Trying to Multiply
I can't believe that out of 75,000,000 sperm, you were the quickest.
- Steven Pearl
by David Jones
The claim has been made that sperm counts in the West are declining alarmingly. A typical ejaculate might contain 100 million sperm; since only one is required to do the job, a reduction to (say) 50 million may not seem obviously critical. But human fertilisation is chancy at best. Even trying hard, a couple can easily take many months to conceive.
One explanation for producing so many sperm is that most sperm are infertile. Their job is to ward off or discourage rival sperm. In effect, they act as a large screen of warships escorting a small, crucial convoy of freighters.
Daedalus argues that both freighters and warships will put on a mighty spurt if challenged by a rival fleet. There is some evidence that a man with a sexual rival generates more sperm than he would do otherwise; but Daedalus reckons that the speed, efficiency and pugnacity of his sperm must rise as well. In many species sperm compete chemically, by putting out toxins or antigens against their rivals. Indeed, Daedalus once proposed to use human seminal toxins in a natural spermicidal contraceptive. He now has a converse strategy. DREADCO biochemists are studying human seminal toxins in the hope of developing a spermal "vaccine". It will be a derivative of such a toxin, modified just enough to be harmless, but still sensed as a deadly threat by sperm encountering it. Spurred by this challenge, they will drive towards the ovum with extra speed and energy. This ingenious "conceptive" will be welcomed by couples trying hard to have children. It will boost their chances greatly.
But Daedalus goes further. The sperm in a given ejaculate must be immune to their own toxin. They should even tolerate quite well the toxin of a close genetic relative carrying many of the same genes. But toxin from a genetic stranger must be a terrible threat. The DREADCO team are therefore mixing semen samples from different types and races of men, and studying their competition under the microscope. They will then plot the semen donors on a map such that the more fiercely antagonistic the sperm of any two donors, the further apart they are on the map.
The resulting human distribution will be far more fundamental than one based (say) on blood groups or pigmentation. It will reveal the classes of mankind as sensed by genetics itself. It should powerfully illuminate the stages by which we emerged from Africa, and our diversification since then.
Source: Deadalus column Nature Vol 401 23 September 1999
Demand for US Sperm: A Uniquely American Export Is Becoming Popular Overseas
Likewise, the only job for which no woman is or can be qualified is sperm donor.
- Wilma Scott Heide
by Buck Wolf
You might think that most countries wouldn’t have to look abroad for their sperm needs. But in the age of artificial insemination, American sperm is becoming a hot international commodity. When I tell you the United States is sending a lot of semen abroad, I’m not talking about sailors.
There’s talk that America can’t make anything anymore. The rest of the world doesn’t respect our goods and services. The French bomb McDonald’s. Asia now controls vast sectors of the international high-tech business. Our foreign-trade deficit has ballooned to a record annual rate of $425 billion. But whatever economic problems America may have, we can at least raise our fists and tell the world with pride that we are the number one exporter of human sperm.
That’s right; the French may be the leading authorities on romance, and the Latin Americans may take pride in their machismo, but foreigners are nonetheless buying our semen. Four of the five largest sperm banks are based in the United States, and they control an estimated 65% of a burgeoning international business believed to be worth $50 - $100 million.
That’s chump change to a hard-core macroeconomist, and to be sure, I’m not suggesting sperm dollars will ever be able to correct the trade balance or make up for all the foreign-manufactured DVD players we’re importing. But this is a psychological boost that we Americans should savour.
Squiggling to Canada
While former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has taken to the airways to talk about erectile dysfunction, and Hollywood stars are pumping up with steroids and human growth hormones, it’s nice to know this country can still produce in one area where it counts. And in great quantities.
Yes, American sperm is squiggling into Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East at record levels. In recent weeks, Canada has announced that it has a sperm shortage, and it will be turning primarily to the United States for help. How’d that happen? An inspection of Canadian fertility clinics last year — ordered after a woman who received semen from a sperm bank became infected with chlamydia — uncovered widespread irregularities in the mandatory testing of semen samples. Now 35 of Canada’s 49 sperm banks and clinics have been ordered to quarantine some or all of their sperm, leaving an inadequate supply for the 2,000 women and infertile couples expected to seek assistance this year.
"The stocks have decreased dramatically," fertility specialist Roger Pierson, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, told Reuters. Much of that demand is now being met by US firms, Pierson said, because they can adhere to the tougher new standards.
"It’s an opportunity for us. Right now, we are having trouble keeping up with demand," says David Towles, spokesman for Xytex Corporation in Atlanta, a major US sperm bank. A third of all Xytex’s foreign orders come from Canada, and the company recently opened a subsidiary in Toronto.
According to the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, a private, nonprofit trade promotion group, the export of human glands and secretions to Canada topped $1.5 million in the first nine months of 2000, up 139% compared to the same period last year. Towles estimates that in the next year, Canadians will be plunking down $3 million to $5 million for high-grade, US sperm.
Spermatozoa With a Pedigree
Now let’s define "high grade." The means the sperm has been screened for disease, has a high level of motility (that is, they swim fast enough to reach their target), and comes with background information on the donor.
This reporter was saddened to learn that despite being in excellent health and holding two master’s degrees from an Ivy League university, he is at least an inch and a half too short to donate highly desirable sperm. How humbling. Although I didn’t make the height requirement (you have to be at least 5-foot-8) it might have made a difference if I were a classically trained musician or a medical doctor. (Advanced degrees in journalism don’t count.) Xytex claims only about one in 10 men make the grade.
"People are very choosy," Towles says. "We’ve had requests for Brad Pitt’s semen." Celebrities and politicians have used Xytex’s services, although Towles can’t name names. And while folks can be very specific in their requests, you can’t yet purchase sperm of the stars. However, if you want a donation from a blue-eyed, 6-foot, blond doctor who is Catholic and likes the outdoors, many sperm banks can deliver. And that’s one reason US sperm banks have a competitive advantage. "America is a big country, with a diverse population. It’s easier for us to get what people want than for competitors in homogenous countries," Towles says.
The Laissez-Faire Semen Trade
You might think foreign countries wouldn’t have to look abroad for sperm. You should be able to count on domestic production. But American companies benefit because the United States has fewer restrictions on the buying and selling of sperm than in other countries.
Denmark also exports a lot of human sperm. But donations there and in many other countries are anonymous. And these days, customers want semen with a pedigree. Xytex often provides clients with photos of the donor and the offspring he’s helped produce, along with detailed biography.
Middle Eastern and Asian sperm is harder to come by, for cultural reasons. Towles says it's quite common for a Japanese couple to travel to the United States for fertility assistance.
Lauren Owenby of the Georgia Department of Industry Trade and Tourism helps promote US human sperm abroad. "It’s funny collecting information on this," she says. "When I called the Danish Consulate, the man there thought I was asking him for his sperm. "Then I had to explain, I just wanted his country’s regulations."
Georgia has 11 foreign trade offices, and Owenby has gathered trade information. "Because it is unusual to export sperm, we investigate local laws and trade practices," she says. But the practice is becoming more acceptable.
For American men who qualify, becoming a sperm donor can be somewhat lucrative. You earn about $50 for each vial you fill. Xytex has 10,000 samples on hand, each one contains about 15,000 sperm. Some might call it a commentary on society that human sperm and cattle sperm sell for about the same amount on the open market. It’s interesting to note that the United States is a leader in the sale of both commodities, although you can hardly call them interchangeable items. In fact, sperm from a top bull can sell for $200.
"A specimen of that caliber is really hard to come by. The animal has been carefully bred and almost considered a one-of-a-kind creature," says Brenda Hastings of World-wide Sires in Visalia, California, which ships bovine genetic material to 70 countries. "I don’t think they can measure humans that way. Not yet, anyway."
Source: ABCNEWS.com, where Buck Wolf is a producer. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature.
Net Search for Sperm Brings High Risk Home
Just because you donate sperm does not make you a father. I don't have a father.
- Sarah Michelle Gellar
For some women, there's no place like home to be artificially inseminated.
Doctors' offices are just too expensive and too clinical, these women say. "We'd like to do it as naturally as possible," says Jacqueline Beaudoin, 38, of Peterborough, Ontario, who has had several home inseminations but has not gotten pregnant.
The catch is that few sperm banks, and none in Canada, will ship to anyone but a physician, Beaudoin says. Nor will sperm banks let clients meet potential donors, she says. So about a year and a half ago, she started an Internet mailing list at www.egroups.com/community/spermdonorswanted. Men who want to become donors post to the list, as do women looking for donors. Sometimes a match is made.
But the practice raises a number of medical and legal questions.
Beaudoin acknowledges that there are risks involved, as far as the donor and his semen are concerned. She says her desperation for a child has led her to depend on prayer, rather than science, to protect her.
At sperm banks, donors are screened for diseases that could be transmitted via semen. In addition, most sperm banks follow guidelines published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 1994, which say that semen specimens should be frozen for six months before they are used. The wait allows for retesting of donors for antibodies to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which can take months to appear in the blood after infection.
A few states mandate that sperm donors be screened for HIV, and several require that doctors supervise donor insemination. "It does not surprise me to learn that people are using the Internet as a way to Identify donors," says Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the center for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis prevention at the CDC. "That is a risky practice. That's essentially like having sex with somebody you don't know anything about."
Asking a friend or acquaintance to be the donor might seem to be safer, but such men also might be more likely to seek custody of any resulting children; Beaudoin says. State laws vary on the subject of sperm donors' rights and responsibilities. Some women require donors to sign contracts relinquishing their rights, but, Beaudoin acknowledges, such documents might not be recognized by the courts.
Men who post to her list "kind of like the idea of leaving a bit of themselves," but they're not interested in raising children conceived with their sperm, she says. "Most of the donors on there seem to fall under the category of confirmed bachelor, or they're fathers already." The men can't be doing it for the money because they're reimbursed only for their expenses.
"I am not interested in anything other than assisting people reach their dreams of having a child," a Utah man writes to list members. In the past six months, Beaudoin says, five women have let her know that they have become pregnant thanks to sperm donors they found through her mailing list.
Like herself, Beaudoin says, the women want as much information as possible about the donors to share with their children, but they're not basing their choice on looks or career. They can't afford to be that picky because they don't have nearly as wide a choice as the clients of sperm banks. "Every single one of them has met her donor," Beaudoin says. "Most of them have done the insemination at his house: In three cases, the donor is going to act as an uncle to the child; in the other two, he'll be a casual friend."
Beaudoin also is active on a mailing list at egroups.com/community/homeinseminations. On that list, women share practical tips about artificial insemination. One recommends performing the insemination with a medication dosing syringe for horses, available at farm and feed stores. Another suggests that donors use a 4-pound blue ice pack and ship their semen by Federal Express, overnight priority.
"So many people don't realise the hassle and embarrassment of going to a doctor for something that is supposed to occur naturally in the privacy of your own bedroom!" writes the list's founder.
Source: USA Today Tuesday 7 November 2000
The Incredible Shrinking Father
by Kay S Hymowitz
Artificial insemination begets children without paternity, with troubling cultural and legal consequences.
Here’s a Delphic riddle for our times: When is your father not your father? Answer: when he’s a sperm donor. Consider a case now before the Kansas Supreme Court. An unmarried woman in her early 30's decided that she wanted a child and asked a friend to be a sperm donor. He agreed, one thing led to another, which led to a syringe of his sperm, which led to the birth of twins. The mother says that she always intended to raise the kids alone and never wanted the friend involved in their lives. The donor says that he planned to be the twins’ father in name and practice. There is no written contract. What does the contemporary Solomon do?
Well, in a Kansas trial court, Solomon rules that without a contract the twins have no father. The man who provided half of the children’s genetic material has no more relationship to them than does the taxi driver who rushed their mother to the hospital when she went into labour. Now, assuming that the supreme court upholds the decision, the state of Kansas can celebrate adding two more fatherless children to its population, and Mom can rejoice by dressing her twins in bibs - available over the Internet - proudly announcing: my daddy’s name is donor.
You’d think that we had enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births (over a third of all children are born to unmarried women, and, in most cases, the fathers will fade from the picture) and divorce (the average divorced dad sees his kids less often than he takes his car in for an oil change). But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination. This may sound a tad overheated. After all, AI has been around, by some accounts, for over a century. And the number of kids born through the procedure each year, though steadily growing, remains quite small relative to the millions of babies conceived, as we can now say completely without irony, the old-fashioned way.
But aided by a lucrative sperm-bank service industry, an increasingly unmarried consumer base, a legal profession and judiciary geared toward seeing relationships through a contractual lens, and a growing cultural preference for individual choice without limits, AI is advancing a cause once celebrated only in the most obscure radical journals: the dad-free family. There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men promotes the very male carelessness that leads a lot of women to become single mothers in the first place. And fatherless families are a delicate proposition, as AI families are discovering, since all the scientists’ technology and all the lawyerly contracts can’t take human nature out of human reproduction.
In the middle of the 20th century, artificial insemination seemed as family-values-friendly as Dr James Dobson himself. If a woman had trouble conceiving, doctors would inject her husband’s sperm directly into her uterus. Or, if the husband’s sperm count was low, physicians would enlist the help of medical students willing to provide their sperm. AI was rare, producing 5,000 to 7,000 American babies a year.
It was also hush-hush. Doctors often kept no records or they signed false birth certificates, and they firmly instructed patients to tell no one, especially the kids. Most children conceived through AI during that era probably went through life unaware that Dad was not a biological relation. From today’s vantage point, the approach seems typical of a time too enamored of family secrets and overly cowed by medical authority. Yet if the mid-century approach to artificial insemination was excessively protective of the feelings of infertile men and failed to grasp that family secrets have a way of unraveling rather messily, it also recognised, as did the culture at large, that a child needs both clarity and an intact home.
That recognition began to weaken as technology, economics, and a liberalizing social climate worked together to expand AI into brave new territory.
Now they’re more likely to go to the sperm store like everyone else, especially since a 2006 American Society for Reproductive Medicine Ethics Committee report calling for equal access to fertility treatment for gays, lesbians, and singles. These days, anyone can buy sperm: married couples, gay couples, and single women; women on the AARP mailing list, women barely out of college, 40-year-old women who have tried desperately to find husbands and have no other hope of becoming mothers, and 20-something women who - well - just want to, that’s all; rich and famous women like Annie Leibovitz, Wendy Wasserstein, and Mary Cheney; and divorced 3rd-grade teachers who live in modest 2-bedroom condos and are fed up with men. Whoever. The California Cryobank, the country’s largest, estimates that about 40% of its customers are unmarried women. The Sperm Bank of California says that 2/3 of its clientele are lesbian couples. Most professionals believe that about 1 million American children are the progeny of sperm donors - the large majority of them anonymous - with 30,000 more boosting the ranks each year.
Subtract the children born via AI to infertile married couples: that’s still a lot of fatherless kids.
Most fertility specialists - except perhaps the Nobel factory’s, whose ambition was to improve the race - probably never imagined themselves as building a new family order. They just believed that they were helping the unfortunate, a view that the joyful maternal testimonials filling sperm-bank websites support. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether spreading happiness - as opposed to the entirely different matter of healing the sick - automatically validates artificial insemination’s almost entirely unregulated march into the mainstream of American life.
For starters, an AI foul-up can be traumatic. Just ask the white British woman who thought she’d been inseminated artificially with her white husband’s sperm - until she delivered black twins. For decades, sperm banks have proliferated like Starbucks. You could open one in your garage or in back of the local pet store. Plotz mentions a scientist who told a television reporter that, along with running a small sperm bank, he also bred dogs. In fact, he went on, he kept his human and canine sperm side by side in his freezer. The threat of a harried technician accidentally reaching for Rin Tin Tin’s seed as a potential mother-to- be waited nervously nearby was enough briefly to rouse California public health officials, who shut down the sperm bank. For the most part, though, industry oversight is minimal. Sperm banks must register with the FDA and screen for several diseases, including HIV, but that’s about it.
The thorniest problems unleashed by widespread AI have had less to do with mix-ups than with what has always been one of society’s most vexing questions: Who is the father? In a more conservative time, lawyers joined - critics might say conspired with - doctors to contain the potential ambiguities of paternity and to bolster the social consensus that children should grow up with married parents. In 1973, the American Bar Association published the Uniform Parentage Act, a model state law that proposed that a woman’s husband automatically be deemed the legal father of her AI children - assuming that he had consented to the procedure and that a doctor had performed the insemination. The donor dad would be a legal cipher, just as he was a domestic one.
But with a growing number of AI cases involving single women and lesbian couples, the pretense of the donor’s nonexistence is no longer tenable, since there’s no father around. The issues surrounding the practice have grown vastly more complicated: Can a sperm donor be a father? Can his mother be a grandmother? Can a child conceived through AI inherit property from her biological father? Can a child have two mothers and no father? How about two mothers and a father? Can the lesbian partner of a biological mother have custody rights if the couple breaks up? Can she be required to pay child support? And, again, who are the grandparents?
Unfortunately, in the absence of any other authority, answering these questions has fallen to family court judges, who are - and I mean no disrespect - not always the sort you’d expect to be on the short list for the Louis Brandeis Award for Cautious Jurisprudence. True, these are hardly people who dream of redefining the family when they promise to uphold the Constitution; probably the last label that they imagine applying to themselves is "activist judge." But when they try to figure out whether a woman has the right to visit the child she diapered, fed, and read to for 4 years before she and her partner split up, they have only a small number of blunt instruments in their legal toolbox: case law on custody and visitation, the best-interests-of-the-child doctrine, contract law, and so forth. They aren’t thinking that their decisions could be enshrining in law a profound cultural transformation that few Americans have had a chance to register, much less opine on. In fact, many legal theorists argue that in making such decisions, the courts are simply "catching up with reality."
But it turns out to be more like reality on Mars. In unwitting alliance with a fertility industry fiercely protective of anonymous gamete donation, the courts have given their imprimatur to two nonsensical biological conditions: children who have no fathers and fathers who have no children. The old Uniform Parentage Act had it that a donor had no paternal standing, because at the time the law needed to resolve the potential problem of two fathers: the donor and the mother’s husband. It should be obvious that in the case of a single or lesbian mother, the problem is quite different: there is no "other father."
But it hasn’t proved obvious to most legal experts, who continue to revert to the Uniform Parentage Act formula: as long as a doctor performs the insemination or a sperm bank sells the sperm, the donor is not a father. This doesn’t simply mean that the child is fatherless in the way that, say, an orphan is fatherless. Rather, the child is born into an entirely new human circumstance. For, according to the law, he never had a father at all. The man who fathered him is not in fact his father; instead, he’s the originating site of organic material that is for sale, like a sulfur mine or a fish farm. Witness the title of a 1994 Dickinson Law Review article: "The Potential for Products Liability Actions When Artificial Insemination by an Anonymous Donor Produces Children with Genetic Defects."
To justify this new "reality," many legal scholars argue that we should reject biology as the basis of parentage in favour of the principle of "intentionality." It’s the person - or persons - who planned the child who have parental rights. A donor doesn’t intend to become a parent to his offspring - he is an intentional unparent, if you will - while the woman who uses his sperm does, and therefore is. "State interest is best served by honouring the preconception intent of each adult who took part in conception, regardless of his/her biological role," Justyn Lezin argues in The Hastings Women’s Law Journal in language typical of this line of thinking.
You shouldn’t have to be Brandeis to see the land mines that line the road of intentionality. For one thing, intentionality is wildly inconsistent with the law’s traditional presumption of paternal responsibility. Say a man has a drunken one-night stand with a woman he meets in a bar. If she gets pregnant, the law sees him as a father, and he must pay child support for the next 18 years. But if a college student visits the local sperm bank twice a week for a year, produces a dozen children, and pockets thousands of dollars, he can whistle his way back to econ class, no cares, no worries. Intentionality can’t explain that disconnect.
And that’s just for starters. A woman participating in an online discussion group at the Donor Sibling Registry, a database for AI parents and children, describes how she and her lesbian partner decided to have a child together. After she became pregnant through a donor, the couple purchased a house and settled in to wait for the blessed event. But several months later, the partner lost interest and moved out, announcing that she no longer intended to become a parent. If it were the child’s father who pulled that stunt, no rational person would disagree: your baby, your responsibility, Bub. But in what sense is the partner a parent to a child she’s never seen, much less nurtured, and to whom she is biologically unrelated? Simply because for a few months she thought that she wanted to be a parent? And why should her intent prevail over other goods - in this case, the biological mother’s need to create a loving environment for the child, or - now here’s a radical idea! - the child’s interest in knowing her father?
As intentionality has come to supplant biology, the law, by pretending nature doesn’t exist, has not caught up with reality; it has pole-vaulted over it. A family court in Burlington County, New Jersey, recently put two women on a state birth certificate. Last year, Virginia issued a birth certificate for a gay couple that read "Parent A" and "Parent B." Massachusetts officials proposed crossing out "Father" on the state’s birth certificate and replacing it with "Second Parent" (until then-governor Mitt Romney nixed the plan). Many legal scholars are now proposing that courts move beyond the "heterosexist model" entirely. Why not put three parents - or four, for that matter - on the birth certificate? This past January, an Ontario court did just that. Intentionality, it seems, can accomplish almost anything.
AI’s potential for deconstructing the family has not been lost on radical feminists. In Baby Steps: How Lesbian Alternative Insemination Is Changing the World, Amy Agigian, a sociology professor at Suffolk University in Boston, observes: "Lesbian appropriation of medical technology (AI) that was intended to shore up nuclear families" has "radically challenge[d] the power structure, assumptions, and presumed ‘naturalness’ of major social institutions." AI promotes a "postmodern family form that emphasizes affinity over biology and (patri)lineage." For thinkers like Agigian, one of AI’s greatest benefits is that it dethrones what Canadian feminist Kathryn Pauly Morgan calls PIVMO (penis in vagina with male orgasm). Postmodern anthropologists studying reproduction technology - and there are enough of them to be producing a steady stream of volumes with titles like Conceiving the New World Order - have joined in, arguing that the whole idea of kinship based on sexual procreation is a Western construct, happily on its way out.
Highly credentialed mainstream experts are also taking a take-’em-or-leave-’em approach to dads. There was Louise Silverstein and Carl Auerbach’s infamous "Deconstructing the Essential Father," a 1999 American Psychologist article arguing that "neoconservative social scientists" who cautioned against the fatherless family simply wanted to uphold "male power and privilege." More recently, Peggy Drexler, an assistant professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a board member of New York University’s Child Study Center, has made a similar case in Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men. Drexler announces that she herself is raising two children with her husband of 30-plus years, but one has to wonder whether her book isn’t a silent cry for help. Her index under "fathers" includes: "absent, after divorce," "destructive qualities of," "spending limited time with children." "In our society, often we idealize and elevate the role of father in a boy’s life without giving credence to the fact that actual fathers can be destructive and a boy may be better off without his father," she informs us. In Drexler’s view (spoiler alert for Mr Drexler), dadless boys are actually better, more sensitive and more "exceptional."
More ordinary "choice mothers," as many single women using AI now call themselves, are usually not openly hostile to fathers, but they boast a language of female empowerment that implicitly trivializes men’s roles in children’s lives. The term "choice mothers" frames AI as a matter of women’s reproductive rights. Only the woman’s decision making - or intention - carries moral weight. Similarly, advocates often cite the benefits of single motherhood’s freedom from "donor interference." "Single moms avoid the need to discuss and negotiate around key parenting issues," one Toronto social worker told iParenting Media. "She can shape a child in her own unique vision."
And in the same choice-trumps-everything spirit, choice mothers emphasise that they choose their kids. All the planning and deliberation that they’ve got to go through to have children, they suggest, might make them better parents than those who just "breed." Their kids are "wanted children," observes sociologist Judith Stacey. The implication that sexual intercourse brings forth hordes of unwanted, unloved children, while AI produces a chosen elite, sometimes hangs in the air. It’s a view that one of the pioneer choice mothers (though through adoption, not AI) - Joan "Mommy Dearest" Crawford - probably would have endorsed.
Still, while there’s very little research on AI families (and what there is suffers from size or design flaws), it’s a good bet that most single women who go sperm shopping - and that includes lesbians - don’t see themselves as you-go-girl! revolutionaries. On the contrary: their desires couldn’t be more traditional. They want a baby. They long for a family. Like married women who set out to become pregnant, they’re looking to feel needed, known, and rooted.
In her recent book Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice, Rosanna Hertz found that most of her (non-lesbian) subjects had struggled for years to find husbands and start families before finally concluding that they had no choice but to go it alone.
Many mothers find that for all the magnificence of human intentionality and free choice, biology just won’t go away. As they watch their children grow, they might notice an unfamiliar crooked smile or a musical talent when they have a tin ear. They wonder: Are these clues to the mystery man who is my child’s father? They often try to flesh out an image of the human being from the sperm bank’s description. Odd as it sounds, they may become attached, even romantically aroused - remember that they selected the donor because he sounded like the kind of man they might have wanted to marry. Plotz describes one mother who fantasized that she would "meet [the donor] serendipitously, fall madly in love, and he would become the father of his own children." Another keeps a picture of a man she believes is her child’s donor by her bedside. Strangest of all is a Washington Post story about a Massachusetts mother of two who tracked down her children’s father, donor #929 from the California Cryobank, in Los Angeles. After visiting him, she moved her family to Los Angeles and changed her kids’ middle names to his surname.
For the children of single mothers, biology is also an unexpected and frequent visitor. Even Peggy Drexler can’t ignore the little boy, conceived by anonymous donor, who points to a strange man on television and exclaims: "There’s my daddy!" When her 15-year-old son wanted to track down his anonymous father, a Colorado woman named Wendy Kramer started the Donor Sibling Registry, a website that allows kids to search for other children of their donor fathers. More than 7,000 donor mothers and children have used the registry to try to locate half-siblings and sometimes fathers - close to 3,000 successfully.
True, not all donor children are keen on finding their fathers or siblings, just as not all adopted children set out to find their biological parents. Elizabeth Marquardt, at work on a book titled My Daddy’s Name Is Donor, finds a wide range of responses, from indifference to curiosity to angry obsession, and those feelings often change over time.
Yet even if the numbers of those suffering from father hunger are relatively small, their plight is consistent with a powerful human theme explored by storytellers from Homer to George Lucas: the child’s longing to know his father. On websites, unhappy donor kids are beginning to speak up. "I believe that it is a tragic turn for our society to celebrate fathers who intentionally disconnect themselves from their children," writes the proprietor of Whosedaughter.com. "I’m 18 and for most of my life, I haven’t known half my origins," Katrina Clark wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this past fall. Donor conception has always been about making adults happy, not children, she continued. As a child, she found herself jealous of a friend whose parents were divorced; at least the girl got to visit her father.
Some choice mothers anticipate the mystery-man dilemma and decide to use a "known donor" - a former boyfriend, a partner’s brother, or just an acquaintance - to avoid it. But the inherently ambiguous nature of the father’s relationship with his children can still be a source of misery for women, their children, and, as in the Kansas case, for men. Consider Drexler’s example of the 8-year-old who says to his lesbian mother: "I have no father." "Sure you do," she answers. "You have your dad" - who lives 250 miles away - "and you have Michael" - her very warm, loving brother, who’s a terrific father figure. The child is not reassured. "I don’t know my dad at all, and Michael’s not my real father."
Marquardt describes AI and other reproductive technologies as presenting us with a competition between the rights of adults and the needs of children. Is there any question which is winning?
And what do the missing men - the donor/fathers - make of all this? Sperm bankers like to describe anonymous donors (who in reality are sperm sellers, it’s important to remember) as altruists, and many of these men probably do believe that they’re doing good deeds. But they’re a little like the socialist who loves humanity but hates individual people. The donors are willing to perform acts of charity for women they’ve never met. But they don’t want anything to do with what we used to call their own flesh and blood.
Ultimately, AI reinforces the worst that women fear in men. Think of all the complaints you hear: men can’t commit, they’re irresponsible, they’re insensitive, they don’t take care of the kids. By going to a sperm bank, women are unwittingly paying men to be exactly what they object to. Many donors are college students - some sperm banks accept donors as young as 18 - responding to ads like the Fairfax Cryobank’s: "Why not do it for money?" Sperm-bank officials say that many donors are married men who neglect to mention to their wives what they’re up to. Plotz tracks down a number of the Nobel bank’s donors and finds a motley crew of coldhearted rationalists, losers, and egotists - often serial donors he calls "the Inseminators." One is a sociopathic seducer with so many children, through girlfriends and sperm donation, that Plotz will only refer to the total number as "X." It appears to be higher than 50, the total ascribed to another sorry case, who, otherwise basically jobless, made masturbating his life’s work over the course of 15 years.
Katrina Clark eventually found her father, but he’s no candidate for Donor of the Year, either. "I’m tired of this whole sperm-donor thing," he tells her after several meetings. The young woman tries to put a good face on their encounter: "Now that he knows I exist, I’m okay if he doesn’t care for me in the same way [that I care about him]. But I hope he at least thinks of me sometimes." There are many words to describe the father Katrina Clark finally discovered, but "altruistic" isn’t one of them.
But why expect anything different? The very premise of AI is that, apart from their liquid DNA, we can will men out of children’s lives. Insofar as their Y chromosome is significant, they are completely interchangeable with other "male role models." To produce and rear the next generation, women are still a vital presence - at least until artificial wombs become part of the artificial-reproduction toolbox. But men?
Plotz meets only one donor who shows any feeling for the children he has produced. "This was what happened when a deliberate man with a pure soul became a sperm donor," he writes. "He had tracked his children because he felt he must." A known donor - partly because he’s unlikely to agree to produce 20 or 30 children - is likelier to become attached to his kids, even if he thought he was just helping out a friend or if the initial contract had it that he was supposed to remain a relative stranger.
Recognising that it’s probably not a good idea for society to erect a wall between children and their fathers - and perhaps also not a good idea to encourage men to disown their kids - several Western countries have banned anonymous donation. Canada has made it illegal to pay someone for sperm. In Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and now Britain, donors must agree to be identified to their children once they reach 18. Unsurprisingly, the donor pool is drying up fast in some of these locales. Even countries with liberal laws on same-sex relationships, such as France, Iceland, and Norway, have banned AI (and, in some cases, adoption) for gays and singles. The contradiction is only superficial, a consequence of the way that we frame family making as primarily about adult rights and "intentionality." What these European laws suggest is that you can support gay relationships, yet still think that it’s best for kids to grow up with a mother and father, preferably their own.
It would be a good idea for Americans likewise to abolish anonymous sperm donation. But let’s not kid ourselves that such a ban would also put an end either to fatherlessness or to male fecklessness, both nourished by our cultural predilection for individual choice unconstrained by tradition, the needs of children, or nature itself. To modify that preference, we’ll need something much more radical than government regulation.
Source: city-journal.org City Journal Spring 2007 © The Manhattan Institute
Why do so few people seem to realise that genes controlling more primitive limbic function - emotions, and the drives to eat, copulate, and compete - in other words, the basics of personality - come from the father for daughters? If you want to understand who you are and how you got that way, knowing Dad is essential.
I had a recent experience that made me realise this at a very personal level - I discovered that my father had a daughter about whose existence he never knew. When his girlfriend became pregnant, her mother isolated her, intercepting all communication. He was hurt, not understanding why she suddenly shunned him. His daughter that resulted - my older sister - as an adult had hired a private detective to locate him - unfortunately this was two months after our father had died. I didn't find this out from his sister (my aunt) until after my mother had died many years later. My sister sent me one letter (she lives in England), then ceased all communication. I never knew why she chose not to get to know me - and I was quite surprised at the degree of disappointment I felt - I think largely because I sensed that getting to know her would in a very real sense allow me to know my father better. By seeing the similarities I had with her, I would know what parts of me came from him. This must be a weak version of what children who desperately want to know their fathers feel. I can appreciate their longing. I think that after the age of 6 - 12 (depending on the child), many (most?) daughters would be happier living with their fathers than their mothers (assuming a decent father, of course) because their personalities would mesh better. Mothers' genes control the development of the conscious, "higher" levels of brain function - intelligence, that is (see Thank Dad for Drive - but Thank Mom for Brains later in this section).
Sperm Donors' Offspring Reach out into Past
Mechanical from the Start
A human DNA molecule can have 10 billion atoms; most cells have 46 DNA molecules. If an atom were a brick, it would take 1,000 times the number of bricks
in the Empire State Building to construct a DNA molecule.
I read recently where researchers in Hawaii used freeze-dried sperm to make live mice. The sperm was dead, though the DNA remained intact. (They reconstituted the sperm by adding water.) I found this to be very significant as it implies that DNA isn't, by itself, alive. Only the egg is alive. Sperm are apparently merely mechanical messengers. That also means, perhaps, that dead men could father children. (Who will pay child support?)
Possibly we could dig up the remains of heroes: great leaders, scientists, or artists and try to resurrect their talents. The technique is also used to help infertile human males.
I read a story once about a professor who brought tadpoles to the lab in a beaker and told his students they were whale sperm.
 The first recorded incident of this - a wife becoming impregnated with her husband's sperm after he died has now occurred.
Fertility Industry Booms Online
Los Angeles - More and more people have literally found life on the internet as the estimated $US3 billion fertility industry moves increasingly online. But as with all online commercial ventures, shopping on the Web can carry risks. In this case, the internet may provide consumers - often people desperate to have a child - a faster and more discreet way to find egg or sperm donors. But it can also lead to lost money and broken dreams, say fertility experts.
"It's not surprising that much of this business is migrating into cyberspace. Most people don't mind buying a Lands' End item at the store, but it's awkward to buy eggs in public," said Professor Debora Spar of Harvard Business School, an advocate for regulation of the US fertility industry. While procuring an egg online still involves more than simply clicking on a shopping cart, says Spar, many people do not realise all the steps and attention required to adequately match, screen and coordinate recipients with donors.
Other experts say hopeful recipients may be asked by less reputable egg donor sites to pay large, nonrefundable sums upfront to see profiles, or be made to wait for months for donors that never materialise. The cost of a donated egg has soared from about $US2,500 ($NZ3,717) a few years ago to as much as $US35,000 in some cases as lack of regulatory oversight has enabled a new breed of marketers called "egg hunters" to act as Internet brokers between recipients and donors, said Dr Drew Moffitt, co-medical director of the Arizona Reproductive Medicine Specialists, an infertility practice. Indeed, a random Google search of the phrase "egg donor" called up nearly 1.2 million links. Some proclaimed things like "Hot & Smart Egg Donors," while others bore ads aimed at students by offering sums like $US7,000 for eggs to pay for books, college and "elective" surgery. "The introduction of the egg hunters has been one of the things that has led to the escalation of fees. The real loser in this whole game winds up being the recipient," said Moffitt.
Experts say women should also be wary of big payoffs that often blind them to the realities and risks of being a donor, which can be a time-consuming and invasive process. Some may also later regret that another woman is raising children they helped to create, they said. "I am shocked because every time I go online, there are another 5 egg donor agencies, promising things like lots of instant money and even plastic surgery in exchange for eggs," said Shelley Smith, director of Los Angeles-based The Egg Donor Program, established in 1992.
To be sure, the US Food and Drug Administration does regulate the handling of any human tissue, while two professional groups; the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (asrm.org) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (sart.org) provide standards for the practice of reproductive medicine. But Moffitt said many of these so-called egg hunters are usually not SART-certified. "As far as the Internet is concerned, the good news is that we can work with couples from as far away as Australia and allow them instant access to hundreds of donors," Smith said. "But the bad news is that it objectifies the donors and takes away the human contact people should feel when they are building their families. It's not like buying a car from a catalog," she said.
The egg donation process at certified centres takes various steps. The potential recipient and the sperm of the would-be father are tested to make sure a pregnancy is viable. Donors are screened psychologically and for infectious diseases and take hormones to induce the production of several eggs, while the recipient takes hormones to get her menstrual cycle in sync with the donor's. The recipient undergoes anesthesia when eggs are retrieved and then prepared for fertilisation in a lab. Two to three days after they are fertilised, the embryos are ready to be transferred to the recipient's uterus. Smith said her program usually takes 2 - 3 months, starting with a consultation with the recipients, who then select a donor with the help of a coordinator. The $US5,550 fee covers attorneys, insurance and meetings with a licensed geneticist. Smith said some red flags to watch for when searching egg donor sites is whether or not they have a post office box, carry liability insurance or have licensed practitioners. "There are websites built by people who are profiting from the desperation of infertile couples and who walk away in the middle of the cycle," she said, adding that she knows of couples who have lost almost $US25,000 in some cases. She also warned of the bait-and-switch tactic used by sites which often post a beautiful egg donor who in fact is no longer donating eggs despite their claims to the contrary.
"It's absurd that we have this business involving the creation of life and it's completely unregulated," said Harvard's Spar, author of The Baby Business: How Money Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception. The book, she says, is an argument for regulation of the industry. "While most people tied to these sites are from the medical industry, there are some bad players, which is why I argue that regulation is in the best interest of all players," she said.
Source: stuff.co.nz 27 November 2006
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