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…..is 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.