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The Incredible Shrinking Father

Kay S. Hymowitz

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Artificial insemination begets children without paternity, with troubling cultural and legal consequences.

Here's a Delphic riddle for our times: When is your father not your father? Answer: when he's a sperm donor. Consider a case now before the Kansas Supreme Court. An unmarried woman in her early thirties decided that she wanted a child and asked a friend to be a sperm donor. He agreed, one thing led to another, which led to a syringe of his sperm, which led to the birth of twins. The mother says that she always intended to raise the kids alone and never wanted the friend involved in their lives. The donor says that he planned to be the twins' father in name and practice. There is no written contract. What does the contemporary Solomon do?

Well, in a Kansas trial court, Solomon rules that without a contract the twins have no father. The man who provided half of the children's genetic material has no more relationship to them than does the taxi driver who rushed their mother to the hospital when she went into labor. Now, assuming that the supreme court upholds the decision, the state of Kansas can celebrate adding two more fatherless children to its population, and Mom can rejoice by dressing her twins in bibs -- available over the Internet -- proudly announcing: my daddy's name is donor.

You'd think that we had enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births (over a third of all children are born to unmarried women, and, in most cases, the fathers will fade from the picture) and divorce (the average divorced dad sees his kids less often than he takes his car in for an oil change). But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination. This may sound a tad overheated. After all, AI has been around, by some accounts, for over a century. And the number of kids born through the procedure each year, though steadily growing, remains quite small relative to the millions of babies conceived, as we can now say completely without irony, the old-fashioned way.

But aided by a lucrative sperm-bank service industry, an increasingly unmarried consumer base, a legal profession and judiciary geared toward seeing relationships through a contractual lens, and a growing cultural preference for individual choice without limits, AI is advancing a cause once celebrated only in the most obscure radical journals: the dad-free family. There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men promotes the very male carelessness that leads a lot of women to become single mothers in the first place. And fatherless families are a delicate proposition, as AI families are discovering, since all the scientists' technology and all the lawyerly contracts can't take human nature out of human reproduction.

Read the entire article on the City Journal website (new window will open).

Posted: 20-Jun-07



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