The legal dilemmas of erecting a wall between sperm donors and mothers.
April 16, 2007
YOU'D THINK that we have enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births and divorce. But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination, or AI.
While the number of kids born as a result of the procedure (about 1 million so far in the United States) is still quite small, AI is having a disproportionate cultural and legal effect and is advancing a cause once celebrated only in the most obscure radical journals: the dad-free family.
Today's sperm banks provide lengthy online catalogs of donors, containing such basic stats as height, hair color, eye color and education, as well as results from personality tests for an extra fee. The sophisticated marketing of sperm banks, which appeals to single women and lesbians as well as infertile married couples, has coincided with what I call the "unmarriage revolution" ... that is, the decoupling of marriage and child-rearing. The California Cryobank, the country's largest sperm bank, estimates that about 40% of its customers are unmarried women. The Sperm Bank of California says that two-thirds of its clientele are lesbian couples.
In AI's early days, doctors worked to contain the potential ambiguities of paternity by signing birth certificates with the husband's name as father. Then in 1973, California and other states adopted the Uniform Parentage Act, which proposed that a woman's husband automatically be deemed the legal father of her AI children ... assuming that he had consented to the procedure and that a doctor had performed the insemination of some other man's sperm. The donor dad was a legal cipher, just as he was a domestic one.
But with a growing number of AI cases involving single women and lesbian couples, the pretense of the donor's nonexistence is no longer tenable because there is no "other father." The issues then grow vastly more complicated: When is a sperm donor a father? Can his mother be the child's grandmother? Can a child have two mothers and no father?
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