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Are “Anonymous Fathers” Really a Problem?

The Center for Bioethics and Culture continues its crusade against artificial reproduction; this time the target is sperm donation.  Its recent film Anonymous Father’s Day argues that using a sperm donor to conceive causes serious emotional impact on children of sperm donors from not knowing anything about their biological fathers” It is described as a “secret”  akin to a time bomb waiting to go off. They bemoan that a British scientist may have fathered over 600 children via his fertility clinic.   Ironically, the CBC folks don’t decry adoption, which results in the same lack of knowledge about biological parents, nor do they denounce adopting embryos to prevent them from being incinerated. Why is sperm donation so exceptional and problematic? Other than, of course, that it involves biotechnology?

I await an answer.

Summer Johnson McGee, PhD

45 responses to “Are “Anonymous Fathers” Really a Problem?”

  1. Marjorie says:

    Did you watch the movie? As a doctor, I am sure you would not invalidate the real emotional suffering of people. We’ve come a long way understanding and supporting the loss and confusion adopted kids often feel when they learn of their bio origin. Why would we intentionally cause this distress to children? -and make a business put of it, too? How is this fair or kind to children?

  2. You ask why sperm “donation” is problematic and exceptional…the second and third sentences of your paragraph give you a good start for your answer. The problems are many but I suspect from your article that your real issue is why some people feel that sperm “donation” is worse than adoption…the answer lies in the fact that in adoption, a child isn’t usually created with the purpose of separating them from their biological parents/families whereas in the case of gamete ‘donation’, in most cases the child is created with the intention of being stripped of their biological family (or families in the case of egg AND sperm “donation” offspring).

    By the way, the film is less than 50 minutes long. How many topics should they cover in one film?

  3. Gosia Kaszubska says:

    Adoption isn’t the same as the deliberate creation of a “fatherless” baby. Neither is the adoption of already existing embryos. Adoption is the best alternative we have when a child’s biological parents are unwilling or unable to do the job.
    Quite different to intentionally setting out to make a kid that has no chance of knowing his or her heritage.
    My state, Victoria, in Australia recently ruled children of sperm donors have the right to know who their fathers are, even when he donation was done with guarantee of anonymity. And that’s because the state recognized the rights of the children – who had no choice in this issue – trumped those of adults

  4. Marilynndawn says:

    The point of the film was not to stop sperm donation the point is to bring attention to the fact that there are men in this country who are legally allowed relinquish their children into black market adoptions by contracting in advance to abandon them at birth before anyone even knows the child is related to them or their family.  Sperm donation on its own would be fine, but these men did not donate their sperm to be studied by researchers, they donated their sperm for the purpose of producing offspring that they agree in advance to abandon when when born.  

    The point of the film was to shed light on what is really happening.  Men are not paid for their sperm.  They won’t take their sperm unless they sign a form giving up the right to ever see or speak to their children.  They have to agree to abandon their responsibility to raise their offspring to adulthood in order for their sperm to be accepted as a donation.  They certainly won’t get paid if they don’t sign that they’ll give up their parental rights upon the birth of any children born of their donated semen.

    So no, they are not parents when they donate.  Nobody is the father of sperm.  They are however fathers the moment that their children are born and the rest of their family becomes their child’s family the moment they are born and the fact that they agree to abandon their children at birth should be disturbing to us as a society because its totally illegal for everyone else but them to do that. Everyone else has to have their name written down on their offspring birth certificate, not them.  Everyone else is expected to support their offspring to adulthood physically and financially, not them. Everyone else has to go to court and get approval from a judge before they stop taking care of their offspring – not them.  They are allowed to take no responsibility whatsoever for the lives they create.  No responsibility for having 150, 600 or 1000 offspring.  Sure that happens naturally in human history – to Sultans that had the money to feed them all.

    If donors were treated like the average guy and held responsible for being named as father on their offspring’s birth certificates and for raising them unless they got permission not to in a court of law,  do you think we’d have sibling groups of over 100? No. We would not.  No way would even the most irresponsible man get to the point where he had properly relinquished 600 children into other custodial arrangements.  It is a crime to abandon our offspring and it needs to be a crime for everyone including those that want to help women start a family.  They can just follow the rules and give the child up for adoption if they want to be so damned altruistic.  Oh but then they can’t get paid.  We’ll again then its a real good thing they’re so damned altruistic right?

    All those other situations people like to bring up as being parallel where people are raised never knowing their biological fathers….he abandoned them, that is a crime and that is my point.  Or their mother concealed their existence from him without going to court to demonstrate why her child did not deserve his support that’s like kidnapping to me.  Or their mother committed paternity fraud and named her husband as father of another man’s child – again paternity fraud, its not a good thing.

    Why don’t they take issue with adoption?  If this is so much like adoption then lets just have the donors names recorded on their offspring’s birth certificates and have them relinquish in court like big boys have to.  Lets have the recipients prove they did not pay anything to the donor to get him to relinquish and lets have them go through all the other checks and balances to ensure the child is not being trafficked into a bad situation.  Let’s make sure that the donor really is the biological father of the child he is agreeing to allow another person to raise.  Really if its so much like adoption why don’t these people have the right to the same court approved process as their adopted counter parts?

    Yes they have an estranged biological parent.  What this is – is black market adoption.  That’s all it is.  There is no technology here, just a guy agreeing not to take care of his kid.  These people only become parents because someone else failed to take care of their child first and that is what donor offspring are so up in arms about.  Why is it that they don’t deserve to be taken care of by their fathers? Why is it that this country finds it perfectly acceptable to sell these people into service to play the roll of someone that they are not?  What is wrong with us that we have allowed this practice to get this far and why are we so insensitive to requests for help?  

    They don’t just want to know their genealogical histories they want to be treated fairly and that is what we are suppose to do here right?  They are treated as half human half donor.  They only have half the rights that normal people do.  Adoption needs an overhaul too but at least they are treated with enough dignity to aknowledge they have original identities to fight for even if they are concealed now they will not always be.    

  5. It is difficult to know exactly how to respond to this criticism, since it so utterly fails to engage with the substance of the film or with our larger work. The implication of the conclusion is that, of course, we are uncritically enthusiastic about adoption and embryo adoption; we are simply opposed to anything and everything that has to do with biotechnology. The truth of the matter, though, is that while adoption is and has been a tremendously good thing in the lives of many, its history is not without problems. Some mothers were coerced and even forced into giving up their children; some children grew up with secrets and lies, and with questions of identity and place that bear many similarities to the stories of the donor-conceived women and men in Anonymous Father’s Day.

    Embryo adoption, too, does not leave us untroubled. First and foremost, we stand with many others in being concerned about the creation and long-term storage of so-called “spare” or “surplus” embryos. In addition, it seems reasonable to expect that those who were adopted as embryos will have some of the same questions about identity, place, family, and biological ties that donor-conceived persons face.

    Ultimately, however, as others have pointed out in the comments here, there is a stark contrast between adoption (and embryo adoption), which seek to address existing situations, and reproductive technologies that involve spending thousands and thousands of dollars to create situations that need remedying.

    This film is not a distillation of all our concerns. Rather it is but one example of the ways in which our fundamental concerns impact the lives of ordinary people. Anonymous Father’s Day is an attempt to bring the perspective of the very people who were conceived via sperm donation into conversations about the use of sperm donation. As Diane Allen says in the film, “If we are going to have these technologies, then they need to work first and foremost for the people they directly affect. And although that can seem like it’s the patient, in reality it’s really the children who are being born.”

    We are not alone in our concerns about anonymous fathers and about donor conception. In addition to the donor-conceived people, researchers, and activists interviewed in the film, many other donor-conceived persons have concerns about anonymous sperm donation and about donor conception, several of whom blog about their perspectives and their concerns. We have also been contacted by mothers who used donor sperm to conceive children as well as by sperm donors who resonate with the concerns raised in our film. It is also worth noting that the donor-conceived people in our film do not all agree with one another about the proper response to anonymous fathers.

    Further, these concerns are not limited to our own shores. The London-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics currently has a project underway to “explore the ethical issues that arise around the disclosure of information in connection with donor-conceived people.” In the Australian state of Victoria, a parliamentary committee has recommended that donor-conceived persons should be told the identity of their biological parent, even if the sperm donor was originally promised anonymity. And, as we highlight in the film, a case regarding sperm-donor anonymity is currently working its way through Canadian court system, and will likely end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

    In answer to the question, “Are ‘Anonymous Fathers’ Really a Problem?” our response is “yes, and we are only beginning to find out just how much of a problem.”

    Excerpted from

    Jennifer Lahl, executive producer, director, and co-writer of Anonymous Father’s Day, and Matthew Eppinette, associate producer and co-writer of Anonymous Father’s Day.

  6. TheCritic says:

    I’m not going to read the comments for time’s sake as what I’m about to post is the negation of your analogies.

    “Ironically, the CBC folks don’t decry adoptions, which results in the same lack of knowledge about biological parents, nor do they denounce adopting embryos to prevent them from being incinerated.”

    To put PhD behind your name and not instantly grasp how these are extremely poor analogies is insult to your scholarly formation at best and a testament to it at its worst. You deem it ironic. It would be ironic if the obvious underlying principle, the dignity of human life, were not the driving factor in all three of these positions.

    In all three of these instances, it manifests itself as such:

    – Children that are born are entitled to the knowledge of their biological parents by their human dignity. To bring a child into the world knowing that the child will be intentionally denied the knowledge of his heritage brings about a strong ethical consideration that must be weighed heavily against the alternatives. Of which, the following two instances of care for the dignity of human life you so masterfully fail to properly dissect are the alternatives.

    – Your first analogy involves a clear lack of recognition for cause and effect and the willful denial of the knowledge of one’s parents. The situations have the same outcome, yes.  However, in the case of adoption, the decision that results in anonymous parenthood is a parent’s ethical failing to allow for that information to be open to the adopted. Otherwise, adopted children are open to know who their parent’s are. Yet, adopting the child and caring for it is clearly the morally right choice over allowing the child to languish. 
    -Adopting embryos is more complex. However, if the embryos are to be wasted, an obligation to protecting the dignity of human life would dictate adopting the embryo to prevent its waste.What makes it so exceptional? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the biotechnology. I’ll give you another hint. It’s the Center for BioETHICS that is making these statements. The ethical considerations are why its problematic. Why is it an ethical matter? By choosing to be an anonymous parent, you are WILLFULLY denying the right to a child to know their family history. Anonymous parenthood in adoption results in the same situation, but the choice has already been made. Adopting a child is not about helping them to know their parents’ history, it’s about taking care of a child without parents. How could you not identify this distinction immediately?

  7. You make the mistake of claiming that I do not understand CBC’s position. I do. I simply believe that it is thoroughly wrong.

    As you state, “Children that are born are entitled to the knowledge of their biological parents by their human dignity.” Many children who are adopted are never given that opportunity because many adoption agencies are not required to provide the kind of detailed information that would allow one to “know” one’s biological parents. Suppose then CBC opposes adoption because it violates human dignity because having human dignity is inconsistent with not knowing ones biological parents. Then what is to become of the thousands of children whose parents give them up to adoption agencies every year? What is CBC’s position on adoption then? These children exist; they cannot be ignored or wished away with a simple exclamation, “Well that’s ethical!” I understand it would be difficult for CBC to handle the cases where children are conceived by teenagers, by cases of rape or incest, or any other undesirable circumstance where the mother (and father) cannot parent. The only other option in that circumstance would be abortion. Yet, CBC’s other primary value is to preserve human life. So what would CBC suggest in any of the circumstances above?

    You also argue that “To bring a child into the world knowing that the child will be intentionally denied the knowledge of his heritage brings about a strong ethical consideration that must be weighed heavily against the alternatives.” What are those alternatives? Abortion? That a child in an orphanage or foster care NOT be adopted simply because of the circumstance into which they were born? This violates both the dignity of the child and their best interests. There is no way that it can be ethical to deny a child the opportunity to have parents who love them because of circumstances beyond their control. You argue at length that not providing adoptive parents and children biological information is a moral failing. But it is a failing that exists. So are children given up for adoption to be punished for the acts of their birth parents?

    Furthermore, I believe it is illogical (not just ironic, definition: sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions) that CBC would support adoption and embryo adoption when those policies result in the exact same kind of violation of human dignity they say that sperm donation does. These practices result in the same anonymous parenting that sperm donation does and yet CBC has argued that adoption is preferable to abortion and embryo adoption preferable to forever frozen embryos or embryo incineration.

    Yet, I agree with one point: anonymous biological parenting can present challenging and important issues for non-biological parents and their children. I am neither adopted nor a person conceived by sperm or egg donation. Yet, I can empathize with those who do not know anything about their biological parents’ family history, religion, or culture. I believe that is a serious situation that should not be minimized by ad hominem attacks in blog posts. There must be responsible, transparent and loving ways of educating parents and children about what it means to use reproductive biotechnologies of all kinds. I believe that there is sufficient reason to suggest that a child conceived using any assisted reproductive technology, when handled honestly, transparently, and lovingly by parents, will result in children who are happy to have been raised and loved by the family they have, who understand why their parents conceived in that way, and who will not to long for answers to questions that may never have answers.

    Yet, I think it is just as contrary to human dignity for adults who wish to be parents and whom cannot for some biological reason conceive to be denied that opportunity. To deny them one of the most important experiences in life, to be a parent, out of fear and concern for what their child will be told one day, the questions their child may have, or the potential psychological harm that may occur from not knowing a biological parent is simply wrong.

  8. Guest, Cristy Y. says:

    What’s interesting and TERRIBLE is that one man can anonymously father 600 or more children. This is anonymous- there is no history or records. The next generation could potentially link up with one another and, unknowingly, create more offspring together. The next generation could potentially become, unknowingly, incest.

  9. soprano says:

    Whether closed adoption, anonymous donors, or anonymous babies – all are equally destructive to the child-adult who has no information about their biological identity and thus no links to medical history which is useful in life-long health. 

  10. Kimble says:

    I think it depends of situation. There are women who want to live their lives with a person who cant have a baby, what they should do? What about a women who was married couple times and have a horrible stories and dont what anymore to have a relationship? Artificial reproduction – thats the answer . 

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