In 1989, a married doctor I will call “S. K.” did a favor for a lesbian colleague: He donated his sperm so that she and her partner could have a child. At the time, it seemed simple enough.
Last month, he learned that there is nothing simple about fathering a child, especially by sperm donation.
Unlike most sperm donors, who are anonymous, S. K. not only knew the recipients, his name was included on the child’s birth certificate. The goal was to “give the boy an identity.”
At the same time, S. K. “orally agreed he would not have any rights or benefits in the child’s upbringing.” That seems pretty straightforward. Nonetheless, over the years, S. K. sent the boy “money, presents and cards signed ‘Dad’ and ‘Daddy,’” spoke to him on the phone a few times.
When the boy was four, the women moved across the country, and contact between S. K. and his son dropped off.
Until it was time for the boy to go to college, that is. Then, as you probably guessed, the boy’s mother reestablished contact—at least long enough to sue S. K. for child support.
S. K. says that he did not anticipate being sued after all these years. He probably also did not anticipate that a judge would side with the child’s mother and order him to pay support. But that is what happened last month.
According to S. K.’s lawyer, what happened to her client is a case of “no good deed goes unpunished.” She’s wrong.
While her client’s intentions—to give the boy “an identity”—may have been good, there is nothing good about the arrangement that made this case possible.
Every year, an estimated 30,000 children are born after their mothers are artificially inseminated. In most cases, the sperm donors are anonymous.
If you think about it, the process bears an uncomfortable, but undeniable, resemblance to the way racehorses and other livestock are produced: Sperm donors are selected on the basis of desirable characteristics and can father many offspring. These offspring, in turn, will have no connection to their fathers or their siblings.
This works fine for livestock since stallions and bulls do not have parental involvement with their offspring. But, to state the obvious, people are not livestock. Children grow up best when both parents are present. Children are dependent on their parents for far longer than colts and calves.
What’s more, no cow has ever pondered its ancestry or wondered about its kin. But people do, which is why children produced by artificial insemination feel that something is missing and often look for the father and siblings they never knew.
S. K.’s story is a metaphor for the folly of all such arrangements that seek to reduce procreation to pure biology. It is folly because procreation is so much more. God’s plan is to propagate the human race through the mutual love and self-giving between a husband and a wife.
And even those who do not buy the Christian view of procreation should at least know that people’s best-laid plans often go astray, as is the case with S. K.
When it comes to sperm donation, things do get complicated, because people are not livestock—they are people.