Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Choosing to Parent by Adoption and Donor Insemination: The Differences

Choosing to Parent by Adoption and Donor Insemination:  The Differences
By Linda Kingston

     This is my opinion about the differences in becoming a parent through adoption vs. sperm donor conception.   The primary differences are legal issues, social acceptance, the amount of control the parents have, and the intention of the parents.  There are many variables in adoption and each story is different, so some of these issues do not apply to all adoptions.

     I have long been a supporter of family planning services.  Long before I chose to adopt a child, I donated money to international family planning organizations.  Now I volunteer for a family planning agency and continue to donate money.

     My husband and I have two children who are biological sisters.  They were adopted from Guatemala at ages 6 months and 8 months.  We have an open adoption with their birthmother Anna and her extended family. 

Here are the primary differences:

1)       Control and intention

     Adoption is about making the best of a difficult situation, and is never a first choice when practiced legally and ethically.   In an ideal world, only married couples would conceive children who are planned and wanted. Conception under these conditions is the best way to ensure a child will not be placed for adoption.  Anna tried her best to conceive her children under ideal circumstances, but due to lack of resources and education it didn’t happen.   I also tried my best to prevent the adoption by donating money to international family planning organizations. 

     In an ideal world, adoption wouldn’t exist.  I would be sad that I could not adopt a child, but also happy that all children could be cared for by their biological family.  Back to reality; it isn’t a perfect world, and that is why adoption exists.    

     Despite my best efforts, Anna had an unplanned pregnancy.  I did the best I could to prevent it.  My decision to adopt and Anna’s decision to place a child for adoption were two separate events.  Anna placed her children for adoption because of her difficult life circumstances, and not because I wanted to be a parent.    

     Legal and ethical adoption starts with the needs of a child, but DI starts with the desires of adults.  Is it fair for the parents raising the child to expect the donor to make sacrifices so they can have the privilege of being a parent?  Is it fair for a man to donate sperm even though this decision could be painful for the child?  Is it fair for parents to ask their children to sacrifice by bringing them into the world under complex and painful circumstances?  My answer to these questions is “No”.
2)       Cultural acceptance

     Adoption is viewed much more positively in our society than conception by sperm donor.  This can affect the way a child accepts himself.  Advice columnist Dr. Laura Schlessinger said “There is no pride in being conceived by a man who ejaculates into a cup.”    

3)       Legal issues.

     In the USA, all children accept those conceived by sperm donor or other 3rd party reproduction have the legal right to two parents.  For children conceived the old-fashioned way, the biological father is required to support the child whether he likes it or not.  This is because the needs of the child are more important than the adult’s.   However, with sperm donation the decision to deny the child a legal biological father is made even before the child is conceived.

     I realize that many single women and lesbian couples who conceive by DI are financially stable and mature people, and they often don’t need financial help from a Dad. However, that is irrelevant.   Children conceived by DI deserve the same rights as children conceived the old-fashioned way.  

     There are adoption laws to protect children and their biological parents from unethical practices, although like any laws they don’t always work.  At least the laws exist and society recognizes that children and their biological parents have human and legal rights.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for donor insemination.  Parents who conceive a child by DI make a deliberate choice to deny a child their rights.    

     Sperm donors are paid.  Money influences his decision to donate.  This is a decision that might cause him and his family pain, but there are no laws requiring donors to receive counseling.  In adoption it is illegal to make payments to birthparents for unnecessary expenses because it might influence their decision.  The laws don’t always work, but at least the laws exist.  In DI, there are no laws to protect the donor from the influence of money.

     For parents who chose to conceive a child by DI, there is no law requiring counseling to be sure they understand this very complex and potentially painful way of becoming a parent.  That isn’t fair to the parent or the child. In adoption, the parents are required to learn about adoption through counseling, classes, home studies, and reading.

Adoption is not perfect, but it is a better choice than conceiving a child by DI.

Proud to Say “No” to DI

Proud to Say “No” to DI
By Linda Kingston

    I am proud that I said “No” to conceiving a child with a man who donates sperm.    Fifteen years ago my husband was diagnosed with male infertility.  We chose not to conceive a child with donor sperm for ethical reasons.    It was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
     I had a gut feeling that conceiving this way was wrong as soon as the doctor gave us the diagnosis and suggested donor sperm.  My doctor said “It’s not a big deal, don’t think about it”.  My husband’s doctor said “you don’t have to tell anybody”.  I think the doctors said those things to encourage us to use donor sperm, but their words had the opposite effect.    If conceiving a child by donor sperm is a good thing, than why would a doctor encourage me to keep it a secret?
     I have never been pregnant and never will be, but if I had the privilege of conceiving a child I couldn’t imagine mixing my blood and genes with that of a stranger to produce a new human being.  I couldn’t handle the idea of a child growing inside of my body, and half of that child’s identity belonging to a stranger.  It is a huge leap from what I always planned for my biological child, which was a child that is biologically half mine and half my husband.  I believe that conceiving a child is an act of love, and not a business transaction between two strangers.  DI is disrespectful to the child, but it is also disrespectful to the adults who conceive and raise the child.
     I am not very good at handling guilt.  If I had conceived a child with donor sperm, than I would feel terribly guilty for placing the burden of my husband’s infertility on my child.  My child would pay a huge price in dealing with the challenges of a difficult conception.  It is a parent’s job to make sacrifices for their children, and not the other way around.  My friend Rose is a married woman with a child conceived by DI; she said “I have to watch my son negotiate his kinship relationships which are fractured by DI.  It is difficult to watch, and you would know this because you are an adoptive parent.  At least you didn’t inflict this on an innocent as you chose not to use DI.  You are a brave person Linda.”
     I talked to a couple of married women who had conceived a child by donor sperm.  Both of them were very emotional and scared during their pregnancies .  This is definitely not the type of pregnancy I want.  One of the women kept her daughter’s identity a secret from her, yet she was willing to tell me about it.  This was really sad; the mother was willing to tell a stranger the truth about her child’s identity, but not willing to tell her own child.
     I also believe that conceiving a child with a man that is not my husband is adultery even though no sex is involved.   By conceiving a child with a man I am creating a special intimate relationship with him, even if he is anonymous.  I would naturally have feelings of closeness with a man who gave me the privilege of having a biological child.
     Among married couples I know who have conceived by DI there is a high divorce rate.  This is no surprise.  Two is company and three is a crowd.  The sperm donor is the invisible third party in the marriage. 
     Some parents of donor conceived children compare their child’s issues to other children who have pain that they think is equal to or greater than their child’s.  They say “but what about a child conceived with a stranger in a one-night stand, an unwanted child, etc.”  My response is “so what!”.   I don’t care about those other people.  Those other people have nothing to do with me, my husband, or my child.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.
     I also don’t care if the parents tried infertility treatments that failed.  I don’t care if the parents feel adoption is not a good choice for them.   If you don’t want to adopt, than don’t adopt.  There is nothing wrong with that, but please don’t use it as an excuse to conceive by DI.  The easy choice is often not the right choice. Adoption is a very difficult process for parents and I know that from experience.  I think that some people turn to unethical fertility treatments because of this.  I hope that people who are against unethical fertility treatments will work to make adoption a practical option for more people.  However, none of this matters to the person who matters most:  the child.  None of this changes the fact that DI is unethical.
     I believe in the motto “Do unto others as you would have done onto yourself”.  I would not want to be conceived by DI, so I shouldn’t expect my child to like it either.
    I also considered conceiving with a known donor, but realized that was not a good choice either.  The fact remains the same: this man is not my husband.  Nothing can change that.  Do I think it would be more acceptable to do DI if I were single?  The answer is “no” because the child would still not be raised by his or her biological father.
     I mostly used the term donor sperm for convenience, but I think a more accurate way to describe this is to call it “conceiving a child with a man who  gets payed”.   Saying “donor sperm” depersonalizes it and makes it easier to digest because it is about conceiving a child with an “it” and not a person.  The reality is that people conceive children, not objects.  Also, he really is not donating sperm since he is getting payed, and true donation does not involve money.
     Anyone contemplating DI to conceive a child should ask themselves  this question “Is this the best use of my time, energy, and money considering that there are millions of homeless children in the world?” 

       I like to collect quotes, and here are a few that remind me of the ethical dilemmas of DI.  On the wall of my children’s elementary school there is a saying posted by a child “Everyone has the right to pursue happiness in his/her own way as long as they don’t violate the rights of others”.  My daughter’s friend has this quote on her desk “Living a lie will trap you.  The truth will set you free”.  I think that these children are better at understanding the realities of DI than some adults.
     Here is a quote from National Geographic magazine “History is propelled by decisions made to accommodate the present but with unforeseen consequences for the future”.  I think that some parents who choose DI are only thinking about the here and now and the pain of not having a child, and they don’t think about the fact that someday their child will be an adult and will question their decision to conceive in this unethical manner.  DI is a short-term solution, but one that in the long-run only creates more pain.
     “Never suffer a thought to be harbored in your mind which you would not avow openly.  When tempted to do anything in secret, ask yourself if you would do it in public.  If you would not, be sure it is wrong”.  This is a quote by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his fourteen-year-old grandson Francis Eppes May 12, 1816.  This is relevant to the secrecy in DI.
     Here is another piece of good advice that relates to the secrecy in DI.   The writer Frederick Buechner says:  “It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are.  Otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in the hope that the world will find it more appealing that the real thing.”
     “If a relationship has to be secret, you shouldn’t be in it” by Regina Brett of the Cleveland, Ohio Plain Dealer in the article “Words to Live By for 2011”.
     Just because someone wants a child doesn’t mean they should have one.  Parenting is a privilege and not a right.  A child is a gift and not an entitlement.  Sometimes the most loving parenting decision a person can make is choosing not to conceive a child.  
     Love is never enough.  Children need and deserve a parent who will respect the child by choosing to conceive him in an ethical way.  Love doesn’t fix a complicated conception.
          I rejected DI for ethical reasons.   I have lost the privilege of experiencing a pregnancy and having a biological child, but I have made gains.  I have my self-esteem and integrity.  Every right is tied to a responsibility and the fulfillment of responsibility is itself a source of joy.  I have found joy in choosing not to conceive a child by DI.   I believe in acting courageously, especially in the best interest of an innocent child who has no voice or power.  I have no regrets, but unfortunately many people who chose DI cannot say that.