The Convolutions of Artificial Insemination
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, APRIL 27, 2008 (Zenit.org).- With in-vitro
fertilization (IVF) becoming more and more popular, an
increasing number of children are at risk of being
separated from their fathers.
Ireland’s High Court recently ruled against giving any
parental rights to a father whose sperm was donated and
used in an artificial insemination, which resulted in
the birth of his son.
The father, a homosexual, donated sperm to the mother
and her female partner, who are a lesbian couple. On
April 17 the Irish Times reported that Judge John
Hedigan held that the lesbian couple could be regarded
as a de facto couple with rights under the European
Convention on Human Rights.
Consequently the judge denied guardianship or visiting
rights to the biological father, who had initiated legal
action to obtain these privileges. Newspaper reports
noted he might appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
In a press release issued the same day the Dublin-based
Iona Institute, a nongovernmental organization active in
family issues, said that a child has a right to know his
parents, and to be raised by a father and a mother.
“The fact that the man in this case, known as ‘A’, is a
sperm donor, in no way lessens the fact that he is the
child’s father and that the child has a right to know
his father and to have some measure of contact with his
father,” commented David Quinn, the institute’s
director. “This right inheres in the child and it is
extraordinary that this should be overlooked at the very
time we are considering a children’s rights referendum."
One of the problems with not knowing your father was
highlighted in an article published April 19 by the
Irish Independent. The story recounted how Kirk Maxey
fathered an unknown number of children through sperm
donation over a number of years, which he roughly
calculates at between 200 to 400.
Now with a child of his own, Maxey is faced with the
dilemma of knowing that there could be up to 100 young
girls in the vicinity of his home who are close to his
son’s age and have the same father, but who have no idea
who he is.
In a commentary written for the April 19 edition of the
Irish Times, Breda O’Brien noted that in past decades
children had been taken from their parents and put in
orphanages when authorities felt the family was not
going to be able to look after the kids.
In more recent times, she added, this policy was
recognized as being a mistake in most cases. “Why, then,
are we so unwilling to see that we are in danger of
creating new injustices and making exactly the same
mistakes in new situations as were made in the past?”
“We need to proceed with extreme caution, especially
given how badly we have understood the needs of children
in the past,” O’Brien recommended.
Ireland is far from being alone in creating such
problems. In England a woman recently gave birth to her
husband’s baby almost four years after he died, reported
the UK’s Telegraph newspaper on March 20.
Lisa Roberts said she was sure that her late husband,
James, would have approved of the birth of their
daughter. Her husband’s sperm was frozen after he was
diagnosed of cancer in 2004; he died later that year.
According to the Telegraph, a number of children in the
United Kingdom have been born years after their father’s
death, following a court case in 1997, when Diane Blood
sued in order to be allowed to use her deceased
Meanwhile, in the Australian state of Victoria,
proposals are under discussion to loosen laws on IVF,
including those on sperm donation. A Feb. 16 article
published in the Australian newspaper detailed the
objections to sperm donation by Myfanwy Walker, herself
born as a result of IVF and donated sperm.
Only when she was 20 did she discover the truth about
her parentage. She subsequently was able to make contact
with her biological father, but says that even if kids
can eventually do this it is far from being an
Searching in vain
Even though a number of countries have now abolished
donor anonymity, allowing the children to contact their
biological parents once they turn 18, Walker observed
that often the contact data is not kept up-to-date by
the clinics. As well, donors can also actively evade
being found. Thus, when the children reach an age when
they can start to look for their father the search can
often be unsuccessful.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of a Child, Walker
told the Australian, declares that children have a right
to their identity. Such a right is not respected, she
added, when one parent is a donor, and who can remain
anonymous for the first years of a child's life.
Walker’s position is shared by many other children born
through donated sperm, affirmed ethicist Margaret
Somerville, writing in the Canadian newspaper, the
Ottawa Citizen on Sept. 17 last year.
A growing number of these children, now adults are
speaking out forcefully against the way in which they
were brought into being, she said. Somerville said they
feel like “genetic orphans.”
We run the risk of disintegrating parenthood into its
genetic, gestational, social and legal components,
Somerville noted. This seriously harmful both to
children and society, she warned.
Another Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, reported
Nov. 13 about how Liza White discovered that her
daughter Morgan, fathered by a sperm donor, has 6
half-siblings by the same father.
The six families and seven kids are spread out through
the United States, from Washington state to Washington,
D.C. No less than six of them were born within a
half-year of each other, and at the time the article was
published, they were all in kindergarten.
The mothers, all lesbians according to the Globe and
Mail, still do not know who the father of their children
is or how to contact him.
IVF techniques are also being employed to create
ever-stranger types of family relationships. At least
six British mothers have frozen their eggs to be used by
their infertile daughters, the Sunday Times reported
The daughters, who will thus be in a position to give
birth to a half-sister or brother, are able to do this
given that new freezing technology means that their
mother’s eggs can be frozen for long enough to be used
once the daughter has reached adulthood.
“The child could feel a crisis of identity trying to
work out their relationship with relatives,” Josephine
Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said to
the Times in a critical reaction to the news.
Another British case was reported by the BBC last Oct.
5. An anonymous 72-year-old man agreed to become a sperm
donor for his own "grandchild." The man has offered to
donate his sperm to his son and daughter-in-law who have
yet been unable to conceive a child through IVF.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks out against
the dangers of IVF, referring among points of the
child’s right to be born of a father and a mother and to
know them. (No. 2376)
“A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift,
the ‘supreme gift of marriage’” the Catechism adds (No.
2378). Therefore, the text continues: “A child may not
be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an
alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead.” Principles only
too often ignored, to the detriment of children and
society as a whole.