By Raj Kumar Singh
Will sperm donors have responsibilities? If they do, will they have any rights?
Rights and responsibilities?
1995 Federal Way, WA - The University of Washington (UW) is a top-rate, state-owned educational institution. It draws the attention of the best students and researchers from around the world in many different disciplines. Within the biomedical sphere, an area of high concern among many people of highly developed countries, is treatment for infertility, and the UW has been doing advanced work on infertility for years.
Infertility research has progressed to the point where its work appropriately, even necessarily, is done using human subjects, and there is no shortage of subjects who are ready, willing and able to submit to treatment.
Not very many years ago, the UW wouldn't use sperm from anonymous donors supplied by "sperm banks" because such a practice didn't offer the knowledge of donor characteristics that was deemed necessary for good scientific theorizing. But then came a time when the science involved was stable enough to allow sperm bank use. The practical result of this was that a woman seeking impregnation no longer had to supply her own sperm donor. This simplified things considerably when the cause of a couple's infertility was a lack of viable sperm from the male of the pair involved (seeking a "donation" from relatives or family friends is awkward at best).
Not only were things easier for "traditional" families who needed assistance in generating a child, but single women could now more feasibly seek assistance from the U.W. program. Also, it's not unusual for lesbian women, singly or in couples, to want to raise a family and with sperm bank use by the U.W.'s doctors, nurses and technicians, these women could also accomplish their familial goals with relative ease.
But some of those staff members took an exceptionally dim view of assisting unmarried women and lesbians to have children. They squawked, the news hit the papers, the administrators held a conference or two, and then proceeded to officially sanction the policy of non-discrimination against women "subjects" based on their marital status or sexual orientation. This (true) story having now been told, let's move on to those nettlesome questions involving ethics and morals.
A Sperm Donor's Responsibilities?
Consider Joe Citizen. Joe is an "aware" individual who realizes that donors of many different types can provide much valued services to those in need. Joe regularly gives blood to the Red Cross, carries an organ donor card, and he occasionally donates sperm to the local sperm bank. Joe sometimes thinks about "his" sons and daughters, picturing them in a Norman Rockwell style home with a mom, dad and a white picket fence and ... well, you get the idea.
The next time Joe donates sperm, should he be informed that his offering may be used to impregnate a single mother -- or a lesbian? Should he have the right to designate that his sperm only be used to further the childbearing goals of those of a particular sexual orientation or marital status? After all, biologically, they're his children, too. What are Joe's rights?
In cases of single-woman parenting with truly anonymous sperm donors, there's a higher probability that the taxpayers will be paying the child support bill if the mother doesn't have the resources to support her family. Would feminists support legislation that makes sperm donation anonymous to the mother, but not to the government so that in those cases where a mother defaults on her financial support responsibilities, the government can identify the father in order to assess him for child support?
Or let's assume that the donor should NOT have the sort of obligation described above. Then maybe we should enact federal legislation prohibiting such a law at the state level. Sperm bank donations regularly cross state lines, and a hodgepodge of state laws on the subject would create a legal nightmare. What are Joe's responsibilities?
Note: Raj, who is now an attorney practicing in Wisconsin, wrote the conjectural piece above a good 15 years before cases of the kind made national news.