I came across a New York Times story this morning that disturbed me.

About a decade ago, a Canadian woman named Angela Collins and her same-sex partner decided to start a family. So they purchased some sperm from Xytex, a Georgia sperm bank, and had a beautiful healthy child. A few years ago, Collins joined a “donor sibling” registry group and, after some digging, discovered her kid’s bio dad suffers from schizophrenia and once served time in jail. She met other parents whose children were also fathered by this man. “We know nobody is perfect,” she told the New York Times, “but we didn’t sign up to choose knowingly that our donor had schizophrenia.”  Each family has sued Xytex for $3 million.

On the Xytex website, potential parents can screen the available sperm by race, ethnicity, eye color, hair color, height and weight, religion, education level, and occupation. The more screening a donor undergoes, the more expensive his sperm becomes. There are blood tests, medical evaluations, and interviews.

And yet here are always unknowns. Some genetic conditions don’t present themselves until later in life. Some conditions blamed on genetics are just unwelcome twists of fate. Maybe Angela Collins agrees with me on that point. But here’s where we part ways: Collins claims Xytex should have done more due diligence to learn about her sperm donor’s history. Perhaps. But then she says this: “Had they done that, we wouldn’t be here today. There needs to be measures in place by these companies to make sure that the people that are coming through the door are safe options for donor-conceived children.” We wouldn’t be here today. Because she would not have chosen that donor. And her child would not have been born. These nearly breaks me. Because a child is a child is a child, and to retroactively place blame for how that child turns out strikes me as revisionist history. When you decide to have a family, you get what you get. If your daughter or son suffers from some sort of disability, you cry for a few minutes or days, then you summon all your strength and love and get to work being a parent.

Certainly, if this company misrepresented itself or failed to properly screen its donors, this woman has a right to seek reparations. I don’t blame her for that. But what strikes me as…..distasteful, I guess… the presumption that if she’d known about the donor’s history, she wouldn’t have chosen him, and therefore she wouldn’t have this child, but rather a different one who’s not necessarily at risk of mental illness. Her child, the one at the heart of the lawsuit, wouldn’t exist.

I chose to create a family through adoption, and as a result I have three beautiful children whose genetic histories remain a mystery to me – and to them. One of them could develop schizophrenia as an adult, and I will be devastated, and SO, SO glad I did not know it would happen beforehand. Suppose I had been scared off by ambiguous risk, and missed out being mother to one of my kids? It’s the same with women impregnated by anonymous sperm. Your guy might look great on paper, but let’s be honest: so does Donald Trump. The truth is that having children is a gamble, regardless of the birth circumstances. It’s a chance you must be willing to take if you want to procreate.

I know children fathered through sperm banks, and they are smart, happy, gorgeous, kids who love their mothers. I hope they won’t develop diabetes or depression or an affinity for booze, or any other condition their bio father might have hidden from his profile. But if they do, I won’t blame their genes. We’ll see them as loved ones in need of assistance, and we’ll be glad they’re with us, regardless of who fertilized the eggs from which they grew.

9 responses to Not what I ordered! WARNING: FERTILITY RANT AHEAD

  1. Bonnie Scott Edwards says:

    And this is a child they have lived with and (I hope) loved for almost a decade?! How could they even imagine their lives without that child. And, just wondering, don’t know partner donated the egg but how much testing has she done into her genetic history?

    • tricia says:

      ACK. Good point, hadn’t even thought of that. Would my parents have chosen to have me if they knew then that Alzheimer’s runs in our family? Thanks for chiming in, sister.

  2. Tracy Miller says:

    This is the EXACT topic of the most recent Lisa Scottoline book, except that it turns into a mystery. But it starts with the premise that the sperm donor is a serial killer. Hot ethical topic right now, but I agree with you. People are a mystery and genes present in a variety of ways and while screening for devastating physical illnesses that are almost sure to develop such as Huntington’s Disease and Tay Sachs seem reasonable, screening for “tendencies” seems just wrong.

    • tricia says:

      Agreed. It’s such a gray area… makes me uncomfortable. I’ll check out the book. Are you reading it right now? xo

      • Tracy Miller says:

        I already read it. I was hoping for something more socially relevant, but it really did devolve into a mystery about whether the sperm donor was a serial killer – not my preferred genre, but the beginning was interesting.

  3. Valle says:

    There have been cases where parents have sued their doctors for “wrongful birth” when they had a child with Down syndrome — claiming that if the docs had done the testing, they would have had an abortion. And they make these claims while their child is playing happily by their side! I will never comprehend that.
    I wonder where they got the idea that there are guarantees in life, or that they should be entitled to an easy breezy trip through 80 years or whatever. Ugh

    • tricia says:

      Right? I mean, I would like ages 75-85 to be a little bit easy breezy….but the rest of it? Suck it up, buttercup. xoxo

    • tricia says:

      Thanks for reading, Sheila. Love readers who get me!!

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