Originally published at The Public Discourse.
What are the rights of donor-conceived people? To ask this question is to suggest that we have different rights from everyone else—and so we do, because we’ve allowed it.
We’ve created a class of people who are manufactured, and treat them as less-than-fully human, demanding that they be grateful for whatever circumstances we give them. While fathers of traditionally conceived human beings are chased down and forced to make child support payments as a minimal standard of care, people conceived commercially are reprimanded when they question the anonymous voids that their biological fathers so “lovingly” left.
The crimes against the donor-conceived bend time and space. The adults that betray us do so before official personhood, which is the loophole through which this new form of human trafficking is made possible. Is gamete-selling all that different from baby-selling?
I recently discussed third-party reproduction and “the rights of donor-conceived people” at a debate at the Institute for American Values. My opponent was an older gay man, who with his male partner hired two surrogates and one egg donor in the generation of three children. He was there to argue that it’s okay to dispose of mothers and manufacture children as long as it’s done the “right” way. I was there as a representative of donor-conceived people.
It is difficult to know how to pitch yourself as a donor-conceived person during these conversations. If my opponent displays gentlemanly behavior, intelligence, and sensitivity, his argument is made stronger and the audience has a hard time disentangling good manners from immoral deeds. But when I speak, my argument is that we are damaged and pained. If a donor-conceived person like me displays charm and intelligence it can work against our efforts in that they suggest we are able to achieve normalcy—therefore no harm, no foul.
Must every donor-conceived person develop into a violent, drug-addicted, and deranged adult in order to convince the public that his or her family structure is by definition problematic? If so, I’ll graciously illustrate scenes from my challenging past in my next essay. But for now let’s just say I hope not, and take a look at what history has taught us about human rights. It’s clear that often in the case of donor-conceived people, these rights hardly apply.
It is illegal to buy and sell people.
When slavery was abolished, with it went the notion not only that you could own another human being, but also that you could separate a person from his biological kin. Countless historical examples teach us that human beings deeply desire connection to their biological kin, especially their biological parents and siblings. If we recognize that it’s wrong to displace human beings as if they were products, not people, then we should also see that a concept like donor-conception is wrong in principle.
Does anybody remember the Cambodian adoption scandal involving Lauren Galindo? Galindo was the facilitator in one of Angelina Jolie’s adoptions. She is also a convicted felon who reportedly paid vulnerable mothers to relinquish their children for as little as a bag of rice.
This March an Oklahoma woman was arrested for trying to sell her two young children via Facebook for $1,000 so she could bail her boyfriend out of jail. An unprincipled economist might look at these situations and ask, what’s the problem? The buyer wanted the children, the mother didn’t. Isn’t this a more efficient system for raising children?
Most of us ache a little in our hearts when we witness children being raised by their incompetent, desperate, or even disturbed natural parents. But we don’t allow the market to correct for supply and demand in these cases because we believe it is unjust for children to have price tags. Why should we then allow the market to have a say over the future of some children just because their parents can abandon their responsibilities through sperm and egg donation?
It is illegal to impregnate a woman for the purpose of taking her child.
This April it was discovered that a UK woman bought sperm to impregnate her fourteen-year-old adopted daughter because she wanted another baby. She wanted the child badly—isn’t that enough? Life is good, right? Babies make the world better, right? Yet there is something deeply wrong with creating new life this way.
Also this spring, seventeen teenage girls and eleven babies were rescued from two baby factories in Nigeria where the girls were raped by human traffickers who would then sell each baby for up to $6,400. Most of the babies were destined to become child prostitutes. But let’s say some of them would have ended up in nice California homes with two doting parents and a robust college fund. Would the means by which they were conceived be justified? Common sense tells us “no.”
San Diego’s Theresa Erickson was a fertility industry darling, a surrogacy attorney, and a serial egg donor who crossed the line and was convicted of trafficking babies last year. Erickson went from being considered an angel helping others to a deviant human trafficker because of subtle legal distinctions that permit surrogacy if all the paperwork is completed and checks are signed before conception, but punish the same process as baby-selling if parenthood is officially transferred mid-gestation. But what is the difference for the child?
It is illegal to neglect a child, even if the child was conceived in a one-night stand and was unplanned.
We discourage sloppy sexual behavior not because we’re anti-fun, but because most taxpayers don’t want to pay for other people’s irresponsibly made children. When John Doe drinks too much Guinness and finds himself in Jane Smith’s bed, and Jane Smith finds herself pregnant, we hold the two accountable for their choices and make both parties responsible for the child. If needed we even hunt down and force the father to make child support payments. It is common knowledge that humans reproduce sexually, and it is fair to expect people to limit their risky behavior according to how many hungry mouths they’re prepared to feed.
All of these examples should serve to inform our views of third-party reproduction, especially commercial third-party reproduction.
But I feel bad for infertile couples. What’s so bad about helping them build families?
There is nothing wrong with seeking legitimate cures for infertility and helping people overcome obstacles to conception. The problem with third-party reproduction is that it corrupts and perverts the parent-child relationship. The child becomes an asset to be bought and sold, rather than a precious begotten family member who deserves intimacy, protection, and inclusion. She enters the world as a tool for personal satisfaction.
Recognizing that third-party reproduction is unjust requires legislation that blocks the very first stages of the process. We legislate against the distribution of uranium, for example, because we have laws against private distribution of atomic weapons. When single people, elderly, or gay couples (demographics that are by definition non-procreative) tell you they’re not buying children, just “tissue,” ask them why they’re converting their offices into nurseries. Do vials of sperm require crib mobiles and changing tables? No, babies do.
Right now in California, Democrats led by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano are pushing bill AB-460. Labeled as an anti-discrimination measure, the bill will force insurance companies to pay for fertility treatment for inherently sterile parties. They argue that it’s unfair and discriminatory for insurance companies only to assist heterosexual couples (below a certain age) with fertility treatments. If it’s okay for one kind of person to buy sperm or eggs, so their logic goes, then it should be okay for all people to do the same, regardless of age, relationship status, or sexual orientation. Their logic is fair.
But it’s not right for any person to buy or sell sperm or eggs, because to do so is really to buy and sell a person. And people should not be for sale. Parenthood should not be for sale. All children deserve the love and care of the two people that made them: their biological mother and father. Children are safest in the nuclear family. There they can develop a sound and complete identity.
Stories of gross abuse of children who were manufactured via third-party reproduction are now emerging. Two Australian men hired a Russian surrogate to deliver their “son,” who they began sexually abusing just days after birth and exploited in a pedophile network that authorities described as one of “the most heinous acts of exploitation this office has ever seen.” Then there is the Israeli repeat sex offender who gained sole custody of a little girl he procured through surrogacy.
Paris Jackson tried to commit suicide after discovering that she and her brother Prince have different sperm donor fathers in the same month it was revealed that Michael Jackson paid over $35 million in hush money to two dozen boys he molested.
The industry turns a blind eye and fails to properly screen “intended parents” because there is too much money to be made. I once interviewed Teri Royal, who owned what was once the world’s largest egg donation agency. I asked her how many clients she rejected of the thousands she served. She admitted to only declining one potential client. Any adoption agency will tell you their rejection rates run much higher than that. But when conception is commercialized and fertility industry entrepreneurs can earn over $100,000 per child born, these astronomical sums corrupt and should be seen as major conflicts of interest in providing for the best interests of the child.
Today, human rights do not apply to the donor-conceived child because her humanity has been deconstructed and she is a product to please adults, a thing to service others and be consumed. She does not have a father like other people, nor a mother. She only has donors and “intended” parents. If she complains about the discrepancy, the world will ask her threateningly, would you rather not exist?
She fears what they’ll do if she answers honestly.
Alana S. Newman is the founder of the Anonymous Us Project. Anonymous Us: Volume 1, A story-collective on 3rd Party Reproduction will be released by Broadway Publications later this month. Follow her work and blog at alananewman.com.