My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Aaron Ruse Sr. who was born in Virginia circa 1764. I know the name of his son and his son and his son and so on down to my own father. I know the names of their brothers and sisters. I know the names of their children. I know where most of these family members were born and where most of them died.
There is a house in Loudon County, Virginia that is called the John Ruse House, where Aaron Ruse’s grandson John—my great-great-grandfather—lived. I have seen this house.
With a little effort, I could find the name of Grandpa Aaron’s father and where he came from in England and could likely stretch it further back to France where they were Huguenots and came to so much grief from my Catholic brother Cardinal Richelieu.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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My mother is a Luman descended from Kasers and Balches and in Marblehead, Massachusetts there still stands the Balch House, the oldest freestanding house in America. I have seen this house, too.
There is a kind of comfort in all this, to know where you came from, what stock, your kin, the land they walked and worked, and the houses where they lived, where they fought. The point is that I know.
There is pride in ancestry even if you can only go back to grandfathers or great-grandfathers and no further. But what if you did not even know the name of your father?
It was reported a few days ago that Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana vetoed a bill on gestational surrogacy that has caused at least a mini-eruption of outrage and served to elevate a vitally important issue that goes largely unreported and quite frankly undebated, too.
Gestational surrogacy is a messy business. There are many kinds: gestational surrogacy and egg donation, gestational surrogacy and sperm donation, gestational surrogacy and embryo donation, and others.
Consider this definition of gestational surrogacy and embryo donation: “A surrogate is inseminated using donor embryo. Such embryos may be available when others undergoing IVF have embryos left over, which they opt to donate to others. With this method, the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the intended parents and genetically unrelated to the surrogate.”
That’s right. The closest this lucky kid ever gets to blood relatives is never. And they do this deliberately in order to please adults. No other reason.
Who could object to fulfilling an adult desire to have children? Who could object to giving life to babies? Well, for starters, some of those babies, now grown, object.
A young woman named Alana Newman who was conceived from an anonymous donor has made it her life’s work to stop gestational surrogacy. All she knows about her father is the color of his hair and that he was a doctor. But even this is new for she thought he was a musician and an artist. In fact, Alana spent huge parts of her young life playing guitar and taking an art degree, all because she wondered if this made her more like him, that gaping hole in her life that should be called father.
The gestational surrogacy industry is massive, generating $3.3 billion per year. No one knows for sure, but estimates range between 30,000 and 60,000 children are born this way each year, by science and not by sex, except for masturbation.
What is largely unknown, ignored or mocked is the effect on donor-conceived children of being deliberately created through an exchange of money, through a marketplace where hair color and athletic prowess are picked from catalogues, and where fathers are unknown, unknowable, gone. Gone, too, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the family that generally comes with being born. What is the effect on such a child when he discovers this?
For the most part, we do not know and most folks don’t really care. If the child discovers this at all it’s usually by accident or when the family breaks apart. “You know, Johnny. Your father is not really your father. Your father was donor 2256 at the fertility clinic across town. You want to know who he is. Sorry. You’ll never know.”
When these children do find out their true origin, their worlds turn sideways and sends many of them skidding into a lifetime of serious problems. Some of them knew something was up all along because they did not seem like anyone else in the family. They may have looked like mom but nothing whatsoever like dad. Alana sensed she was treated differently from her biologically conceived sister. She didn’t know why until her conception was revealed to her.
Elizabeth Marquardt and two colleagues conducted the first ever study of children created this way and what they found is not at all surprising and profoundly sad.
They repeat a June 2008 Newsweek story of a woman who sought out the man whose sperm she used to become pregnant. The man visited the home where she had raised their son now ten. “When [the mother] told her son that she had tracked down his donor dad, ‘he lit up,’ she says, then burst into tears. For years, [the boy] had kept a ‘daddy box’ under his bed filled with special handmade items—a painted rock, an angel ornament with his photo in it. Finally, just weeks before his 10th birthday, he had someone to give it to. ‘I’ve always wanted a dad,’ he said.”
Read that without crying, you can’t, then multiply your tears by a few hundred thousand or more and you have a slight understanding of this global problem.
According to the Marquardt study, “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” these children are deeply harmed by what has happened to them.
- Twenty-one percent of donor offspring have had trouble with the law before the age of 25.
- Twenty-one percent say they have been unable to control their use of alcohol or other substances.
- Forty-five percent said the circumstances of their conception bother them.
The study found that for donor-conceived offspring “family relationships are more often characterized by confusion, tension, and loss.” And “young adults conceived through sperm donation experience profound struggles with their origins and identities.”
Donor-conceived children worry later about inadvertently meeting and falling in love with a sibling unknown to them. After all, some donors are the fathers of hundreds, even thousands, of children.
One common theme with the donor conceived is their intense desire to know where they come from. There are medical reasons for knowing since many conditions or diseases are inherited and these children will never know. But there are other more profound reasons.
Jennifer Lahl’s documentary Anonymous Father’s Day features a young woman who said, “I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I look like. I don’t know who I came from. I know my father is Jewish, so there is a whole family history that is probably painful and beautiful. I want to know that story. I want my children to know.”
Advocates for donor-conceived children argue convincingly that the focus on surrogacy is never on the children but only on the desire of the adults to have children, and the adults are quite willing to violate the human rights of these children in order to buy them.
Robert Oscar Lopez, who runs the blog English Manif, is a bi-sexual man raised by lesbians and now married with children who leads a campaign for children’s rights and calls for an end to gestational surrogacy. He believes it is a violation of human rights to deliberately create a child without a father, and is especially outraged by same-sex couples doing this because same-sex relationships are inherently unstable and therefore dangerous for children.
Donor-conceived children point out the industry is a form of slavery since children are bought and sold with genes that promise blond hair and blue eyes going to the highest bidders. They call it the commodification of human life, something the left ought to object to but largely doesn’t.
Others call it slavery for another reason. A young woman listing herself says, “Just to let you know, if chosen I will undeniably be the best GS mother…. If you wish me to stay bedridden that is what I will do. I am carrying your child and want you to have the optimal experience as well.” Just because it is seemingly voluntary does not mean it is not slavery. And note the bedridden woman is culpable in the buying and selling of another human being.
When Alana Newman stepped out to complain about this, she expected cheers, especially from the left. She got jeers instead. She says, “The method of my conception was humiliating and dehumanizing enough in itself but people are extremely vicious and use intimidating tactics.”
She said a commenter on a blog told a friend of hers, “Too bad you weren’t in the load your dad flushed down the toilet.” What Newman found was not compassion but a billion dollar business and men and women intent on buying babies.
Advocates say the problem is now global. In the early days a donor might have been one of the students at the local medical school and a donor-conceived child could conceivably write letters to those who went to that school in hopes of finding her dad. Now, the sperm just as likely may come from Denmark and the egg from Russia.
Many countries have regulations for this sort of thing; limiting the number of eggs that can be fertilized, for instance, or requiring a registry that children may access to find their fathers. But the U.S. is wide open. It is the Wild West. There are no regulations, none, seriously, none. And no way a child can find her father except writing letters and scouring the Internet. One plaintive Internet cry of the heart simply said, “Are you XYTEX Donor 2035?”
There is a Donor Sibling Registry that has been fairly successful in linking up siblings and even fathers and their children but it is entirely voluntary. Many, perhaps most, of these sperm donors do not want to be known. One donor-conceived woman finally found her donor father. After repeated attempts to contact him all she got back was threats of legal action. She was rejected once prior to birth and then this second shattering time.
One man featured in Lahl’s Anonymous Father’s Day is one of hundreds created at mid-century by a notorious fertility doctor in Great Britain. He discovered his origin in middle age though he said he knew all along there was a monstrous lie in the family. He just did not know what it was. He wrote a book about his search called Bio-Dad. He said that to pretend blood does not matter goes against human nature though the surrogacy industry insists that blood does not matter, that the donor-conceived have no need to know their own blood. The author of Bio-Dad asks who can possibly believe your relationship with a co-worker would not change immediately if you happened to discover she was also your sister.
The war over the human person is closer to the beginning than to the middle. We do not know what monstrosities await us this century and beyond but we know they’re coming. We must thank God for the single institution that stands as a bulwark against all these monstrous notions, who always gets it exactly right, who stands foursquare for the human person even though the whole world hates Her for it. For the life of me I cannot understand how any religious person cannot cling to the Barque of Peter and never let go.