Remember your family photographs from childhood? Most individuals take great pride and pleasure in reflecting back on certain periods and memories of their life captured through a simple picture. But, what if you spent your entire childhood and adult life trying to make sense of the fact that you never looked like any of the other members of your family?
Or, consider this scenario: Your parents decide to get a divorce when you are eight years old. Your father attempts to gain custody of your older sister, but not you. The reason you come to find out is that you are the product of anonymous sperm donation, meaning your father is not actually your actual biological father.
These two stories, among others, are the focus of Anonymous Father’s Day, a documentary film released by the Center for Bioethics and Culture earlier this year. The aforementioned children, now adults, are just two examples of the 30,000 to 60,000 children now conceived in the United States via sperm donation.
While the range of 30,000 to 60,000 may seem imprecise, it is vast due to the fact that the fertility industry is one of the most unregulated industries in the U.S. As such, there is no exact way of know knowing just how many children are being conceived through this biotechnology. While other countries, including those less developed than the U.S., require sperm donors to register in a national database, the U.S. has no such requirements.
The fertility industry in the United States grosses an impressive $3.3. billion dollars each year. And, for most people, the fact that children are conceived in this manner is no cause for concern for average citizens. After all, parents desperately want children, fertility clinics eagerly want clients, young men in college need extra cash and are willing to sell their sperm—it’s broadly considered a win for everyone, right?
Not hardly. While parents may be enthusiastic—even relentless—in their pursuit to have children, the future needs and desires of the children created through anonymous sperm donation are rarely brought into the conversation. Yet, considering that their sperm donor is half of who these children are, at least biologically speaking, it’s a conversation that we need to begin to have.
A 2010 report, “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” revealed that not only are the majority of the children of anonymous sperm donation longing to know their biological father, but they are also bothered by the fact that money played a significant role in their conception. Moreover, there are both physical and emotional consequences that are rarely given consideration. Children created through these methods are left in the dark about half of their medical histories, which is an increasingly important factor later in life as doctors need this information to better treat and advise their patients.
In addition, the “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” report found that children created through anonymous sperm donation are far more likely to suffer from depression, suicidal tendencies, or drug and alcohol abuse. The intentional severing of the biological relationship between parents and the children will create lasting societal consequences that we are only now beginning to pause and consider.
For Catholics, the Church is clear in her teaching on these technologies. According to the Catechism, “Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques … infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other” (no. 2376).
This, however, should not be—and is not—just a Catholic issue. Countless pages of the mainstream media, from the New York Times to Newsweek, are beginning to chronicle the stories of children turned adults that are suffering and longing to understand more about the aspects surrounding their conception.
While the issue remains a small talking point in most Protestant or Evangelical circles, an increasing number of people are beginning to realize that this is an essential part of building a consistent pro-life ethic, or what Blessed John Paul II famously dubbed “a culture of life.”
Further on the Catechism reminds us: “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift…a child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead” (no. 2378).
In an age of entitlements, the idea of children being perceived as a “gift” rather than something that can be created on demand may run contrary to most peoples general sensibilities. Yet for the children created through these technologies—the ones whose family photos evoke mystery and sadness, rather than joy—there are both social, personal, and even spiritual costs that we should no longer be willing to bear.