That headline is most emphatically not the way the Commission on Parenthood’s Future promoted their recent report on a study of adults conceived through sperm donation. It’s not the angle that Ross Douthat focused on in his op-ed for the New York Times yesterday, either. Slant is everything, and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, which released the “groundbreaking report ‘My Daddy’s Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation,'” chose to highlight the more negative findings. Adults conceived through sperm donation are more likely to fear having sexual relations with someone to whom they are unknowingly related, and about half are “disturbed” that money was involved in their conception. They “struggle with the implications of their conception.”
Those are the findings that support the agenda of the organization, headed by gay marriage opponent David Blankenhorn, which is perhaps best described as applying offering intellectual support for the superiority of traditional family values. Assisted reproductive technologies aren’t high on their list. But–as is nearly always true–the survey was designed to create the responses the researchers wished to highlight. And reading the actual study presents a far more balanced picture than a quick gulp of the sound-bites.
The Institute for American Values supports, among other things, a more regulated environment for donor-assisted reproductive technologies (not necessarily a bad thing). As a result, it doesn’t ask respondents to agree or disagree with statements like “I’m glad I was born to the parents I have.” It offers, instead, “I feel confused about who is a member of my family, and who is not.” It invites respondents to offer their insecurities about their origins, and they do. The result offers even more to think about for those considering how, and if, the way we use reproductive technologies should change.
But even a study with an agenda isn’t by any means the slam dunk for regulation and limitation that it’s presented as. Only one percent or fewer of adopted or biologically conceived adults said they’d donated sperm, eggs or been a surrogate mother. A full 20 percent of those conceived through sperm donation said they had, and over 50% said they’d consider it. The implication is clear: an unusual conception may encourage people to think longer, and harder, about questions of identity, biology and family that many of us are able to dismiss. But even though the lives that spring from sperm donation may be highly examined, a large number of the people living those lives seem to willing to give others the same opportunity.
Image courtesy Yorgas Nikos, Wellcome Images, Creative Commons