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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Sydney archdiocese sends letters to businesses expressing concern over support of gay ‘marriage’

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has sent letters expressing "grave concern" to numerous corporations that had sponsored a full-page newspaper ad published in The Weekend Australian on June 13 promoting same-sex "marriage".

“You are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign designed to pressure the federal government into changing the Marriage Act,” reads the letter from archdiocese business manager Michael Digges to one of the businesses, the law firm of Maurice Blackburn.

“I wonder whether you have questioned whether it is the role of a corporation such as yours to be participating in such an ­important matter that impacts all of Australian society now and into the future," it continued.

"For corporations to speak on such issues on behalf of shareholders, employees, clients/customers, suppliers and other stakeholders is indeed overstepping their purpose and is to be strongly resisted," the letter stated.

Maurice Blackburn, along with more than 150 other businesses including Qantas, Google, MTV, McDonald's, Levi's and the Football Federation of Australia, put their names in the ad calling for the government to amend the Australian Marriage Act of 1961, which recognizes marriage as between one man and one woman, to include homosexual couples.

Maurice Blackburn's Liberty Sanger told the ABC the letter was “uncalled for” and “a very heavy-handed response,” noting that the position of the law firm is to "continue to show our support so that others who have the same view as us have the courage to speak up and encourage parliamentarians to make the right decision in the Parliament."

The letter to corporations asking them to stay out of the culture war surrounding same-sex "marriage" follows the distribution of a pastoral letter titled "Don’t Mess With Marriage" to Sydney parishes, staff and parents of children at Catholic schools.

“Don't Mess with Marriage “explains the Church's formal teachings on the Sacrament of Marriage, and it reaffirms and supports the definitions contained within the Marriage Act 1961 and the Marriage Act Amendment of 2004, which defines marriage as "a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others."

It also details the implications of changing this law to permit same-sex couples to marry.

"The Church's contribution to informing the public debate is crucial," said Anthony Cleary, Director of Religious Education and Evangelization in a statement, "because at the moment this side of the argument is not being adequately covered either by social or the mainstream media."

Cleary pointed out that for people of faith, marriage is not simply a label that can be attached and transferred to different types of relationships as the fashion of the day dictates.

He explained that marriage for Catholics is not only an emotional union, but a total commitment of body and spirit, and that the Church teaches that God is the author of marriage and that the matrimonial covenant between baptized persons is holy and has the status of a sacrament.

Earlier in June a statement from the Sydney Archdiocese said that thirty-eight Australian religious leaders representing the major religious traditions and a broad diversity of faiths and cultures, have written a public letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, urging him to resist attempts in Federal Parliament to redefine the meaning of marriage.

"As leaders of Australia's major religions we write to express the grave concerns that we, and those who share our various faiths, share regarding Bills that have or will be introduced into the Federal Parliament to change the definition of marriage in Australian law," the letter said.

The 38 signatories include the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Sydney, a bishop of the Lutheran Church, bishops from various Eastern and Orthodox Churches, Christian pastors representing major Protestant denominations, senior rabbis from the Jewish community and leaders from both the Sunni and Shia Islamic communities.

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The religious leaders pointed out that Australia's definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman is shared by the vast majority of nations and cultures, who represent over 91 percent of the global population.

Moreover, they emphasized the need to uphold traditional marriage for the good of children, stating that, "as a couple, two persons of the same sex are not able to provide a child with the experience of both mothering and fathering. Only the institution of marriage between a man and a woman has this inherent capacity to provide children with both of these relationships that are so foundational to our human identity and development."

The Abbott federal government had gone into the last election with the policy of supporting traditional marriage, meaning that the government MPs would be bound to vote against same-sex “marriage” on a party basis if a bill is put forward.

Australian law permits homosexual civil unions, but not marriage, a law which Abbott has defended.

Following May's referendum in Ireland legalizing same-sex "marriage", Abbott reiterated that Australia will not hold such a referendum, despite pressure from activists.

"Referendums are held in this country when there is a proposal to change our constitution and I don't think anyone is suggesting the constitution needs to be changed in this respect," Abbott said. "It's up to members of parliament who are eager for change to decide whether they want to bring it forward."

The letter from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney to the law firm of Maurice Blackburn is available in two parts here and here.

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Supreme Court suspends Texas law that would have closed half of its abortion facilities

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – About half of the abortion facilities in Texas got a reprieve from the Supreme Court on its last day in session.

Justices ruled 5-4 that, right now, the state of Texas may not enforce health protection laws that would have put all but nine of the state's abortion offices out of business. The court's conservative bloc – Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – objected, but Anthony Kennedy cast the decisive vote with the court's liberals.

At issue is whether the state may require abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and require abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety codes as other ambulatory surgical centers.

The temporary stay of Senate Bill 5 lasts until the justices decide whether they will hear an appeal from the abortion industry, which argues the law's provisions would unduly restrict a woman's access to abortion-on-demand.

“The U.S. Supreme Court was swayed, not for the first time in a week, by illogical arguments,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “By actively lobbying against common sense regulations that would make sure women have access to ‘safe, legal and rare’ abortions, Planned Parenthood and their allies are making a mockery of women’s health care.”

“The abortion industry cares only for their bottom line, and women and their prenatal children are merely dollar signs in their business cycle,” Hawkins said.

"Women and babies are being denied protections with the Supreme Court blocking pro-life legislation,” said Lila Rose of Live Action. “Contrary to what big abortion organizations would have us believe, the possible closure of abortion facilities is due to the refusal of these corporations to adhere to sensible and ordinary medical precautions. We look forward to the day that both the legislature and the Courts use their power to protect the most vulnerable among us."

State pro-life leaders regret the loopholes that they say put women's health at risk.

“Unfortunately, women who do not have abortions at any of the nine operating ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions will continue to be subjected to substandard medical care,” said Joe Pojman, Ph.D., executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

The ruling does not permanently enjoin the state. It does not even guarantee justices will hear the case.

Should they decline, the law will go into effect in its entirety.

Last October, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to implement these measures while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered its decision in a 6-3 verdict. However, it added that the state must allow abortion facilities in El Paso and McAllen to operate subpar operations, defying greater protections for women, because closing those facilities would require women to drive a great distance to the next nearest abortion facility.

Earlier this month, a three-panel judge of the appeals court, based in New Orleans, upheld the health regulations. All three judges had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Had the full requirements gone into effect, half of all the remaining abortion facilities in Texas would have closed.

The left-wing website ThinkProgress worried, if the High Court upheld the decision, it would mean that “Roe v. Wade is almost entirely dead.”

Today, representatives of the abortion lobby felt relief. "Our Constitution rightly protects women from laws that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion care, but Texas politicians have tried to sneak around the Constitution with sham regulations designed to close clinics’ doors," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a pro-life Republican, vowed to “continue to fight for higher-quality health care standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn.”

“I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law,” he added.

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Post-Obergefell, states withdraw marriage licenses, ensure conscience protection

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By Drew Belsky

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Friday's Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage in the United States has caused a tumult in county clerks' offices.  While some states have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples throughout, others have counties still waiting for directives from their respective attorneys general regarding how to proceed.

Louisiana governor and 2016 presidential candidate Bobby Jindal (R) announced that clerks in the Pelican State must wait 25 days before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This is the period of time the state has to ask the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its own ruling on the matter.  However, Jindal admitted on Meet the Press that Louisiana will likely have to comply with the Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling before long, and the governor's directive is binding only in New Orleans, which falls under his personal jurisdiction.

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In a statement, Jindal said, “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.”

“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty,” he said.

Two Alabama counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.  The probate judges in Pike and Geneva Counties cited Alabama law, which states that "[m]arriage licenses may [as opposed to shall] be issued by the judges of probate of the several counties."  Judges in other Alabama counties may do likewise.

Mississippi may follow suit as well, with Gov. Phil Bryant (R) having declared his intention "to do all that he can to protect and defend the religious freedoms of Mississippi."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) echoed Bryant, calling the Supreme Court ruling an "overreach of the federal government," whose "powers should no longer be limited to those enumerated in our Constitution."

In Texas, prior to the Obergefell ruling, state attorney general Ken Paxton (R) had requested that county clerks hold off on granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending state approval.  However, several clerks post-Obergefell began processing licenses immediately, especially in large urban counties.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) condemned the Obergefell decision, blasting the Supreme Court for "abandon[ing] its role as an impartial judicial arbiter" and "becom[ing] a nine-member legislature."  Abbott promised to protect the religious liberty of Texas residents: "No Texan is required by the Supreme Court's decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage."

The Texas Senate's GOP caucus, calling Obergefell "an affront to the Texas Constitution," pledged to support Abbott and his attorney general "in any legal action [they] may take to defend the religious liberty of Texans in the wake of this troubling decision."

Harris County in Texas originally balked at issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples specifically because the forms read "man" and "woman," but the county's attorney's office directed clerks to issue the forms anyway, saying they could be corrected later.  Eventually, revised forms reading "applicant 1" and "applicant 2" were provided.

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