Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Developing the Relationship

I’ve been looking at the relationships that have developed between offspring and their biological parents (or what is often incorrectly termed their donor) recently. I find this interesting as it shows a window into the future as this phenomenon becomes more prevalent due to the use of identity release donors and genetic genealogy. In particular I have been trying to look at what perhaps might be classed as successful reunions or should that be termed successful union as they were never united in physical consciousness previously.
Just with anything like this there appears to be a rainbow of experiences and emotions. I have met a few where there is a distinct acknowledgment that they are father and child, while others describe their relationship as more friendship based and others perhaps more distant. I’d like to focus on the friendship based relationship as I see this as becoming more the norm for “successful unions” even though I am a firm believer that it is a father-child or mother-child relationship based solely on correct “original” linguistic and biological classification.
I see the friendship relationship as being favoured for a few reasons:
1) To acknowledge a parental, father-child or mother-child relationship has the potential to create pain as it is an acknowledgement of what was separated and what has been deprived of both parties. It also has the potential to cause anguish for the non-biological parent as they may fear that their role in the child’s life has been diminished even when the child does not feel that way at all. As such the friendship model is protective to the triad.
2) As we mature our relationships with our parents often change as well. Many people feel that their relationships with their parents become more friendship based as they become adults, move away from home and start families of their own. Most people will only be meeting once the child is no-longer a child (they have reached the age of maturity and are now allowed to access identifying information). It would be difficult to create a fatherly or motherly relationship with the offspring as they are no longer a child who also does not necessarily need that parental style relationship anymore.
3) When we look at reunions for other disenfranchised groups such as adoptees, the relationships are often but not always either constrained or strained. It is difficult to form those deep meaningful familial relationships when you do not grow up with each other and spend years in each others company. Going further than friends will always be problematic due to the lack of these shared lifetime experiences.
While I cannot speak for those from single parent households or same-sex households. The communication I have had with other offspring (of which the vast majority are from heterosexual married households due to the prior prevalence of DC being used in this scenario) is that the majority are not seeking another father or mother because they have those already in their lives or because they are adults now themselves. So it may be that the friendship relationship would be the best case outcome for most offspring.
I wonder how many donors fear connecting with their biological children because they do not have time or the vested interest in what they may view as raising another child when that may in fact not be what the other party is seeking? Perhaps this is another misconception? Although as we see increasing use of known donors who do have contact with these children before the age of maturity, this fear may be more grounded than for previous eras. Especially when some donors are finding out that they have 20, 50 or more than 100 offspring.
It will be interesting to see how many fathers/mothers (donors) and their “donated offspring,” become friends due to the shared looks, behaviour and interests.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Nuclear Family Argument

There is much debate currently about a child’s right to know and be raised by their biological parents, in particular over the nuclear family construct debate. Many people opposed to the above notion claim that the nuclear familial construct is no longer the norm and that alternative familial arrangements have long been established through the history of mankind. The so called “It takes a village to raise a child,” argument.

So lets take a look at the it takes a village to raise a child situation. Typically in history, families were constructed of an extended family. This would have been very typical during hunter gathering times, as a larger family or perhaps even co-operating families would have had a greater chance of being able to hunt and gather resources and therefore survive. In this situation the core of the nuclear family still exists in that there would have been a natural father and mother which would have still been important to the child and the child would have had constant access to them in this situation.

There is excellent scientific evidence of the existence of the nuclear family prior to modern civilisation (in middle Stone Age times). These nuclear families, or at least the importance of these biological connections were recognised at least 5000 years ago, perhaps even longer as it is difficult to get archaeological evidence before that date and written records certainly don’t exist.

When man became more civilised due to farming and herding which allowed for the accumulation of food, towns and cities were able to flourish, allowing for the village construct to occur. Perhaps it could be argued that the village construct is a function of modern or civilised man and should therefore be the default position. Extended families certainly existed in this instance, leading to the “it takes a village to raise a child” debate. I am yet to see evidence that even in the village scenario where many people are involved in the raising of the child that the biological connection was devalued or obsolete. Once again the core of a nuclear family (the biological parents and children) still exists within the village scenario.

If the notion of biological parentage is unimportant then I would postulate that mankind would have evolved to a position where the child is not dependant on the parents or adults for so long. In a non-biological focused familial construct there would be no impetus for the adults to invest so much time and resources in the raising of offspring of other people. From an individual perspective there is nothing to be gained from investing so much time in another person’s child as opposed to your own. The selfish DNA argument. It is only in modern civilised society where resources are much more freely available that it has been possible and socially or morally desirable to invest in the raising of another persons child. Even still if that was the position then no-one would be driven to have children of their own, and donor conception would not exist.

Biological connections have been important to mankind for at least 5000 years, and given the bonds seen in Chimpanzee society between biological familial members we could argue that the biological connection has been important ever since we existed. (Chimps use extended families however biological connections are often closer as evident by biologicals taking the caring role of infants when the mother dies.) That would be my evolutionary view. Alternatively in the biblical sense, if we are to take a Christian held view, Jesus was the son of God, not the son Joseph (the Immaculate Conception) showing the importance of where we come from.

So while I can see the point of the argument that it takes a village to raise a child in regard to others having importance in a child’s life, this position does not appear to negate the importance of biological connections or the nuclear family and therefore should not be used as a means to justify severance of these connections. This is not a statement to devalue alternative family arrangements rather that the importance of the biological connection and the nuclear family is difficult to negate with the village argument.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Donor Conception as a Topic for Comedy

I was asked to comment about the use of DC as a topic for comedy as has been the recent trend in Hollywood. With a word limit and of course with some usual changes by editors, the following is what has been put up on Merctornet:
I imagine that other disenfranchised groups (such as adoptees) have also had to put up with being the but of jokes over the years. Here's a tip; if you see me laugh at jokes made about kinship separation, it is not because they are funny, but because I am laughing in disbelief that the people making them are so ignorant and society is hypocritical about whether genetic connections are important.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What Has Religion Got To Do With It?

I’ve seen some articles, blog posts and comments whereby people have attacked the thoughts or theories some others have which may be anti-reproductive technologies, by claiming that the person is a right wing religious nut (not that there is anything wrong with being right wing or religious). This would be all well and good but the original person who has made the anti-reproductive technologies in many instances has not even brought religion into the argument.
What I see occurring is that the respondents are incensed by what they read, but are unable to come up with logical or intellectual arguments against the original persons concepts and ends up resorting to what amounts basically to name calling. What is even funnier (although I don’t really think it is funny), is when the original person isn’t even the religion (and sometimes actually an atheist) that the respondent claims they are.
Religion has a place in society and while I don’t think that it is necessary to bring it into any of these arguments as there are plenty of ethical, legal and medical arguments that stand on their own merit, if people wish to make statements in regard to religion then they should be allowed to without being ridiculed.
I wonder how many people may have called me a right wing religious nut, without knowing that I am essentially an atheist who believes in the good of humanity (secular humanism).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Freedom of Information

I am writing this to make people aware of the "possible" power of freedom of information. For those unaware, when I originally tried to obtain records to find out information on my donor, on 3 separate occasions I was told:
“The records are lost and we don’t know where they are”
“The records are destroyed”
“There are no records”
So I had 3 different stories. Which story was I supposed to believe?
Now technically these records are my mother’s treatment records and the procedure while carried out in a clinic, occurred in a public hospital. Under Freedom of Information (FOI) here we are entitled to obtain our own medical records. So I asked my mother to apply for her treatment records and delivery/postnatal records.
And guess what? Her treatment records with the donor code miraculously turned up along with the huge delivery/postnatal record tome (I have written about the problems of record keeping previously).
So here’s the gist. Even if a clinic tells you that records were destroyed over the phone or in person, do not accept it as fact until you (or should I say the relevant “legal” person) has applied for them in writing and through the official avenues.
With this example and the many others that I have heard of, how is any member of the triad; patients, “donors”, or most importantly offspring going to believe the word of the clinic and have trust in them. Not likely…………….

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I am the 99%

The occupy movement has made some pretty impressive social statements, including the "I am the 99%" campaign showing how they have been affected by the 1% of people with power and money. Some of my fellow offspring and adopted friends have been using the same statement to highlight how their lives have been adversely affected by those of the 1%. So what the hell, here is my take.
But first, why the Wolverine mutton chops? Well it is Choptober (just like Movember but slightly different). And as a prop to link in with the character Wolverine who was created by scientists in the lab. I too was created in a lab, except by clinicians masquerading as scientists.
The 99% ties in with donor conception because the majority will never know they are donor conceived, and the vast majority of those that do, they were conceived under anonymity clauses, which would mean that about 99% of us will never know our entire family and who our fathers or mother are. It is also the 1%, the powerful and rich, in this instance the fertility industry and legislators that have taken away our basic human rights.
(Side note: The declassified adoptee called it the Identity Movement. Initially I thought that that title missed a lot of the other components such as kinship, health histories etc. However, if we consider it as applying to the identity of our forebears than it encapsulates all of those other things and makes perfect sense. Go the Identity Movement!)

I am a donor conceived person. The fertility industry and legislators have colluded to ensure that I will never know who my genetic father is. They have deprived me of my kinship, my heritage, my identity and a family health history without my consent. It will now also affect my children too.
These are things that everyone else in Australia is entitled to.

I am a second class citizen.

Contracts were made involving a third party that directly affects their welfare without their consent
– this is unlawful.

Our international rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have been trampled on
– this is unethical.

Offspring are suffering to appease the desires of adults
– this is immoral.

Gametes and embryos are bought and sold
– this is human life commodified.

Birth certificates are falsified to make the infertile feel better about their relationship with the child
– this is fraudulent.

Decisions were made on our behalf which genetic connection will be important to us and which will be disposable
– this is hypocritical.

Children are being created in situations that were never possible previously and their familial constructs manipulated
– this is social experimentation.

As the majority of offspring are not even informed of their conception, let alone the fact that most of us were conceived under conditions of anonymity, it is only a minute proportion of us that will ever know who our progenitor, our father or our mother in the pure sense of the word, really are.
We are being denied our humanity.

I am the 99%.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Donor Conception Around the World

We know that donor conception occurs in nearly every country in the world. However, the vast majority of stories, or online resources and outspoken people seem to be based in the USA, Australia, Canada or the UK. Although there are a few scientific articles from non-english speaking countries that I have also read. Perhaps I just don’t get to see the non-english speaking communities input in this area and that they are there, but just hidden from the English worlds eyes.
The beauty of blogs is that it is possible to see where the traffic and visits come from. So I was quite surprised that in my top 4 countries to visit this blog was Russia and South Korea. Sure I have been to Korea 4 times and have friends over there, and have an affinity for the people and culture (I even speak a little bit of Korean), but I don’t think my friends could account for all of the traffic I saw. These countries are also different from a few other donor conceived people’s blogs traffic feeds.
Anyway, I just wanted to say welcome to all people from around the world, and particularly non-english speaking countries who are interested in donor conception. Please feel free to post messages in another language or even contact me via email in another language, as there are online translators that I can use to try and understand your message and I will try my best to get back to people. It would be great to hear about the thoughts of people from around the world.
Or if you know of online resources for the donor conception community in another language please let me know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Am I a Bastard?

My good friend the Declassified Adoptee wrote a thought provoking post on the use of the word "Bastard".
One of the meanings of the word "bastard" as posted is:
a person born of unmarried parents; an illegitimate child.
Now I was born in wedlock. My parents as written on my birth certificate were married.
However, if we are to consider that my "biological" parents were never married and had no relationship, then technically I am a bastard child.
For myself I am not offended by the term (although others would be), I take it more as being a statement of fact, even though I know the term was used by society in a derogatory sense in this regard. Yet I am sure some people might refer to me as being a bastard for reasons other than my parentage, but that is another matter.
Do I think all other DC people should refer to themselves as bastards?
It would depend on how each offspring views their parentage. Some only see the people who raised them as being their parents and if they were married, then they would not fall into this category. I choose to acknowledge 3 parents, one maternal and two paternal (one being my father and one being my dad).
The word parent can mean a progenitor of a child and or person who acts as a guardian over a child.
So yes I do in fact have 3 parents, technically as does every other DC person whether they choose to acknowledge it or not. I am sure my mother would be shocked and upset that I associate myself with being a bastard, however, I see no shame in accepting biological fact.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stages of Donor Conception Comprehension and Loss

The following was an old rambling of mine that my friend Lindsay had posted on her blog many years ago. For some reason I had been thinking of this old post recently and decided to revisit it. The original writing was in response to a question I received from a recipient mother about the various stages I had been through during my life. They were the ones that applied to me and may not necessarily apply to everyone.

There were several stages that I have been through (probably about 4).  Those being:

1. A naive child.
I used to be proud about being DC.  I was grateful, because otherwise I wouldn't have existed.  Even though I would have liked to have had some non-identifying information, it did not affect me greatly.  Perhaps I was preventing myself from feeling loss about that - I don't know (a self-defence mechanism perhaps).  I had my dad who to me at the time was my "father". It is important to recognise that there can a difference between a father and a dad. As a child I was too busy being a child than to worry about other matters.

2. Mild curiosity - wanting some non-identifying information, but happy with DC.
There was no sense of loss at this stage for me, otherwise there would have been no way I would have even contemplated donating myself which I was pretty close to doing.  By being happy with my mode of conception (proud and grateful), there is no way that that position could coexist with a sense of loss.  

3. Increased curiosity - wanting identifying information, the first stages of mild loss (repressed), but still grateful to be alive.
For a period of time when I wanted to find out non-identifying info and also identifying info (prior to the birth of my children), I had to accept that I would not even find out that info as a consequence of being alive.  So while there may have been some mild loss at that stage it was repressed because I still had to feel gratitude to the procedure that created me.  

4. Acknowledgment of loss and the profound effects that it has.
It was only when I realized the true nature of my loss could I see that I did not have to be grateful and happy about being DC, and that in-fact that the losses forcibly imposed on me should be treated with contempt and anger.  

I think some people may have another stage between 3 and 4 above, but for me it was a monumental leap from mild loss that was repressed to full blown loss and anguish.

Cliches follow:
But for me and I think that it would have to apply to most others is that if you feel grateful and therefore happy that your parents who wanted you so much were given this wonderful gift by a truly altruistic man, then how are you able to feel loss?  

To feel any kind of loss is an acknowledgement that something is wrong with the process and that the process has caused some form of harm which does not coincide with the cliche above. Any form of loss is a form of suffering, suffering is not the goal of altruism.

New ramblings:
With a lot of discussion in regards to loss and the like there is often what people call a final stage, the stage of acceptance. Which, in this instance would be my stage 5. However, while thinking about this it just brings up further questions. Many conclude that if someone gets to the stage of acceptance then they have moved on, they have put the issue aside as being resolved or assimilated. Looking at stage 4, if we are to continue with feelings of anger and resentment, it can be quite damaging to the psyche and is emotionally draining. I can honestly say it would be great to be able to put it aside and move on and not deal with this issue anymore. It is tiring and it would be nicer to spend my time contemplating and spending my energy on other things (admittedly having my own children, while originally igniting the fire under the issue, makes me focus on someone else for the majority of the time which is a good thing).
Anyway, even though I could see that it may be possible for me to move to a position whereby I have removed anger and resentment (an acceptance of my loss), I do not feel that I have to accept what was done to me and other donor conceived people as being OK. Perhaps it is more a matter of forgiving but not forgetting.
I think that this would be an easier transition to make if all legislatures around the world acknowledged the rights of donor conceived children as being greater than the desires of adults and made the appropriate changes to ensure that the losses we can potentially experience do not occur. So while there are still people who are having their kinship and genealogy removed, their identity stunted and their medical history deprived of them, I feel that I would be a poorer person for not trying to do something about it.
If I were to take a more Buddhist approach and try to avoid suffering, which might be easier to do by just “forgetting” about it or ignoring it. It would then mean I would be turning my back on those others who may go through similar suffering and have no voice. I don’t think that that would be the moral and ethical thing to do on my part, which would be bad karma and be a different source of potential suffering. 
Only time will tell.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

British Columbia Government Launches Last Minute Appeal Against Human Rights

On Friday 17th June, the government of British Columbia filed its appeal against the decision of Supreme Court Justice Elaine Adair which ended donor anonymity in the province of British Columbia. As part of her decision, Justice Adair asserted that the BC Adoption Act (which also covers the area of donor conception) was unconstitutional as it treated donor conceived people differently to adopted people and that “serious harm can be caused by cutting off a child from his or her biological roots.” This appeal was made shortly before the 30 day window was to expire and deals a traumatic psychological blow to Olivia Pratten and other donor conceived people in British Columbia.

Appealing against what is in effect a landmark human rights ruling is a contentious decision and one which should only ever be undertaken with the greatest of care and necessity. Contrastingly in a very similar situation, the UK also banned donor anonymity through the courts (Rose case). The defendant in this instance, the Secretary of State for Health and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority did not appeal the verdict. British Columbia’s Attorney General Barry Penner states that the decision was made “because it raises important constitutional issues that extend beyond this particular case”. On this point it would be easy to argue that any judicial decisions which extend to the Constitution need to be appropriately addressed through the proper legal avenues.

However, what does it say about a government and its own Constitution whereby an appeal effectively makes the statement that donor conceived people do not have the same basic human rights as adoptees do in that province let alone those people conceived through more traditional means? As was already assessed in the case, the deprivation of familial information in the form of donor identifying information was discriminatory under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which operates as the legal mechanism within the Constitution to ensure that rights of Candian’s are not infringed upon by its own government and those of its provinces. If it was a matter for addressing the constitutional validity of certain components of the Adoption Act then a more appropriate and cost effective mechanism for the government to create this change would be to simply amend the legislation.

While it would be dubious to assess the motives for this appeal based on the fact an appeal was made against the awarding of human rights, additional comments by Penner create further cause for concern. Penner remarks; “we are concerned that it could limit the government’s ability to provide programs that respond in tailored ways to particular groups of individuals”. The only program that is relevant here is that of providing donor conception services to the infertile which are his ‘particular group of individuals’. The concern would then be that by removing anonymity the ability to provide treatment to the infertile with donated gametes would then suffer or the number of treatments available would diminish due to a reduction in donor numbers. It is unclear why this constant fallacy is continually being pushed and from where it emanates.    

For instance the HFEA reports that since anonymity was banned in 2005, donor numbers have increased. In fact the numbers of new sperm donors have increased from 251 to 396, and egg donors from 921 to 1150 in the period 2005-2008 as represented on the HFEA’s own website.
In an extreme example, South Australia, the only state in Australia which had anonymity protected by and enshrined in legislation, and then had anonymity effectively ended through the guidelines of the National Health and Medical Research Council, experienced a spike of increased donors of 6.7 fold above the previous year once donations were no longer anonymous.

While it may be cynical to think so, it is not hard to draw the conclusion that this misconception of a reduction in donor numbers is propagated by the clinics themselves. With a reproductive treatment industry totalling $3-4 billion dollars a year in the US alone, it is perhaps a little easy to come to the conclusion that such scaremongering is financially driven. 

Penner’s second comment above also suggests that people undergoing fertility treatment using donated gametes should have the choice of selecting anonymous or identifiable donors. The ‘tailoring’ of programs to certain groups of individuals as he puts it. Such a stance ignores the mounting evidence in the literature that donor offspring wish to know who their progenitors are (Jadva et al. 2010, Mahlstedt et al. 2009), and that keeping this information from them can potentially be harmful (McWhinnie 2000, Turner and Coyle 2000). It fails to recognise the similarities between adoption and donor conception from the perspective of fragmenting kinship with resultant outcomes. 

Attempts to remove hard won human rights of the donor conceived, is an attempt to ensure that the desires of adults continue to override the welfare of the most vulnerable party. Ethically the most vulnerable should always hold paramountcy, yet for British Columbia, at least in the eyes of the Attorney General it appears, they should remain subservient.

While the government of British Columbia has every right to appeal the decision of Justice Adair and to ensure that the law within that province conforms to the Constitution as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one wonders what message this appeal sends to the donor conceived such as Olivia Pratten. Perhaps the issue should have never reached the courts and the welfare of offspring deemed important enough to legislate change and implement programs based on ethical principles rather than legal argument.

On the positive side for the donor conceived people of British Columbia and even Canada is that if the appeals go high enough, and if the decision of Adair is upheld, then donor anonymity will have ended not just in British Columbia but all provinces. Thereby acknowledging that the Donated Generation has the same rights as all of their follow Candians and they will no longer be discriminated against based on their method of conception. 


Honourable Madam Justice Elaine Adair. Reasons for Judgement. Pratten v Attorney General of British Columbia and College of Physicians and Surgeons of British  Columbia. 2011 BCSC 656.  

Jadva, V., T. Freeman, W. Kramer, and S. Golombok. 2010. Experiences of offspring searching for and contacting their donor siblings and donor. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 20(4): 523-32.

Mahlstedt P. P., K. Labounty, and W. T. Kennedy. 2009.The views of adult offspring of sperm donation: essential feedback for the development of ethical guidelines within the practice of assisted reproductive technology in the United States. Fertility and Sterility 93(7): 2236-46.

McWhinnie, A. 2000. Families from assisted conception: ethical and psychological issues. Human Fertility (Cambridge) 3(1): 13-9.

Rose and Another v. Secretary of State for Health and Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority, Case no: CO/3802/01 (High Court of Justice Queen's
Bench Division Administrative Court 2002).

Scheib, J. E., M. Riordan, and S. Rubin. 2005. Adolescents with open identity sperm donors: reports from 12-17 year olds. Human Reproduction 20(1): 239-52.

Turner, A. J., and A. Coyle. 2000. What does it mean to be a donor offspring? The identity experiences of adults conceived by donor insemination and the implications for counselling and therapy. Human Reproduction 15(9): 2041-51.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

LinkedIn Donor Conceived Group

I have created a group on the networking site LinkedIn purely for donor conceived people only to join enabling networking and discussion using current media.
Also called Donated Generation.

You will need to create a LinkedIn account (if you don't have one already) and search the groups for Donated Generation.
As it is a closed group all requests to join need to be approved.

The reason for it's creation is it allows for greater networking capabilities in a modern format that many forums do not allow.

If anyone uses LinkedIn for their job (professionally), but are worried about the group showing up in their profile, then don't worry.
It is a private group only and your membership is not viewable to anyone else.
Only those who are already a member of the group can see that you are a member.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Posthumous Conception or Presumptuous Misconceptions

The following is my response to the question: "Should people be able to use the sperm or eggs of their dead partner?", which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. The response of 3 others on the panel of "experts" is also presented.

Simplistically, creating a child between a loving couple is an expression of their love. By extrapolation, when a partner passes away before conception, but had gametes stored, the creation of that child posthumously is still an expression of that love. Sounds like a happy ending from an adult-centric perspective. What if we analyse the situation from a child-centric perspective?
What occurs as a result of posthumous conception is a deliberate and preplanned deprivation of a meaningful relationship that that child should have had. Such situations do occur, such as when one of the parents dies, or abandons the child and parental responsibilities. As a society we recognise the loss incurred to that child as a result. However, by sanctioning and condoning posthumous conception we are making a statement that this loss is acceptable provided it was intentionally induced.
Research data from donor-conceived people in loving homes (after all, they were wanted, too, and their parents also went to extreme lengths) shows a significant proportion still want to know, meet and have a relationship with their donor. It is clear that their progenitor has meaning to them. Not only is it a matter of kinship but also of identity. Without having one of the mirrors of themselves that they see in their genetic parents, there is the potential they will have trouble forming their identity.
Sociological data shows that children growing up in fatherless or motherless households have myriad problems such as increased promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, imprisonment, substance abuse and poorer educational outcomes. This is not to say that these things will occur, rather that they occur at higher incidences than in the two-parent scenario. This does not take into account how the child may feel about being created from a deceased person. Some donor-conceived people already report feeling like an experiment and having trouble dealing with their artificial conception.

In a world where adults seem able to obtain anything they want, is it ethically sound to presume our desire and love for a child is so great that it will automatically ameliorate any negative consequences the decision has on the child?
Just as there are offspring who are traumatised by their donor conception, there are others who are happy. Similarly, I would not want to have been conceived from the gametes of a person who has died, while others may be fine with that. But just because a proportion of outcomes are positive does not provide ethical or moral grounds to justify negative outcomes. The end should never justify the means.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reply to Dollars and Sense of Family Building

Coincidentally, which follows on well from my Cost of Commercial Conception article (see post below), another blog raised the question about how much it cost someone to implement their decision to create their family. This was mainly directed at how much in monetary terms it cost someone to adopt or to use fertility treatments and how they felt that it would affect the kids one day. There were some other questions but they are not germane to my discussion.

Seeing as though I was created in such a manner with an exchange of money, I can tell you how I feel directly rather than have a parent postulate about what they “think” their child may feel in the future. It is a rather large assumption for any parent to make unless they plan on “conditioning” the child to believe a certain way, just as they do.

For starters I am torn over the undertaking of the blog post in the first instance. In some ways it is a good thing that the financial costs can be discussed openly about how much it did in fact take for some people to create their families. On the other hand I am disgusted that we have come to a stage in our societal progression (or is it regression) that we are able to talk about obtaining children through a financial transaction. At the heart of the matter it is the commodification of human life. Whereby you are able to purchase whatever you want so long as you have the resources to do so.

My genetic father sold me for what works out to be a couple cartons (slabs) of beer. This analogy is used as the vendor recruits were taken from university students, who on the most part needed a bit of extra cash to go out drinking on weekends (yes I have been a university student, seen the advertisements for donations and had other students tell me that this is what they do (or did)). Knowing that you were traded around like a product with little regard to your welfare and whether or not you would want to have your kinship severed, your heritage deleted and your family medical history sealed away from you is dehumanising.

The only other time that money has changed hands in regards to human life is slavery. Being put on the same level as slavery in regard to being purchased to fulfil the desires of those that can afford it is deflating psychologically as it devalues your own sense of self-worth.

Not only can the direct monetary costs have the potential to cause psychological trauma to the adoptees and donor conceived that were procured this way, it has flow on effects to the other parties involved. By creating a market for adoptive children and reproductive material, we have also created the opportunity for those who are “well off” to take advantage of the “less fortunate”, whereby people may be induced to sell their gametes, embryos or even children to improve their own situation when they may not have done so if no money was involved. It also provides the opportunity to exploit these people as has happened recently with the surrogacy ring in Thailand.

Children are not objects to be bought and sold, irrespective of whether people have the resources to do so or not. Additionally birth certificates are not documents of ownership and therefore should only ever be a truthful record of genetic parentage. There are other methods of assisting people in the legal parentage of their child than the removal of one or both progenitors which in effect creates a fraudulent document. It is an ethical issue of the welfare of the child versus the desires of the adult. The day we started paying for children, whether it be for an adopted child, an embryo or a gamete, was the day we paid for it with our own humanity.

Here is the link to the blog:

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Cost of Commercial Conception

What Price Baby Bliss?
For those that are familiar with my posts below you'll notice that my article on Mercatornet is stylistically different. That tends to happen when editors cut it down to fit into word limits and to make it more appealing to a certain audience. So some things are not how I would say them but the underlying message which is the important thing is still there. And that is that there are numerous costs, direct and indirect which can affect so many different parties that are involved in utilising reproductive technologies within a commercial setting.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baby Blinkers

I’d like to introduce the term Baby Blinkers. In horse racing blinkers or blinders are often used to restrict a horse’s view, generally reducing peripheral vision and in some instances creating an artificial form of tunnel vision.
For those people that are deeply distressed and traumatised by infertility, their quest to obtain a child often leads to them having tunnel vision. The obsession with having a child reduces their ability to focus on the bigger picture and surrounding issues, giving them tunnel vision. They have Baby Blinkers on.
Once a couple or person has put the Baby Blinkers on, and it is deemed as the necessary course of action to use donated gametes or embryos for them to get their little piece of joyous property, the welfare and rights of the child take a back seat to their own desires. Anyone, even those such as adult offspring who have lived the experience, who try to convey to them the problems which can potentially arise as a result of their decision are typically dismissed out of hand. Because in their eyes what would we know about infertility???
Apart from the fact we live the consequences of their actions every day of our lives.
It is a shame that Baby Blinkers blind people to learn from the mistakes of the past, such that they will be bound to repeat them.

Note: This is not to say that "everyone" who utilises donor conception has not thought about these wider issues and are blinkered. Some will still choose to put their desires in front of the rights of the child.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Perpetual Assumptions

After doing numerous media interviews (TV, radio, printed press) for many years now, there are an inordinate amount of people that simply assume that if I am unhappy about my conception then I must not have been loved and that I came from a dysfunctional family. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people making these assumptions then also assume that provided the child is given love and a nurturing environment then that is all that they would ever need. Both my own experience and those of many other donated offspring would counter that assumption.
On the surface though a person could be forgiven for thinking that everything was alright with my life and superficially I would probably make a good poster boy for reproductive technologies, with a loving upbringing, excellent education, successful career, and a wonderful wife and beautiful kids. This façade hides the dark trauma that lies beneath. The loving environment of my upbringing could not and cannot replace my lost kinship, my lost identity, my lost heritage, my lack of a medical history and the dehumanisation that was my commodification.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Australia leads the way, but......

I had a commentary on the Aussie Senate report published in Bionews.
Unfortunately their edits changed a few of the sentence meanings.
You can read the Bionews article here:
but my unedited version is included below:

Australia Leads The Way; But Does It Fall Over At The Last Hurdle?

On Thursday 10th January 2011, the Australian Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee tabled its report in Parliament on its inquiry into donor conception practices in Australia.
This was a landmark moment as it represented the largest and most comprehensive review in the world of the practice. The inquiry received submissions from all stake-holders (recipient families, offspring, donors, clinics, counsellors, legal bodies) as well as from individuals in the general community and special interest groups. The report made 32 recommendations to which a further report must be made in 2 years to ascertain progress.

One of the main reasons why an inquiry was held and also the same reason why the Federal Government may have difficulty in implementing such recommendations is that fact that constitutionally, the area of health has always been an area managed by the states. The patchwork of legislation across the states dealing with donor conception and assisted reproductive technologies meant that people around the country were being treated differently and afforded conflicting rights dependent on what state they were either conceived in or were receiving treatment in. This is irrespective of the fact that clinics operating in Australia must all follow the guidelines set out by the National Health and Medical Research Council for accreditation under the Reproductive Technology Accreditation Council that operates under the auspices of the Fertility Society of Australia. The recommendation that all states enact legislation and that all legislation be consistent is therefore welcomed. How this is yet to be achieved is one which the Senate does not readily have an answer as it declares that it will “pursue all available policy and political options” to achieve this. Given that the Federal Government was able to use its external affairs powers to enact the “Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002”, the move is not without precedence.

The recommendations are clearly focused on the wellbeing of offspring while also giving greater protection to recipients and donors who would also have greater access to information and counselling, as well as access to an ombudsman-like complaint process. A moratorium on record destruction as well as ensuring record preservation, not only provides the ability to match offspring with their progenitors and siblings, but also ensures good scientific practice that will allow medical research to be able to correlate a condition with source material or procedures. Both factors are severely disadvantaged under the various state prescribed medical record keeping practices which allow for destruction of these records even before the offspring has reached adulthood.

The reduction in the number of families able to use the single donor is a positive step to reduce the possibility of a consanguineous event. While supply is currently not able to meet demands and will be further diminished, the welfare of the child should never be held to ransom by market forces and is a correct decision. While mathematically the chances are small, in some Australian major cities where there are populations of not much more than a million people and everyone appears to be only separated by two degrees of separation, the mathematical models appear to fail at capturing the heightened risks.

The ability for parents to actively deceive their children about their origins as occurs in the majority of instances (Golombok et al. 2002, Lycett et al. 2005), has been reduced by the recommendation that birth certificates be annotated, thereby allowing the child to discover their conception status upon turning 18. However, it is hoped that the recipient family would inform their child well before this date in line with current best practice (Johnson and Kane 2007) to avoid the identity deconstruction which occurs with late discovery and the trauma that it creates (McWhinnie 2000).

The banning of payments to donors to maintain the altruistic paradigm of donating is somewhat perplexing when reimbursements are allowed to continue. Evidence presented by the clinics at the inquiry of approximately a hundred dollars for sperm donation re-imbursements can clearly be seen as inducement to “donate” when it is easy for a man to accumulate a few thousand dollars. A rose by any other name would perhaps have the term “re-imbursement” relabelled “payment”. It also does not follow the practice of blood donation in Australia which is completely without financial transaction and is more time consuming and invasive than sperm donation.

It was recommended that a centralised donor conception register be formed that would also implement a DNA database to assist those whose records have already been destroyed. It is imagined that this register and database would be comparable to the UK DonorLink register as it was referenced by the committee. Access to identifying information on this register would be voluntary and it was recommended that it would not be mandatory, nor retrospective. While the committee states that:
“In principle, the committee is also supportive of donor conceived individuals having a right to information about their biological heritage. The committee urges the states and territories to further consider the issue of retrospectivity in the creation of any national register.”
It is on one hand acknowledging the rights of offspring to know their kinship but also extinguishing it if the offspring was conceived before a certain date. The let out clause of states investigating retrospectivity is just that, as some of the states have investigated it previously and rejected the notion and are unlikely to veer from the status quo. With legal arguments of discrimination based on age and conception in addition to precedence of adoption retrospectivity (even though not entirely universal in Australia) and that of courts overturning privacy under child welfare principles, the government leaves itself open to a High Court challenge such as Pratten v British Columbia (Canada), which is still in progress. 
The landmark inquiry recommendations are a huge step forward for the welfare of people conceived via donated gametes and embryos in Australia and which would hopefully be mirrored in other jurisdictions around the world. Sadly it falls at the final hurdle in giving existing offspring parity with every other citizen in Australia, keeping their kinship, identity and medical welfare in limbo.

Golombok, S., F. MacCallum, E. Goodman, and M Rutter. 2002. Families with children conceived by donor insemination: a follow-up at age twelve. Child Development 73: 952-68.

Johnson. L., and H. Kane. 2007. Regulation of donor conception and the "time to tell" campaign. Journal of Law and Medicine 15(1): 117-27.

Lycett, E., K. Daniels, R. Curson, and S. Golombok. 2005. School-aged children of donor insemination: a study of parents’ disclosure patterns. Human Reproduction 20: 810–9.

McWhinnie, A. 2000. Families from assisted conception: ethical and psychological issues. Human Fertility (Cambridge) 3(1): 13-9.

Pratten v. British Columbia (A.G.) and College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.
Supreme Court of British Columbia hearing dates:  October 25 to November 5, 2010.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


One of the key problems in analysing donor conception in any format is the words we use to describe various components. It is also the meanings that we attribute to these words and their use in everyday language that also causes considerable complications for moving forward in this area. It would appear that our lexicon is playing catch-up with reproductive technology and it is the children conceived that are paying the price.
If we look at the word ‘father”
Webster’s dictionary 1828 edition describes the word as:
1. He who begets a child; in L. genitor or generator.
2. The first ancestor; the progenitor of a race or family.
3. The appellation of an old man, and a term of respect.
4. The grandfather or more remote ancestor.

Which shows that the word only had a genetic familial connotation an as a term of affection.

By 1918 the dictionary meanings expanded:
1. One who has begotten a child, whether son or daughter; a generator; a male parent.
2. A male ancestor more remote than a parent; a progenitor; especially, a first ancestor; a founder of a race or family; -- in the plural, fathers, ancestors.
3. One who performs the offices of a parent by maintenance, affectionate care, counsel, or protection.
4. A respectful mode of address to an old man.
5. A senator of ancient Rome.
6. A dignitary of the church, a superior of a convent, a confessor (called also father confessor), or a priest; also, the eldest member of a profession, or of a legislative assembly, etc.
7. One of the chief esslesiastical authorities of the first centuries after Christ; -- often spoken of collectively as the Fathers; as, the Latin, Greek, or apostolic Fathers.
8. One who, or that which, gives origin; an originator; a producer, author, or contriver; the first to practice any art, profession, or occupation; a distinguished example or teacher.
9. The Supreme Being and Creator; God; in theology, the first person in the Trinity.

We now have the use of the word being implemented for any male carrying out parenting duties. It could be argued that the dictionary had just become more concise and accurate or we could also argue that the usage of the word had changed somewhat and that these additions were needed. If we are to accept the latter then it could be postulated that the original use of the term is to describe the progenitor of child, the man responsible for providing the sperm. Typically this would also represent the man raising the child prior to the introduction of assisted reproduction technologies and more specifically donor conception. So in practical daily use of the word, they were one and the same and therefore implies that the original meaning of the word should be taken as being the male genetic forbear. Your father is the man who begot you AND the man that raised you.

However for donated people that role has been separated such that there are two fathers and two different men under current dictionary classifications. The progenitor and the man who acts as a parent.
With many men who raise DC children claiming that they are the only true father because they change their nappies and dry their tears they are trying to negate the presence of the progenitor father so that they can feel good about themselves and the fact that they are raising another mans offspring. By hiding from this fact they are having difficulty dealing with their own situation. They are also imprinting their own beliefs onto the child by belittling their genetic connection as well as making it more difficult to create the social and legal change required to recognise the rights of the Donated Generation. The ironic thing is that if a man was to raise another man’s genetically related child in any situation other than the state sanctioned medicalised process of donor conception, then society would use the word father to correctly label the progenitor.

The other main ill-conceived use of the English language is the use of the term donor. To donate is to give freely without receiving anything in return. Paying “donors’ or even providing re-imbursements which are also financial transactions we cannot technically use the term donor. Perhaps a better description would be “vendor” or “provider”. Even if he did not receive payment and truly donated altruistically, he would be the recipient parents donor and not the child's donor. Either way it still plays down the enormity and humanity of what has occurred. The sooner that we all refer to the sperm donor/vendor/progenitor as the man that he really is “father”, the sooner we can acknowledge the actual situation, move on, create meaningful change and begin to heal. And this applies to all parties within the DC triad.