Thursday, November 4, 2010

Donor Insemination and Adoption: The Rights of Children Who Grow to Adults

The following is reprinted from Family Scholar.

It is a response written by Bill Cordray and copied here with the author's gracious permission.

Bill is an architect from Salt Lake City. He was conceived through sperm donation in Utah during World War II and was born three weeks before Hiroshima. Although he suspected his paternity for most of his life, he didn't learn the truth until he was 37. His search for his donor father has taken him into an ever-increasing set of labyrinths. He has written for and presented at the AAC.

You said: “For the moment, I want to focus on one of the arguments asserted by Olivia Pratten, who is the plaintiff in the case. As I understand it, she is arguing that since British Columbia’s adoption law allows an adopted child to gain access to the identity of her birth parents when she or he turns 19, principles of equal treatment require the same access be provided to children conceived using third-party gametes, or at least third-party sperm.
Implicit in this argument is an assertion that (at least for the purposes of this case) donor conception and adoption are similar and therefore should be treated similarly. This is worth thinking about.
It seems to me that there are ways in which donor conception and adoption are similar and there are also ways in which they are entirely dissimilar. This makes me very wary of broadly equating the two. Instead, I think we ought to think carefully about the similarities and the differences and which ones are important for what kinds of decisions. ”
My response: Her claim is simply that it is unfair for an autonomous adult to continue to be denied identifying information about a genetic parent. If, in British Columbia, an adopted adult is given retrospective rights to this information, then it is an injustice to an adult conceived through socially arranged conception to be denied the same retrospective right. This has nothing to do with the rights of legal parents over their minor children. It certainly has nothing to do with children conceived in affairs or rape, for whom no paternal information is kept in files of publicly licensed agencies or physicians.
Some adopted adults in B. C. do not care about their genetic parents but those who do have won the right to do so regardless of prior guarantees of birth parent confidentiality. The same should hold true for people conceived through anonymous fathers whether it is called donor insemination, stranger conception or medically assisted adoption. It is also unrelated to policies of anonymity enforced to protect the sanctity of parents of minor children. Those policies should lose validity when the child becomes an independent autonomous adult.
You said: “So is providing sperm like giving a child up for adoption? I know that some people say that providing sperm ought to be treated like adoption and that’s exactly what worries me about the sweeping analogy. It seems to me there are obvious differences that warrant different treatment: There is no child so it’s a bit difficult for me to say that there are parental rights anywhere in the picture. There may not be anyone in particular waiting to step in an assume parental rights. And further, as I’ve said fairly frequently here, I don’t see that simply providing genetic material ought to give you parental rights. The man gives up (or sells) his sperm, nothing more. ”
My response: ” This argument ignores the fact that the sperm will become a child, or several, with whom the donor will have no legal relationship as a parent but retains a genetic relationship with the child. No legislation or policy can overrule this law of nature. The man cannot give away this relationship by selling his sperm and walking away. The artificial rules of men, as they now stand, deny access for children to their unknown extended genetic family and ancestry. These arbitrary rules are what Olivia is trying to change through her suit. As an adult, she is no longer concerned about how she came to be or who her legal parents were as a child. The suit would not change her status as their heir nor burden her genetic father with financial or social responsibilities. But, as Olivia and those of us who share her experience claim, he does have a moral responsibility to allow us to know who he is. It is the same responsibility that birth parents now have towards the children they surrendered to adoption. In this critical sense, the analogy is universally true for both sets of people who have been disconnected by laws or policies.”
You said: “Now there are other perspectives from which you can see similarities between adoption and use of third-party gametes and these are more important for Pratten’s claim. The adopted child is not being raised by people genetically related to her/him. At the same time, the people who are genetically related are not legal parents and may not be known to the adopted child. You can say similar things about a child who is conceived via donor gametes. (It’s a bit trickier, because she/he is often genetically related to at least one person raising her/him.)
I’m not at all sure that the overall experience of being raised as an adopted child has much in common with the overall experience of being raised as a child conceived via third-party gametes. I’m sure it’s been studied and I bet there’s a lot to say about it. I think it is probably safe to say that there are ways in which it is similar and ways in which it is not and that individual experiences can vary greatly. ”
My Response: “The only way you could possibly understand this commonality is to be literate about the lives of both. We can’t be understood through statistical analyses of sociological data, theories of law, or even moral reasoning. Those methods of intellectual analysis are helpful only to a point. They don’t fully convey the meanings of our lives unless they are supplemented by our personal narratives. To understand the overall experiences of both groups of disconnected children (who usually remain disconnected as adults), you need to hear our stories, read our books, watch documentaries about us, and meet us face-to-face. Until you can say you have done that kind of work, your understanding of our issues remains an abstraction. I recommend that you study several texts from the major adoption writers, attend adoption support groups, attend the national conferences of the American Adoption Congress (where I will also be speaking at a workshop prior to Wendy Kramer’s, preceded by the second documentary film by DI adult Barry Stevens). Once you have gone to this level of effort, then you will be better prepared to speak about the issues you have addressed in your blogs and apply your legal analysis in your Family Law classes.”
Before I knew any other DI adult, I attended adoption support groups for at least seven years. I heard their stories and they listened to mine. As you say, each of our experiences were unique but they all had the common threads of loss, grief, anger at the social injustice of those who control our information, distrust in personal relationships due to our parents’ inability to understand the depth of our sense of abandonment, and the general sense that no one outside our common experiences are capable of validating our predicament. They saw in my experiences far more shared experiences than different ones. When I listened to their narratives, I finally felt my own validated among people who had been through the same sense of loss and anger that I have felt.”

1 comment:

Von said...

Thanks Mirah, very interesting post.

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