The Spanish Acquisition

The other day I was listening to my local
public NPR station and was introduced to a controversy that is brewing
in England. Last April, privacy laws were removed from sperm donor
companies, which means that when a child turns 18, he or she will now
be able to seek and receive the identity of their donor parent
[something that adopted persons in most of the states in the U.S. are
still unable to do]. This law also affects egg donors as well.

As
a result of this privacy removal, donations have dropped so
dramatically that some sperm banks are facing a major shortage and
others have seen their reserves used up completely.
Infertile
U.K. couples are now going to other countries to seek egg and sperm
donors, and this brings up another interesting facet of the ethnical
quandaries surrounding this issue. One of the countries where privacy
is still held for egg and sperm donors is Spain. British couples are
rushing to Spain to receive donors but they are requesting donor sperm
and eggs from people who will be able to simulate a child that looks
like the parents – and so are requesting donor eggs and sperm from
light skinned, Anglo-looking donors.

As
it was pointed out in the MPR report, in Spain, the “average” Spanish
citizen is not likely to look anything like a Brit. The result is that
clinics are using special marketing strategies that might appeal to
European women willing to donate their eggs. According to The Guardian,
“Spanish clinics have begun to advertise among eastern European
immigrant communities for potential egg donors to help meet the leap in
demand from British fertility tourists.

 

"One
clinic has distributed ads in Russian and Polish as they seek tall,
fair-skinned or fair haired European donors who look similar to their
clients. They show a young woman with a pierced belly button and tatoo
peeking out from above the belt of her jeans. ‘You are young and you
have thousands of them,’ they say. ‘Become an egg donor.’"

 

This
infertility business is tricky stuff. First, it was the uproar over the
“test tube” babies and the whole world was concerned about what a
person conceived as a “test tube” child would feel about their
conception. And recently in my hometown newspaper, there have been
articles discussing the families who are linked together through
donated sperm. In one particular case, it was discovered that one
particular donor had resulted in a dozen children so far. These
families have been in contact and they even get together so their
children, all half siblings, can get to know each other. Web sites have
been set up, like the Donor Sibling Registry, so that these half
siblings can find each other.

 

I
can’t help but wonder what other ethical issues are going to come up
for families who are created through alternative ways. It’s already
been discovered that several donors have passed on genetic diseases to
their many offspring. Some families are meeting each other through that
sad discovery.

 

Some
of these issues have commonalities with adoption. In my work, there are
many children who have half siblings living apart from them in foster,
adoptive or biological family homes. The government has begun to
recognize the importance of these kids having information about each
other. It is not uncommon for siblings to be separated from each other
for the purposes of adoption, because so many adoptive parents want one
at a time.

 

The
whole idea of British families making a beeline for Spain, and then for
Spanish clinics to market and advertise for Easter European donors in
order to approximate race matching for future families is another issue
that I find completely fascinating. On the one hand, there seems to be
this huge surge in "colorblind" family-building yet at the same time,
there are huge markets for prospective parents who want children that
look like them racially.

 

Another
theme I see in all these areas of reproductive technology and “family
building” is this issue of privacy. Whose rights are more important?
The person who is “giving” away part of their DNA for whatever reasons,
to assist in reproductive technologies that will ultimately result in a
child? Or that child, who eventually will become an adult and will
likely want to know where they come from?

 

It’s
the same with closed and private adoption records. The first parent(s)
may have indicated on a form that they want privacy, but I believe that
many of these signatures were coerced – plus, people change their
minds. I also belive that it’s the adoption agencies that have an issue
with privacy more than most of the first parents.

 

It
boils down to a human rights issue. Does a person have the right to
know who their biological parents are? I guess for me it boils down to
the fact that in the majority of the cases, those who decide to
participate or continue a pregnancy to its fruition have the choices
regarding “privacy.” Those children born as a result have none. We are
penalizing children and we forget that they grow up to be adults one
day. Adults who have the right to know how they were conceived.

 

 It seems to me that the only people who don’t think history (genetic or otherwise) is important are the ones who can take theirs for granted.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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