Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sperm Donors

Today is Father’s Day, so naturally the New York Post is leading with a story about sperm donors. Link here.

Not just any old sperm donors, but the more prolific among them. In Post-talk they are the pro-creators.

Of course, they are not really fathers. There’s much more to being a father than selling your sperm for money and then having a woman to choose your biological material based on a profile.

The Post does identify one of the prolific pro-creators. His name is Todd Whitehurst and he could, for all he or anyone knows, be the progenitor of dozens of children. To his credit he has allowed some of them to contact him, and has tried to establish something resembling relationships with them.

The Post almost suggests that these men are alpha males, but this is surely incorrect.

For reasons best left for another time and place, we have come to believe that procreation is a mere biological function and that men merely want to spread their seed far and wide. The more progeny, the more of a man’s genes will survive.

And, isn’t that the meaning of life?

At the least, it isn’t the meaning of social life.

Clearly, human males, like all mammalian males, are programmed to reproduce.  But they are also programmed to bring social beings into the world. And there is a considerable difference between a social being and a biological organism. Some men, and some women, see quality as more important than quantity. Most human parents do not see any great virtue in producing a large number of offspring they cannot care for.

An alpha male protects and provides for his offspring. And he gives them their name and place in society. Without those, you risk not having an identity.

It’s one thing to exist as a biological entity. It’s quite another to know who you are.

We do not really know what happens when a child is deprived of any knowledge of his father's identity, but we do have the testimony of Colton Wooton who was conceived by sperm donation. Link here.

Wooton’s article appeared in the New York Times this morning. It feels like an instance of great editors thinking alike.

Having recently graduated from high school Wooton is old enough to give voice to the anomie that pervades the life of a young man who does not know who his father is, does not know whether or not he has siblings, and does not, ultimately, know where he fits.

In his words: “I call myself an only child, but I could very well be one of many siblings. I could even be predisposed to some potentially devastating disease. Because I do not know what my father looks like, I could never recognize him in a crowd of people. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities, by the reality that my father could be anywhere: in the neighboring lane of traffic on a Friday during rush hour, behind me in line at the bank or the pharmacy, or even changing the oil in my car after many weeks of mechanical neglect.

“I am sometimes at such a petrifying loss for words or emotions that make sense that I can only feel astonished by the fact that he could be anyone.”

As Wooten says, and we all accept, no one begrudges a woman who is choosing between a sperm donor and childlessness. She knows that her choice is not optimal, but she makes the best of her situation. Surely, many of the women who have recourse to sperm donation are wonderful mothers.

And yet, how much do we really know about a woman’s emotional state when she is carrying or bringing up a child whose father she has never met. And what effect does it have when she does not even know who the father is, does not even know his name. Given the reality of human reproduction, a mother's word is crucial in identifying a child's father. Given that a mother names the father, what happens when the father is anonymous.

Surely, there is a marked difference in mental states between giving birth to a child conceived with a husband and giving birth to a child conceived through an anonymous sperm donor. Or at least it would seem so to me.

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