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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.

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