August 14, 2006

Sperm and responsibility

I'm currently listening to an interesting programme on Radio 4 about the current 'crisis' in sperm donation. Recent law changes have given the children of sperm donors the right to trace their fathers once they reach adulthood. Unsurprisingly, this has significantly decreased the numbers of sperm donors to a critical point.

  • Should a child have the automatic right to find out who their parents are, even in the formerly anonymous and random act of sperm donation?

  • Are the recent changes morally important as they encourage potential donors to really consider the consequences their contribution rather than being principally swayed by the monetary advantages? Is it necessary for a potential donor to consider these issues so seriously?

  • What are the motivating factors for sperm donation and have they now changed?

  • If we accept that the change in the law is morally right how can we overcome the current crisis in sperm availability?

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Bosa

    If we accept that the change in the law is morally right how can we overcome the current crisis in sperm availability?

    I guess organisations will stress the role of information provision. Inform people that shortages exist, that they’d be doing infertile couples an immense favour and that even absent anonymity they have no financial obligation to any child born. I can’t speak for anyone else, but such a campaign wouldn’t spur me to take any action. Legal obligation or not, the potential for an unknown child to disrupt a family dynamic is non trivial. Could you really easily rebuff a child who approached you out of the blue? Even with no legal obligations, wouldn’t you feel a moral responsibility to assist a child who found you, if she was in a state of need? How would a partner and one’s current children feel about any time and resources given to the new child? Of course, making contact with a previously unknown child may be a joyous event. But I bet the potential future hassle is enough to keep many people away, as illustrated by the exacerbated shortages we see today.

    Factor in the possibility of future changes in legislation and you have further reasons to hesitate. Now I think it unlikely that donors will be lumped with legal obligations in the future, but I wouldn’t blame people for thinking it’s possible. After all, the principles on which the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association grounds its policy seem woolly; hence their need for regular ‘public consultations’ when revising rules. Rules are thus significantly affected by what is deemed acceptable amongst practitioners and the public; what these groups thing should be the ‘rights’ of donors and recipients. Public consultations have affected the genetic tests on embryos that are permitted and the extent to which egg donors can be compensated for costs incurred. As long as the consensus view is not fixed, the HFEA may later revise rules on donors in a way not beneficial to those deciding to donate today.

    An obvious and probably sure–fire way of getting more donors is to allow money to play a greater role; allow payment to donors in excess of the costs incurred. That’s a can of worms in itself, but it’s something that should be discussed more often. There will be the inevitable cries about how infertile couples without funds will be prevented from having kids. That’s not a convincing reason not to consider the option, given the undesirability of the status quo where most are stuck on a waiting list with no guarantee of ever finding anything. Plus, financial considerations already significant when it comes to having kids – a) No sane parent would encourage their daughter to get pregnant without first having the stability of a regular income and suitable space, and b) To use donor sperm, you already need to buy it from a clinic, perhaps pay for storage, pay a consultant for the course of treatment, pay for medication, and pay a fee to the HFEA, ~ £1300 in all. And that’s assuming your cycle of treatment is successful first time round. Would those who say money shouldn't play a role, advocate preventing fertility clinics from charging for their services? If not, the issue becomes one of how 'reasonable' a financial barrier to permit – a wholly arbitrary judgement. I'm not sure what the going price for a sperm sample would be in a world absent regulations, but it'd be interesting to see some estimates. I'd be more interested in the end product than the motive of whoever made the donation.

    14 Aug 2006, 12:53

  2. I just read an article on how many American women often prefer donors listed as 'identity open' because they find it undesirable to have a baby by a man who might only have given sperm for the money involved. It's interesting how many people believe nature plays such an important role with regard to personality (as opposed to nurture). And to be deliciously politically incorrect, I would also appreciate it if people adhering to that school of thought were discouraged from having babies.

    14 Aug 2006, 16:35

  3. because they don't want their babies having the genes of a man who would give sperm only for the money involved. It's interesting to see how many people still believe nature plays such an important role (as opposed to nurture). And at the risk of being politically incorrect, I would appreciate it if people adhering to that school of thought were discouraged from having babies.

    (sorry about the break, it's wblogs' fault. evil. wanted to shut me up.)

    14 Aug 2006, 16:39

  4. James

    This opens up, if you'll excuse the inappropriate analogy, something of a can of worms. My initial thought is that there's already enough complication with parenting and custody without bringing sperm donors into the equation. I blogged a week or so ago about child custody and same sex relationships, in particular about a case involving two lesbians who had brought up children conceived by donor sperm. It lead to a savage falling out and custody battle: link

    Things would have been yet worse for the children were the biological fathers to have entered the fray. I'm not sure I've come to any final views about all this, but I think it is a tricky area on which we are bound to hear more. Interesting that Sarah refers to a 'shortage' of sperm donors. If this is caused by the removal of anonymity, then I think the word 'shortage' is slightly tendentious – you could say there's an excess of people wanting donations.

    15 Aug 2006, 16:52

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