Thursday, February 22

Why anonymous sperm donation ended and why this matters

In many states, if you are part of a couple raising a child and never marry or divorce, and your partner wants to sever the relationship, you can be considered a legal stranger to a child you helped raise but with whom you do not you share a genetic bond. “I worry that people may act in good faith but not understand the plight of these families,” says Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at Yale who is working with LGBTQ organizations and other academics on a joint statement of principles on access to information donor identification. “There is real legal risk in many places. And then there is the idea expressed by these laws, which is that biological ties are more important than other ties.”

Malina Simard-Halm, 27, the donor-conceived daughter of gay fathers, is a former board member of Family Equality and Colage, two groups for LGBTQ families that are part of a coalition calling for a halt to the approval of more transparent laws. Simard-Halm sympathizes with Levy Sniff, but she doesn’t want the state to suggest it’s vital to look for your own donor. Not knowing who that person is doesn’t necessarily create a void, she says. Her fathers were honest about how she and her siblings were conceived—an approach that tends to strengthen parent-child relationships, research shows—and she did not feel a sense of loss.

Simard-Halm remembers having to resist the judgment of strangers, who forced her to believe that nature matters more than nurture. “People would ask, ‘Who is your mother? Where is she?’” Simard-Halm says. “Sometimes they would openly say, ‘She’s your real parent. You have to be with her.'”

This framing has been used in the past in the fight against same-sex marriage. A 2010 survey, titled “My Dad’s Name is Donor” and funded by the Institute for American Values, a conservative group, said many donor-conceived children felt hurt and isolated because of their origins. The study was not peer-reviewed, and other research has shown that donor-conceived children generally do as well as their peers. But for years in court, opponents of same-sex marriage argued that children of gay couples would grow up worse off, feeling fatherless or motherless.

LGBTQ families also worry that some people who support ending anonymity, including Levy Sniff, think children should be able to know their donor’s identity before age 18, that is, at 16 or 14. They say this creates the possibility for conflicts between how teenagers define their families and how their parents are doing. Lowering the age “makes the family more legally vulnerable,” says Courtney Joslin, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. “And it has an impact both on the social perception of the family and perhaps on the way children and parents see themselves.”