John M. Smoot

Why sperm ‘donation’ is bad for dads and kids

John M. Smoot
By John Smoot
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February 27, 2013 (PublicDiscourse) - In 2006, as a Probate and Family Court judge in Boston, I began hearing a case filed by a self-represented woman who requested an order that a sperm facility disclose the identity of the father of her two young daughters. She gave as her primary reason that the children suffered from health issues and needed a complete medical history from their father. As a secondary ground, she cited the children’s need for financial support. After multiple hearings and several trips between the Probate and Family Court and the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the complaint was dismissed in 2011. (The first decision of the Appeals Court can be found here.)

By the end of the case, the process of anonymous sperm “donation” struck me as inhumane, and sperm “donation” in general as thoughtless, even though many of the individuals involved behave in understandably human ways. In today’s article I explain the problems for fathers and children created by sperm donation. Tomorrow I address the role of money as a problematic incentive for “donation” and offer suggestions for how we can slow the growth of the sperm-sale industry.

Harms Arising from the Sale of Sperm

When we focus on the friend, relative, or child who may have ties to sperm donation, we avoid seeing certain realities, or if we glimpse them, we often keep quiet in order not to offend. I know wonderful women who are kind and loving mothers to their children conceived through sperm donation. But the impact of a billion-dollar gamete industry reaches well beyond them.

Advertisements for sperm and egg donations are ubiquitous. We currently sugarcoat the process with euphemistic language, labeling “selling” as “donating” to make adults feel good about their “altruistic” donation. And who will want to say otherwise?

In August 2011, Rene Almeling, an assistant professor of sociology at Yale University, released a carefully researched book called Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm. Almeling interviewed staff from clinics as well as sperm and egg donors. Her factual findings prove useful for showing the ills of commercial sperm donation.

First, the process of providing sperm degrades and objectifies men. Men report to a facility where they are directed to a room containing pornography. There, they masturbate until they ejaculate into a cup, and then they deliver the cup to a staff member. The contents may be split up into as many as nine vials and frozen with liquid nitrogen. If the man’s sperm quality is good enough, he will get paid. Almeling writes that the founder of one facility “proudly showed off what he called ‘masturbatoriums,’ small rooms with erotic pictures on the walls and flat-screen televisions for watching pornographic movies.”

Almeling also records the following comments from sperm sellers:

Ethan: What’s weird about it is going into a doctor’s office and jerking off. It’s kind of like a sexual thing you’re using in a totally nonsexual way. It’s not the privacy of your own bedroom, and it’s not whenever else you might choose to masturbate. This is like masturbation on demand. You’re a lab rat. You can go in and smile and say all the nice things you want every morning, but they really want you for one thing. You are a walking sperm donor.

Ben: I felt like a piece of meat almost. I felt like a cow. I’m being milked for something that I can provide.

Dennis: You’re sort of like an asset to them, and if you’re not performing, they don’t want to have any part of you. I finished giving my sample, and they were like, “So you’ve had three bad samples. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what the problem is, but you really need to fix this.” I was like, “Yikes. Okay!”

The men’s profiles are then paraded on the internet like cattle at an auction and women shop for sperm based on features like height, weight, eye color, SAT scores, and athleticism.

Second, selling sperm corrupts our society’s concept of fatherhood. Humans should care for their children. It has always been considered a tragedy when they fail to do so. Our society already suffers from an absentee father crisis. What message does it send to children when men so obviously don’t care when, where, or to whom their children are born? The boom in the sperm sale business will damage children’s perception of what it means to be a man and a father. As anthropologist Margaret Mead has written, “the supreme task of any society is to teach its men to be good fathers.”

Third, the sperm sale industry deliberately creates fatherless children. Thanks to better treatments for male infertility, fewer heterosexual couples are purchasing commercial sperm. Instead, the buyers are primarily singleheterosexual women and lesbian couples. Single heterosexual women who want marriage and children are giving up on men swamped by a culture antithetical to male maturity. An excess of recreational sex, pornography, and video games has fostered male self-absorption.

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Lesbian couples more often choose to purchase sperm over adoption, in part because the countries whose children U.S. couples most frequently adopt—Guatemala, China, Ethiopia, South Korea, and Russia—explicitly ban gay and lesbian couples from adopting. Single gays and lesbians can try to skirt these policies by not identifying their sexual orientation unless asked. But married same-sex couples must reveal their marriage. Still, the shift from adoption to buying sperm is more likely due to lesbian women’s wish to have their own biological children, the same desire that motivates single heterosexual women.

Fourth, sperm sales encourage the commodification of children. As improbable as it may seem, some children born are not fully accepted and loved because they fail to develop as advertised. In other words, a mother who pays for looks, intelligence, and athleticism but sees none of those in her child may not love the child unconditionally. In consumer terms, this would be called purchasing a “lemon.”

We all want to believe that no one would ever do this. But we need to remember that as the sperm is shipped around the world, nobody checks on who is getting it. Nobody checks child abuse records. Nobody checks mental health history. Nobody checks anything about the buyers.

Fifth, while the harms I’ve discussed apply to both “identity release” sellers of sperm—sellers who agree to let conceived children access their biological information once they turn eighteen—and anonymous sellers, anonymous sperm sale is particularly inhumane. Thanks to the efforts of adult commercially conceived children, buyers can now learn more easily that donor anonymity is often painful for the child conceived to endure. Olivia Pratten, who is donor-conceived, wrote in 2010:

If biological roots didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have a whole fertility industry whose priority is to maximize the genetic continuity of the parents using the technologies. If it didn’t matter, no one would care about having their own biological children. People who are infertile grieve not being able to pass on their lineage to their children. I grieve the same thing: not knowing the person who gave me mine.

In May 2011, Pratten won a landmark victory in a Canadian court, which ruled that “assisted reproduction using an anonymous gamete donor is harmful to the child, and is not in the best interests of donor offspring.” Unfortunately, in November 2012, an Appeals Court reversed the lower court decision. Pratten plans to appeal the most recent decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Britain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and parts of New Zealand and Australia have already banned anonymous sperm “donation” on humanitarian grounds.

“Cryokids” Speaking Out

If you read the stories of adult donor-conceived children with anonymous parents on websites such as Anonymous UsConnect ItTangled Webs UK, and Confessions of a Cryokid, you will feel the deep pain many of these adults experience. One study found that among donor-conceived offspring:

65% agreed that the sperm donor is half of who they are.

45% were bothered by the circumstances of their conception.

Almost 50% report that they think about donor conception at least a few times a week or more often.

58% agreed that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related.

46% agreed that they have worried that someone they are physically attracted to could be related to them.

One donor-conceived adult wrote that

this ground swell of questions and loss from one group has resulted in another group responding with answers in the media—the parents and donors. It’s as if Hollywood is telling the story the way everyone would like to hear it, especially donors and parents worried they might have made a poor decision. The witty romantic comedy or the quirky indie film provides a happy ending so we all can know, yes it's ok, “The Kids Are Alright.” Yet, the kids aren’t alright, they are usually pretty upset and in many ways they haven’t really been truly heard.

It is not uncommon for donor-conceived children who speak against sperm and egg donation to be faulted for being “ungrateful.” Donor-conceived filmmaker Barry Stevens has responded, “if that were true, then anyone who is the product of a rape would have to endorse rape . . . It’s quite possible to be grateful for your life and question aspects of your conception.”

Both sperm donors and their children are harmed by the sperm-sale industry. The money paid to donors especially fosters the irresponsibility to which donors are already prone—but more on that tomorrow. 

John M. Smoot served as a trial court judge of Boston’s Probate and Family Court from 1990 to 2012. This article reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse.

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A Planned Parenthood facility in Denver, Colorado
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Colorado judge tosses suit alleging Planned Parenthood used state funds to pay for abortions

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

Alliance Defending Freedom "will likely appeal" a Monday court decision dismissing their suit alleging Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains illegally used state funds to pay for abortions, an ADF lawyer told LifeSiteNews.

The ADF lawsuit claims that $1.4 million went from state government agencies to a Planned Parenthood abortion affiliate through Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Denver County District Court Judge Andrew McCallin dismissed the case on the basis that ADF could not prove the funds paid for abortions. But ADF maintains that funding an abortion facility is indirectly paying for abortions, which violates state law.

ADF senior counsel Michael Norton -- whose wife, former Colorado Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, filed the lawsuit – told LifeSiteNews that "no one is above the law, including Colorado politicians who are violating our state’s constitution by continuing to fund Planned Parenthood’s abortion business with state taxpayer dollars."

"The State of Colorado even acknowledges that about $1.4 million of state taxpayer dollars flowed from Colorado government agencies through Planned Parenthood to its abortion affiliate. The Denver court seems to have agreed with that fact and yet granted motions to dismiss based on a technicality," said Norton.

According to Colorado law, "no public funds shall be used by the State of Colorado, its agencies or political subdivisions to pay or otherwise reimburse, either directly or indirectly, any person, agency or facility for the performance of any induced abortion." There is a stipulation that allows for "the General Assembly, by specific bill, [to] authorize and appropriate funds to be used for those medical services necessary to prevent the death of either a pregnant woman or her unborn child under circumstances where every reasonable effort is made to preserve the life of each."

According to court documents, the Colorado law was affirmed by state voters in 1984, with an appeal attempt rejected two years later. In 2001, an outside legal firm hired by Jane Norton -- who was lieutenant governor at the time -- found that Planned Parenthood was "subsidizing rent" and otherwise providing financial assistance to Planned Parenthood Services Corporation, an abortion affiliate. After the report came out, and Planned Parenthood refused to disassociate itself from the abortion affiliate, the state government stopped funding Planned Parenthood.

Since 2009, however, that has changed, which is why the lawsuit is filed against Planned Parenthood, and multiple government officials, including Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

According to ADF legal counsel Natalie Decker, the fact that Planned Parenthood sent funds to the abortion affiliate should have convinced McCallin of the merits of the case. "The State of Colorado and the Denver court acknowledged that about $1.4 million of state taxpayer dollars, in addition to millions of 'federal' tax dollars, flowed from Colorado government agencies through Planned Parenthood to its abortion affiliate," said Decker.

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"Without even having the facts of the case developed, the Denver court seems to have granted motions to dismiss filed by the State of Colorado and Planned Parenthood on grounds the term 'indirectly' could not mean what Ms. Norton and Governor Owens said it meant in 2002 when they defunded Planned Parenthood."

"That, of course, is the plain meaning of Colo. Const., Art. V, § 50 which was implemented by the citizens of Colorado, and the reason for Ms. Norton’s lawsuit."

Decker told LifeSiteNews that "Colorado law is very clear," and that the state law "prohibits Colorado tax dollars from being used to directly or indirectly pay for induced abortions."

She says her client "has been denied the opportunity to fully develop the facts of the case and demonstrate exactly what the Colorado tax dollars have been used for." Similarly, says Decker, it is not known "exactly what those funds were used for. At this time, there is simply no way to conclude that tax dollars have not been used to directly pay for abortions or abortion inducing drugs and devices."

"What we do know is that millions of Colorado tax dollars have flowed through Planned Parenthood to its abortion affiliate, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that those tax dollars are being used to indirectly pay for abortions."

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains did not return multiple requests for comment about the lawsuit.

The dismissal comes as Planned Parenthood fights an investigation by the state's Republican attorney general over a video by Live Action, as well as a lawsuit by a mother whose 13-year old daughter had an abortion in 2012 that she alleges was covered up by Planned Parenthood. The girl, who was being abused by her stepfather, was abused for months after the abortion.

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Steve Weatherbe

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Fledgling high-tech pro-life group marks 2,000 babies saved: 2-3 saved per day

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Online for Life, the Dallas-based pro-life marketing agency, saved its two-thousandth unborn baby earlier this year and is well on its way to saving its three thousandth by 2015.

“We are getting better all the time at what we do,” says founder Brian Fisher. “It used to be one baby saved every four to six weeks and now its two or three a day.”

But the most significant save? “It was the very first one,” he says, recalling the phone call from a crisis centre a month after OFL’s 2012 startup.  “And for me personally it was just a massive turning point … because [of] all the work and the money and testing and the volunteers and everything that led up to that moment. All the frustration of that was washed away in an instant because a child had been rescued that was about to be killed.”

Though increasing market savvy has led Online for Life to expand offline, the core of the non-profit, donor-financed operation remains SEO -- search engine optimization -- targeting young women who have just discovered they are pregnant and gone onto the Web to find the nearest abortion clinic.

Instead, they find the nearest crisis pregnancy center at the top of their results page. Since OFL went online it has linked with a network of 41 such centers, including two of its own it started this year, in a positive feedback loop that reinforces effective messaging first at the level of the Web, then at the first telephone call between the clinic and the pregnant woman, and finally at the first face-to-face meeting.

“Testing is crucial,” says Fisher. “We test everything we do.” Early on, Online for Life insisted the clinics it served have an ultrasound machine, because the prevailing wisdom in the prolife movement was that “once they saw their baby on ultrasound, they would drop the idea of having an abortion.” While the organization still insists on the ultrasound, its own testing and feedback from the CPCs indicates that three quarters of the women they see already have children. “They’ve already seen their own children on ultrasound and are still planning to abort.” So ultrasound images have lost their punch.

OFL has had to move offline to reach a significant minority who have neither computers, tablets, or cell phones.  Traditional electronic media spots as well as bus ads and billboards carry the message to them.

As well, says Fisher, “unwanted pregnancy used to be a high-school age problem; now that’s gone down in numbers and the average age of women seeking abortion has gone up to 24.” By that age, he says, they are “thoroughly conditioned by the abortion culture. Even before they got pregnant, they have already decided they would have an abortion if they did get pregnant.”

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What they need—and fast, in the first two minutes of the first phone call—is sympathy, support, and a complete absence of judgement. Online for Life is always gathering information from its network on what responses are most effective—and this can vary city to city. The organization offers training to clinic volunteers and staff that stresses a thorough knowledge of the services on tap. “Any major city has all sorts of services—housing, education, health—available,” says Fisher.

The problem that OFL was designed to address was the crisis pregnancy centers’ market penetration. Three percent of women with unwanted pregnancies were reaching out to the CPCs, and seven per cent of those who did reach out were having their babies. “So about 2.1 children were being saved for every 1,000 unwanted pregnancies,” says Fisher. “That’s not nearly enough.”

So Fisher and two fellow volunteers dreamed of applying online marketing techniques to the problem in 2009. Three years later Fisher was ready to leave his executive position at an online marketing agency to go full-time with the life-saving agency. Now they have 63 employees, most of them devoted to optimizing the penetration in each of the markets served by their participating crisis centers.

The results speak for themselves. Where OFL has applied its techniques, especially with its own clinics, as many as 15-18 percent of the targeted population of women seeking abortions get directed to nearby crisis pregnancy centers. “It depends on the centres’ budgets and on how many volunteers they have to be on the phones through the day and night,” he says. “But we are going to push it higher. We hope to save our 2,500th child by the end of the year.”

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Shock: UK mom abandons disabled daughter, keeps healthy son after twin surrogacy

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By Pete Baklinski

A UK woman who is the biological mother of twins born from a surrogate mom, has allegedly abandoned one of the children because she was born with a severe muscular condition, while taking the girl's healthy sibling home with her.

The surrogate mother, also from the UK — referred to as "Jenny" to protect her identity — revealed to The Sun the phone conversation that took place between herself and the biological mother over the fate of the disabled girl.

“I remember her saying to me, “She’d be a f****** dribbling cabbage! Who would want to adopt her? No one would want to adopt a disabled child,’” she said.

Jenny, who has children of her own, said she decided to become a surrogate to “help a mother who couldn’t have children.” She agreed to have two embryos implanted in her womb and to give birth for £12,000 ($20,000 USD).

With just six weeks to the due date, doctors told Jenny she needed an emergency caesarean to save the babies. It was not until a few weeks after the premature births that the twin girl was diagnosed with congenital myotonic dystrophy.

When Jenny phoned the biological mother to tell her of the girl’s condition, the mother rejected the girl.

Jenny has decided along with her partner to raise the girl. They have called her Amy.

“I was stunned when I heard her reject Amy,” Jenny said. “She had basically told me that she didn’t want a disabled child.”

Jenny said she felt “very angry” towards the girl’s biological parents. "I hate them for what they did.”

The twins are now legally separated. A Children and Family Court has awarded the healthy boy to the biological mother and the disabled girl to her surrogate.

The story comes about two weeks after an Australian couple allegedly abandoned their surrogate son in Thailand after he was born with Down syndrome, while taking the healthy twin girl back with them to Australia.

Rickard Newman, director of Family Life, Pro-Life & Child and Youth Protection in the Diocese of Lake Charles, called the Australian story a “tragedy” that “results from a marketplace that buys and sells children.”

“Third-party reproduction is a prism for violations against humanity. IVF and the sperm trade launched a wicked industry that now includes abortion, eugenics, human trafficking, and deliberate family fragmentation,” he said. 

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