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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Newsbusters Staff

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Disney ABC embraces X-rated anti-Christian bigot Dan Savage in new prime time show

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March 30, 2015 (NewsBusters.org) -- Media Research Center (MRC) and Family Research Council (FRC) are launching a joint national campaign to educate the public about a Disney ABC sitcom pilot based on the life of bigoted activist Dan Savage. MRC and FRC contacted Ben Sherwood, president of Disney/ABC Television Group, more than two weeks ago urging him to put a stop to this atrocity but received no response. [Read the full letter]

A perusal of Dan Savage’s work reveals a career built on advocating violence — even murder — and spewing hatred against people of faith. Savage has spared no one with whom he disagrees from his vitriolic hate speech. Despite his extremism, vulgarity, and unabashed encouragement of dangerous sexual practices, Disney ABC is moving forward with this show, disgustingly titled “Family of the Year.”

Media Research Center President Brent Bozell reacts:

“Disney ABC’s decision to effectively advance Dan Savage’s calls for violence against conservatives and his extremist attacks against people of faith, particularly evangelicals and Catholics, is appalling and outrageous. If hate speech were a crime, this man would be charged with a felony. Disney ABC giving Dan Savage a platform for his anti-religious bigotry is mind-boggling and their silence is deafening.

“By creating a pilot based on the life of this hatemonger and bringing him on as a producer, Disney ABC is sending a signal that they endorse Dan Savage’s wish that a man be murdered. He has stated, ‘Carl Romanelli should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope.’ ABC knows this. We told them explicitly.

“If the production of ‘Family of the Year’ is allowed to continue, not just Christians but all people of goodwill can only surmise that the company Walt Disney created is endorsing violence.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins reacts:

“Does ABC really want to produce a pilot show based on a vile bully like Dan Savage?  Do Dan Savage’s over-the top-obscenity, intimidation of teenagers and even violent rhetoric reflect the values of Disney?  Partnering with Dan Savage and endorsing his x-rated message will be abandoning the wholesome values that have attracted millions of families to Walt Disney.”

Dan Savage has made numerous comments about conservatives, evangelicals, and Catholics that offend basic standards of decency. They include:

  • Proclaiming that he sometimes thinks about “f****ing the shit out of” Senator Rick Santorum

  • Calling for Christians at a high school conference to “ignore the bull**** in the Bible”

  • Saying that “the only thing that stands between my d*** and Brad Pitt’s mouth is a piece of paper” when expressing his feelings on Pope Benedict’s opposition to gay marriage

  • Promoting marital infidelity

  • Saying “Carl Romanelli should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope.”

  • Telling Bill Maher that he wished Republicans “were all f***ing dead”

  • Telling Dr. Ben Carson to “suck my d***. Name the time and place and I’ll bring my d*** and a camera crew and you can s*** me off and win the argument.”

Reprinted with permission from Newsbusters

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Jacqueline Harvey

Ending the end-of-life impasse: Texas is poised to ban doctor-imposed death by starvation

Jacqueline Harvey
By Jacqueline Harvey

AUSTIN, Texas, March 30, 2015 (TexasInsider.org)  After five consecutive sessions of bitter battles over end-of-life bills, the Texas Legislature is finally poised to pass the first reform to the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA) in 12 years. An issue that created uncanny adversaries out of natural allies, and equally odd bedfellows, has finally found common ground in H.B. 3074 by State Rep. Drew Springer.  

H.B. 3074 simply prohibits doctor-imposed euthanasia by starvation and dehydration.

Since H.B. 3074 includes only those provisions and language that all major organizations are on record as having deemed acceptable in previous legislative sessions, there is finally hope of ending the end-of-life impasse in the Texas Capitol.

Many would be surprised to learn that Texas law allows physicians to forcibly remove a feeding tube against the will of the patient and their family. In fact, there is a greater legal penalty for failing to feed or water an animal than for a hospital to deny a human being food and water through a tube.

This is because there is no penalty whatsoever for a healthcare provider who wishes to deny artificially-administered nutrition and hydration (AANH). According to Texas Health and Safety Code, “every living dumb creature” is legally entitled access to suitable food and water.

Denying an animal food and water, like in this January case in San Antonio, is punishable by civil fines up to $10,000 and criminal penalties up to two years in jail per offense. Yet Texas law allows health care providers to forcibly deny food and water from human beings – what they would not be able to legally do to their housecat. And healthcare providers are immune from civil and criminal penalties for denial of food and water to human beings as long as they follow the current statutory process which is sorely lacking in safeguards.

Therefore, while it is surprising that Texas has the only state law that explicitly mentions food and water delivered artificially for the purpose of completely permitting its forced denial (the other six states mention AANH explicitly for the opposite purpose, to limit or prohibit its refusal), it is not at all surprising that the issue of protecting a patient’s right to food and water is perhaps the one point of consensus across all major stakeholders.

H.B. 3074 is the first TADA reform bill to include only this provision that is agreed upon across all major players in previous legislative sessions.

There are irreconcilable ideological differences between two major right-to-life organizations that should supposedly be like-minded: Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life. Each faction (along with their respective allies) have previously sponsored broad and ambitious bills to either preserve but reform the current law (Texas Alliance for Life’s position) or overturn it altogether as Texas Right to Life aims to do.

Prior to H.B. 3074, bills filed by major advocacy organizations have often included AANH, but also a host of other provisions that were so contentious and unacceptable to other organizations that each bill ultimately died, and this mutually-agreed-upon and vital reform always died along with it.

2011 & 2013 Legislative Sessions present prime example

This 2011 media report shows the clear consensus on need for legislation to simply address the need to protect patients’ rights to food and water:

“Hughes [bill sponsor for Texas Right to Life] has widespread support for one of his bill’s goals: making food and water a necessary part of treatment and not something that can be discontinued, unless providing it would harm the patient.”

Nonetheless, in 2013, both organizations and their allies filed complicated, contentious opposing bills, both of which would have protected a patient’s right to food and water but each bill also included provisions the rival group saw as contrary to their goals. Both bills were ultimately defeated and neither group was able to achieve protections for patients at risk of forced starvation and dehydration – a mutual goal that could have been met through a third, narrow bill like H.B. 3074.

H.B. 3074 finally focuses on what unites the organizations involved rather than what divides them, since these differences have resulted in a 12 year standoff with no progress whatsoever.

H.B. 3074 is progress that is pre-negotiated and pre-approved.

It is not a fertile springboard for negotiations on an area of mutual agreement. Rather it is the culmination of years of previous negotiations on bills that all came too late, either due to the complexnature of rival bills, the controversy involved, or even both.

On the contrary, H.B. 3074 is not just simply an area of agreement; moreover, it is has already been negotiated. It should not be stymied by disagreements on language, since Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life (along with their allies) were able to agree on language in 2007 with C.S.S.B. 439. C.S.S.B. 439 reads that, unlike the status quo that places no legal conditions on when food and water may be withdrawn, it would be permitted for those in a terminal condition if,

“reasonable medical evidence indicates the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration may hasten the patient’s death or seriously exacerbate other major medical problems and the risk of serious medical pain or discomfort that cannot be alleviated based on reasonable medical judgment outweighs the benefit of continued artificial nutrition and hydration.”

This language is strikingly similar to H.B. 3074 which states, “except that artificially administered nutrition and hydration must be provided unless, based on reasonable medical judgment, providingartificially administered nutrition and hydration would:

  1. Hasten the patient’s death;
  2. Seriously exacerbate other major medical problems not outweighed by the benefit of the provision of the treatment;
  3. Result in substantial irremediable physical pain, suffering, or discomfort not outweighed by the benefit of the provision of the treatment;
  4. Be medically ineffective; or
  5. Be contrary to the patient’s clearly stated desire not to receive artificially administered nutrition or hydration.”

With minimal exceptions (the explicit mention of the word terminal, the issue of medical effectiveness and the patient’s right to refuse), the language is virtually identical, and in 2007 Texas Right to Life affirmed this language as clarifying that “ANH can only be withdrawn if the risk of providing ANH is greater than the benefit of continuing it.”

Texas Right to Life would support the language in H.B. 3074 that already has Texas Alliance for Life’s endorsement. Any reconciliation on the minor differences in language would therefore be minimal and could be made by either side, but ultimately, both sides and their allies would gain a huge victory – the first victory in 12 years on this vital issue.

It seems that the Texas Advance Directive Act, even among its sympathizers, has something for everyone to oppose.

The passage of H.B. 3074 and the legal restoration of rights to feeding tubes for Texas patients will not begin to satisfy critics of the Texas Advance Directives Act who desire much greater changes to the law and will assuredly continue to pursue them. H.B. 3074 in no way marks the end for healthcare reform, but perhaps a shift from the belief that anything short of sweeping changes is an endorsement of the status quo.

Rather, we can look at H.B. 3074 as breaking a barrier and indicating larger changes are possible.

And if nothing else, by passing H.B. 3074 introduced by State Rep. Drew Springer, we afford human beings in Texas the same legal access to food and water that we give to our horses. What is cruel to do to an animal remains legal to do to humans in Texas if organizations continue to insist on the whole of their agenda rather than agreeing to smaller bills like H.B. 3074.

The question is, can twelve years of bad blood and bickering be set aside for even this most noble of causes?

Reprinted from TexasInsider.org with the author's permission. 

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I can’t believe how quickly our annual Spring campaign has flown by. Now,with only 3 days remaining, we still have $96,000 left to raise to meet our absolute minimum goal.

That’s why I must challenge you to stop everything, right now, and make a donation of whatever amount you can afford to support the pro-life and pro-family investigative reporting of LifeSite!

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But though we have made great strides in the past few days, we still need many more donations if we are going to have any hope of making it all the way by April 1st.

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