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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.


Marilynn said...

I want so badly to change the law. I reunite families for free, and the issue of language is huge for me as it results in inaccurate record keeping and it also allows what I think is probably fraudulent misrepresentation of a parental relationship by people that are not maternally or paternally related to the child named on the birth record. I understand being sensitive to people's feelings but its just gone way too far. People can call each other what ever they want but there seems to be a movement toward dropping the prefix of adoptive or foster or intended or commissioning before the word parent or mother or father. You don't add a prefix to the real deal (birth mother?!) Adopting does not make the child the son of the person who adoptsm it makes the child the adoptive son. The child does not stop being the son of his parents just because he got adopted. I don't think there is such a thing as a donor. Like you said absent the fact that money changes hands at some point, really all thats happening is that fertility clinics are helping young men conceive their offspring, they are treating the young men to improve his chances of conception leading to the live birth of offspring. He really is a patient, I did not understand that before, he's not really a vendor (like I'd attached myself to) any more than he's a donor get it? That's the loophole so that Doctor patient confidentiality, ethical practice is possible while peddling in human life. Who we've come to call "donor" is just a guy seeking assistance to improve his chance of conceiving offspring. He is really choosing to conceive offspring this way just as much as any guy who goes there to have his wife inseminated to produce a child that he will raise. Its shameful that the government has set the practice asside and deemed those men not responsible for the lives they create. This is chiefly because I think the government had no way of knowing and as long as someone was willing to keep the kid off the public dole why argue.

I am so glad you said what you said. I don't read much nice logical thinking on the topic.

(Karen Clark of Family Scholars suggested I read this post and I'm glad I did).

damianhadams said...

Hi Marilynn
thanks for the comment. I agree that language is the crux of a lot of problems. For myself though I do not see that the vendor/provider is a patient at all. I do not believe that they are being treated for any health problems so I think that people claiming doctor-patient privilege are stretching it. Personally I think that they should be excluded from doctor-patient privilege. When I donate blood I am not doing so as a patient. You are absolutely right that the government is allowing men to father children without having any responsibility that would normally occur if conceived in any other manner than this medical experiment.