactly is genetic sexual attraction (GSA), or for better phrase simply genetic attraction (as it can be sexual or not)?  The founder of Truth Seekers in Adoption (a Chicago based adoption support group for adoptees who have recently found their biological relatives), Barbra Gonyo first used the term in the late 1980s.  It has been shown most commonly in the adoption community among adult adoptees meeting their birth parents or siblings later in life, where upon meeting there is an intense and sometimes sexual attraction to the parents, child, or sibling.  According to The Guardian (Genetic Sexual Attraction, May 17, 2003), some adoption groups estimate that some aspects of GSA occur in close to 50% of reunion cases, however due to the taboos that surround the phenomenon, the actual rate of occurrence is impossible to determine.  

Gonyo suggests that it stems for the lack of bonding that normally takes place between an infant and its mother or between siblings who were raised together.  Gonyo stated that since she became director of Truth Seekers she sees people struggling with GSA constantly. 

"Often, the attraction isn't sexual, but it's still frightening and alien, and therefore perceived as abnormal and sinful. One woman told me that she and her birth mother, soon after they met, slept together in the nude: there was no sex, only a strong need to be close as parent and child. Grown men tell me they've sat in their mother's lap, just being rocked and held. One man talked about his need to be sexual with his newly found brother, but not being homosexual they shared a woman instead" (Genetic Sexual Attraction, The Guardian, May 17, 2003).

Research on a type of reverse sexual imprinting called the ‘westermarck effect’ sheds light on the underlying biological urges associated with GSA.  According to Mark Schneider, the westermarck effect is a sexual inhibition found in individuals raised together that he argues is mediated by the olfactory system.  “Evidence suggests aversions develop during an early sensitizing period, attach to persons as much as to their scents, and are more powerful among females than among males.”  (Olfactory sexual inhibition and the westermarck effect, Human Nature, Vol. 11, March 2000, pp. 65-91).

This reverse sexual imprinting has been observed in several cultural systems such as the Israeli Kibbutz (communal living arrangements where children were raised in like-aged peer groups), and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage customs, where young girls were adopted by their future husband’s parents and raised as a ‘little daughter-in-law’.  In both of these cases the children later in life rejected marriage with one another (either not looking for mates in their peer group, or refusing to marry their fiancé), despite their parents hopes. 

Another well known case of GSA, was that of Gary Klahr and Micka Zeman who had a six-month relationship in 1979, and in 1998 discovered that they were both two of 13 children born to a couple and nine of those children were adopted to families in the area.  After realizing that they had sex with one another long before knowing they were siblings they felt sick, but knew there was no sense in feeling guilty, as they had not known and it could not have been prevented at the time.  Yet the connection that they felt was no doubt an unconscious biological attraction. 

[I]f you understand that nine out of 13 children from the biological family were adopted out to different families, with different names and different religions, within a 15-mile radius of the hospital where we were born, then something like this was bound to happen. I [Gary] never had an idea, until 1998, that I was adopted: how could we have known that we were brother and sister?” (The Guardian, May 17, 2003).  

So now lets jump to the 21st century, the age of test-tube babies and assisted reproduction.  The infertility industry states in response to the possibility of siblings meeting and falling in love, that the chance of that is so rare that it does not justify banning anonymity.  However, if we look at the fact that sperm bank regulations recommend that “In a population of 800,000 limiting a single donor to no more than 25 births would avoid an increased risk…” (Fertility and Sterility supplement, June 2002)  With that being said, lets take the city of New York for example.  With an estimated 2006 population of 19,306,183 (New York Quick Facts, US Census Bureau, 2008), that would mean a single donor could have 603 offspring just in the NYC city limits – not to mention across the country!!!!  These offspring would more than likely be of similar ages and races, and if we take into account that probably 80-90% of donor offspring have no idea they’re donor conceived, and now the idea of genetic attraction which could unconsciously bring two offspring together – this is a time bomb waiting to happen.

I think it’s about time that people begin to realize that this is an actual reality and that the consequences are beyond what we can imagine.  We’re not just worried about half-siblings meeting, but what about cousins and other degrees of consanguinity??  And while birth defects due to increased degrees of consanguinity are still low, take a look at the risks on a larger scale.

British born Pakistani’s (55% marry a first cousin) are 13 times more likely to have a child with a genetic disorder, or one in ten Pakistani children of first cousin marriages die in infancy or have a severe disability.  While Pakistani’s only account for 3% of the UK births, they produce “just under a third” of all British children with genetic diseases (J. Rowlatt, The risks of cousin marriage, BBC, November 16, 2005).

While GSA is still a highly controversial subject and hotly debated whether it actually exists and what the repercussions should be (treated as a moral/legal issue or not), it needs to come to the attention of those in the donor conception community as a risk that should not be taken lightly.  If anything, disclose your child’s means of conception so that in the future at least that knowledge is there!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

All the world's a long as the offspring follow the script

“Mummy and Daddy were very sad when no baby began to grow. Then the doctor said there was a way for them to have a baby. Some very kind men give their sperm so people like Mummy and Daddy can have a baby. At last Mummy and Daddy had a baby and that was me!” (Donor Conception Support Group, 2004)

“One day I said 'Have I got a dad?' Then Mum told me all about how a hospital helped her to have a baby, even though she hadn't met the right person to be my dad. I am really proud my Mum could do this and I am proud of us and our family.” (Donor Conception Support Group, 2004)

Reading these two quotes one would think these are two small children telling the stories of their conception, but in reality these are stories written by adults [most likely the infertility industry] to tell small children about their ‘unique’ conception and just how ‘special’ they are!  I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing books to help parents disclose this information, but what I cannot digest is the direction and point of view that the story centers around!  It’s all about mom and dad (or just mom) and their struggles with infertility or being single and how this small child is the cure for these disabilities and therefore are so wanted and loved.

We are now children created specifically as a cure for someone else’s infertility or inability to find a good mate.  It's bad enough that we were created for this purpose, but to top it off we are instructed to feel the anguish our parents felt and thus validate our conception because it was in our parents’ best interests, instead of our own!!

As these children grow older they continue to view their donor conception and their subsequent genetic loss as a service done for their parents to save them from the pain of infertility.  They continually refer to their donor as a generous man who helped their parents have a baby and they themselves are grateful for this anonymous man for giving them life and bringing such joy to their parents.  The problem is not that these children feel this way (god help the happy-happy-joy-joy kids!!), but that they are simply parroting what their parents have ingrained in them from an early age, and that’s that the pain of infertility is paramount and that the parents feelings are more important then their own.  Take for example these two quotes from offspring in the documentary “A different story” by the Donor Conception Network UK.   

“I am glad I have my parents and I am glad I exist I suppose and so it was what they, they wanted a child so I am happy I can provide that service” (quoted in Rose, J. Mediation of Kinship and Identity, 2004)

I’d rather be here than not here and I am actually, I am very grateful to the person who gave me life and made it possible for my parents to have children” (quoted in Rose, J. Mediation of Kinship and Identity, 2004)

It is obvious in these two examples that these children were told from a young age of their parents infertility and struggle to have a baby, and the subsequent use of a donor’s sperm to conceive them, but for this to be their rationale as to why it is okay for them to be denied the right to know their biological father is simply outrageous.  These are the same children who later announce that they do not want to search for their biological fathers for fear of hurting their parents, like this offspring who was also featured on the documentary “A different story”.

“If I was my Dad, especially, I would kind of feel a bit upset that I didn’t have my own children, if you know what I mean, like biological children. I don’t want to say that I really want to find my biological father because he might get a bit hurt…I think he knows that I would quite like to see my real father but I don’t want to talk about it too much” (quoted in Rose, J. Mediation of Kinship and Identity, 2004)

The fear of hurting their parents, usually their dads, is one of the primary reasons offspring don’t search for their biological fathers, sometimes until after their parents have passed away.  This is not a new phenomenon as it was seen for years in the adoption community.  Some offspring and adoptees wish to protect their parents, and therefore either don’t discuss their true feelings or continue to spout that biology means nothing to them and they are perfectly happy with their situation. 

“Alice Kirkman was 12 when her mother told her the story of her unconventional origins: she was conceived with eggs from her infertile mother and donor sperm. Then her aunt acted as a surrogate for the gestation. Now 16, Alice is completely comfortable with how she came to be and is in contact with her biological father. She believes a person's biological background has little bearing on their identity, but she would have been upset had her mother not divulged the truth.” (Why donor offspring need to know the truth, The Age, August 9, 2004)

In the example above, Alice says that she doesn’t think biology matters and she’s perfectly content with her conception (she was born of her genetic/social mother's eggs, a gestational surrogate – her aunt - and donor sperm), however you also see that she is now in contact with her biological father, so the looks as if what she is saying is either not true or has been deemed irrelevant.

The habit of brainwashing donor children as fuel to defend the righteousness of donor conception is out-rightly wrong and unethical.  Not only does is discredit those of us adults who have spoken out, using the socially conditioned donor children as a yard stick to base how well-adjusted a child is.  Time and time again adult offspring are told they must be unbalanced and that is why they feel the way they do.  No one every brings up the thought that biology is important, that these blood ties are something so vital that throughout the past millennia human beings have kept records of ancestry which people are able to trace their lineage back hundreds of years.  It is a integral aspect of human nature to want and need this genetic connectedness.  Therefore, I proclaim that those of us who feel wronged by this loss are in fact that most emotionally well adjusted as we acknowledge that such a loss is indeed significant.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fertility clinic fires and other strange but [un]true answers

A recent discussion that started on PCVAI a few weeks back was on the astounding number of office fires in which donor conceived persons records were destroyed across the globe.  I am not joking – really I’m not.  Apparently insurance costs must be through the roof for fertility clinics these days, as they seem to be at an abnormally high risk of office fires!  Okay…so you’re laughing now, right?  But I’m being brutally serious when I say that the number of DC adults who have confronted the fertility clinics their moms used only to be told that the information they are requesting was destroyed [insert random # of years here] ago and there is no records left from that long ago.  I have heard just about every excuse in the book, from office fires, to floods, to the doctor sold his practice and the records were lost, to [insert random bullshit here].

Now myself on the other hand, was not told that there was an office fire at Xytex, I was simply informed that records of orders placed were destroyed after 10 years…in my head I am picturing a long conveyer belt with records chugging along and as soon as they’ve been around for 10 years they drop off the edge into the infinite abyss of biological disconnectedness!  Since at the time I had no donor number I was back to square one.  I still am unsure if I believe this explanation or not.  Luckily however, being a large international sperm bank they still had records of their donors.  By finding the donor number in my mother’s medical records I was able to phone Xytex and the secretary sent me non-identifying information and his (at the time of donation) medical history.  It’s only been a month since I’ve had this information and even now I still feel that it’s surreal and I’m going to wake up and be back to having no information.  I do have his birthday, yet I have no clue where he was born or much else to go from there.

I guess my confusion is how they can turn such a blind eye towards our questions!  They claim that the donors WANT anonymity, however most donors weren’t even given an option of being open-ID before about the late 1980s!  It does not surprise me though, as the infertility industry seems stuck on voicing others opinions for them, only to continue their delusion that affirms their entire business practice.  It is as if they follow the old saying “children should be seen and not heard”, however they seem to deny that donor conceived children ever actually grow up!!  To them I am a mere child who cannot make a reasoned decision on my own, and therefore they are required to make that decision for me, which according to them is in my ‘best interests’.

At the end of this month there is a conference being held in Chicago to discuss the means of a voluntary national registry: 



March 28, 2008. 9:00am - 5:00pm

University Club, Michigan Room, 76 East Monroe St, Chicago, Illinois

Open to academic, clinical, and public participants.

Concerns regarding secrecy in the use of donor gametes have led to recent regulatory responses in a number of European nations and Australia. The United States, however, greatly concerned with potential infringement on reproductive rights and autonomy of participants, continues to lag behind in formulating a uniform national response. Instead, piecemeal solutions have been implemented by individual sperm banks, consumer groups and for-profit entities that seek to keep gamete recipients updated on significant health conditions of the donor or to match donor offspring with other genetically related donor offspring. These lay registries have emerged without public discourse, public accountability, multidisciplinary expertise, uniformity or oversight. As legislative proposals begin to emerge in the United States, the time is ripe for professionals most directly impacted by the creation of such registries to take the lead in the discussion and develop a feasible, acceptable and effective solution to benefit the full range of stakeholders.

Developing a single effective registry requires balancing the interests of the child, donor, intended parents, health care professionals and society.

In addition, conducting a risk/benefit analysis is necessary to protect, promote and enhance this important reproductive option and ensure the physical and emotional safety and privacy of all participants, including the resultant offspring. 

Proposed benefits of creating a voluntary gamete donor registry centralized within the reproductive medicine community include:

* Collecting and maintaining pertinent medical, health and genetic information

* Helping avoid identity issues or familial disconnect experienced by some children

* Preventing inadvertent consanguinity and enabling offspring to make informed reproductive decisions

* Enabling Assisted Reproductive Technology programs to share donor information with one another

* Ensuring that donors do not participate in multiple programs or more times than is medically and/or psychologically recommended

* Facilitating outcomes/epidemiological research that is currently lacking despite the thousands of births annually utilizing donated gametes in the United States

Tracking Change will explore the feasibility of creating a uniform voluntary gamete donor registry in the United States. Using a multidisciplinary approach, expert panelists will discuss the practical, theoretical, and ethical benefits and barriers of developing and implementing a registry with a particular focus on legal and policy considerations. The issues will be discussed from the perspectives of a range of stakeholders, including physicians, fertility centers, sperm banks, donor gamete recipients, donors, donor gamete offspring and society.


At first glance this conference sounds like an uplifting change to the current system in America, however after careful reading of the list of speakers (see conference website) you realize that once again the children are the last priority, and again the infertility industry is speaking on our behalf.  There is not a single offspring or donor asked to be in attendance – that is unethical in regards to holding a meaningful symposium on a possible national registry!!  When a donor offspring asked the conference planners if a donor offspring could attend and sit on a panel she was firmly rejected and told they did not have the finances to have another panelist and a professional in the field was speaking on our behalf.  That is absolutely ridiculous as we are no doubt the most important stakeholders in this endeavor!!  Again the offspring have been ousted and a “professional” is speaking about OUR feelings!  I can be sure that the professionals who are speaking for our interests are most definitely just martinets of the infertility industry and giving the impressions they wish to extend (ie, offspring who are well-adjusted and happy have no issues with missing links in their identity!!).

Considering donor insemination has been a “cure” for infertility since the 1880’s, the excuse that the offspring are only children and haven’t the ability to speak for ourselves is a ridiculous and a downright wrong assertion.  We are grown adults and our points of view should matter, as we are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of these unchecked assisted reproduction practices!