Thursday, June 5, 2008

Anonymous sperm donation

Here is a valid argument:

  1. At least barring commensurate reasons, it is wrong to act in such a way that one will acquire a basic and serious human responsibility that one does not plan on fulfilling. (Premise)
  2. If one consensually reproduces, then one acquires a basic and serious human responsibility of parenthood for the offspring. (Premise)
  3. Anonymous sperm donors consensually reproduce the offspring that comes from their donated sperm. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, anonymous sperm donors acquire the basic and serious human responsibility of parenthood for the offspring. (By (2) and (3))
  5. Anonymous sperm donors typically do not plan to fulfill their parental responsibilities towards the offspring coming from their donated sperm. (Premise)
  6. Anonymous sperm donors typically lack reasons for the donation commensurate with the acquiring of unfulfilled parental responsibilities. (Premise)
  7. Therefore, typically, sperm donors act wrongly. (By (1), (4), (5) and (6))

I suspect it's sound, too.

14 comments:

Tim said...

Alex,
Here's a response:

1) should read:

1') At least barring commensurate reasons, it is wrong to act in such a way that one will acquire a basic and serious human responsibility that one does not plan on fulfilling UNLESS ONE HAS GOOD REASON TO THINK THAT ONE WILL BE RELIEVED OF THAT RESPONSIBILITY.

Then the opponent will claim that sperm donors and individuals who receive sperm donations are under an agreement that the sperm donor will have no obligation to the woman who receives the donation of the child born. They agree, that is, that the donor will be relieve of that obligation.

Tim

Alexander R Pruss said...

Paternal obligations are owed primarily to the child, not to the mother. Perhaps the mother can relieve the donor of obligations to herself, but she cannot relieve him of obligations to the child.

Now, one might think that one is relieved of parental responsibility when one has good reason to think that someone else will competently fulfill it. But there are three problems here.

A. It is not at all clear that the typical sperm donor has good reason to think someone else will competently fulfill his responsibilities. He knows just about nothing about the family structure within which his child will live. He does not know, for instance, whether the child will receive a good moral, religious and scientific education (note that all three should be real issues to the donor no matter what the donor's views are; for instance, if the donor is an atheist, he should be concerned about the possibility that his child will be indoctrinated into theism). He probably does not even know if the child will be raised by the mother and someone else or just by the mother (for if the child is raised just by the mother, then probably nobody is fulfilling the paternal obligation; for typically the mother cannot fulfill both the maternal and the paternal obligations, being only one person).

B. Merely "good reason" in the case of an obligation as important as the parental one is too weak. It is certainly would not be acceptable for parents to abandon their child simply because they have "good reason" to think Social Services will find good adoptive parents for the child.

C. But most importantly, the parental obligation is not just an obligation to ensure the child is taken care of and educated. It is also an obligation to take care of and educate the child oneself. Granted, in tragic circumstances where one is unable to take care of and educate one's child, it is permissible to give one's child over for adoption, after doing one's best to ascertain that the adoptive parents will do better than one would have at taking care of and educating the child. However, it is not permissible, barring commensurate reasons, deliberately to place oneself in such tragic circumstances. But the typical sperm donor is deliberately placing himself in such tragic circumstances.

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way, the first comment brings up an interesting point. I have the feeling that a lot of fathers paying child support resentfully feel that they are paying it to the mother... (And maybe in some cases they are, if the mother fails to spend all of it on the child, but that's an abuse.)

Mark Lyndon said...

The available evidence seems to suggest that donor-conceived children are just as well looked after as other children, if not better. Parenthood is not equivalent to a genetic connection to the children (if it did, then your father's identical twin could be deemed to have the same responsibilities as your father).

Donor conception is typically a long process, and often expensive. Would-be parents generally have to go counselling to assess their suitability as parents - no-one gets pregnant because of a drunken one night stand or because of contraception failure.

There are valid arguments to be made against donor anonymity and donor conception secrecy, and several countries have ended donor anonymity, but there is very little support for the ending of gamete donation itself.

regards, Mark (a sperm donor in the UK in the 80's)

Anonymous said...

"I have the feeling that a lot of fathers paying child support resentfully feel that they are paying it to the mother... (And maybe in some cases they are, if the mother fails to spend all of it on the child, but that's an abuse.)"

A huge part of the point of child support is to provide housing. That provides it for the woman as well. So even if the woman isn't abusing the situation, he's paying her as much as the kids. Sometimes if there can be a man living with her in that house too, he can be helping to support another man!

Some people can't have children on their own. You want to declare that wrong. It is a lack of charity.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mark:

Genetic connection is not the same as genetic commonality. For x to be the genetic father of y does not simply require that half of y's genetic material be the same as x's, but it requires that half of y's genetic material come from x. Thus, the uncle counterexample fails.

In regard to the statistics, I don't think that's good enough. One would need to be in tragic circumstances before it became permissible to hand one's child over for adoption by a couple that one did not select oneself, even if one knew that on the average adoptive parents selected by the agency did as well as or better than average parents (besides, the latter is a pretty low standard)? "On the average" (which is all that such studies can show) is just not good enough when it is a matter of one's parental responsibilities.

I further suspect that in our diverse society most people are going to be in a position where only a relatively small minority of couples would provide the kind of moral, religious and academic education that one approves of. For instance, in the U.S., the religious aspect will by itself ensure this. Suppose the donor is non-Christian. Then the donor ought to have an objection to having the child raised as a Christian. But most couples in the U.S. are Christian. Suppose the donor is a Protestant Christian. Then the donor ought to have an objection to having the child raised as anything but a Protestant Christian (i.e., as a Catholic or Orthodox Christian, or as a non-Christian). But only a minority of U.S. couples are Protestant Christians. Suppose the donor is a Catholic Christian. Then the donor ought to object to the child being raised as anything other than a Catholic, but only a minority of U.S. couples are Catholic.

When in addition to religion one adds moral convictions as well as convictions about academic education, one really has very good reason to think that one's child will be raised in ways that one would take to be wrong.

In an emergency situation, say that of an unexpected pregnancy in circumstances of poverty, one might take the risk. But the organ donor is not in such a situation.

I mean, think about it this way. If you have children, how many couples are there whom you would trust to raise your children? It seems very likely that for most people this would be only a small minority, and for some a very small minority.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It is true that child support can pay for the mother's housing. But it pays for it for the sake of the child's welfare. It isn't good for a child to have a homeless mom.

It's not wrong to be unable to have children of one's own. It is wrong to act in ways that result in one's child being raised by another, except in tragic circumstances.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mark:

Observe, also, the following tension. One way to argue out of the claim that there are paternal responsibilities is to say that being the biological parent is not a big deal. But if one says that, then by the same token it should not be a big deal for the mother that she be the biological parent of the children. However, generally it is important for the mother to be biologically involved. That is why, I suspect, many couples prefer using donated sperm to adopting a completely genetically unrelated child. (There may also be pragmatic reasons of wait-lists and costs.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here's an interesting thing. While I talk of "anonymous sperm donation", the problem I highlight isn't so much with the anonymity of the donor to the recipient, as with the anonymity of the recipient to the donor. It's just that the two tend to go together. I talk of "anonymous" sperm donation here to distinguish it from cases where, say, a couple ask someone they know for donation, and he knows them well enough to trust them to raise his child well. In those cases, my argument is somewhat weaker, though point C in my first comment still applies.

Anonymous said...

"It is wrong to act in ways that result in one's child being raised by another, except in tragic circumstances."

So giving your child up for adoption is wrong. Interesting.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Note: "except in tragic circumstances". Unfortunately, tragic circumstances are not uncommon in this fallen world.

Giving up one's child for adoption is a tragedy. For one to be justified in being a part of this tragedy, the alternative has to be proportionately tragic.

Maybe "tragic" is too strong and melodramatic. But I think it gives the right idea here.

Tim said...

Hey Alex,

I think that your reply to my comment was really good. You say, correctly, I think, that the paternal obligation is owed to the child, not the donor recipient. You say the mother can relieve the donor of obligations to herself, but not obligations to the child. I wonder about that claim. It does seem like there are cases where a parental guardian has the ability to relieve individuals of obligations to her children. Is there a reason why she can't relieve a donor of his parental obligation?

Here are two examples. I think it would be unsatisfactory if, upon confrontation from his naturally procreated son, a dead-beat dad were to say: "I don't know why you are mad at me; your mother relieved me of my duties shortly after you were born." That said, it doesn't strike me so unsatisfactory if, upon confrontation from his sperm donated son, a donor were to say: "I don't know why you are mad at me; your mother relieved me of my duties before she even received the donation." Unfortunately, I'm having trouble giving a reason for why these cases strike me differently. But don't they strike you differently?

Best,
Tim

Alexander R Pruss said...

Tim,

1. I am not sure there is that significant a difference between the donor and the dead-beat dad, at least if in both cases the mother will be raising the child alone. I think the feeling of difference may come from two sources. The first is that, I think, in our society we assume that sex particularly benefits the male. (Thus, we are more upset by a 30-year-old male teacher having sex with a 14-year-old female student than by a 30-year-old female teacher having sex with a 14-year-old male student.) Thus, where conception resulted from sex, we may feel that the man owes some kind of payment in exchange for pleasure received, and the risk of incurring child support may be such a payment. The second is that we've grown used to sperm donation.

2. I think your that parents do have the authority to make life-changing decisions on behalf of their children is a powerful one. But I doubt that releasing the other parent from parental responsibilities is within this authority. Here's one reason to think this. Parental responsibility is more basic than parental authority. Parents have authority over their children only because they have responsibility for their children, and moreover their authority is limited insofar as they are appropriately exercising their responsibility for their children. Thus, it seems to me that the authority answers to the responsibility, and the authority does not extend over the responsibility. I know this isn't a very precise argument, but it is a strong intuition I feel. It is related to the fact that, say, the president cannot release anyone from the obligation to obey the Constitution, because presidents derive their authority from the Constitution.

3. We can imagine a case where a sober parent kicks the alcoholic spouse out of the house and says: "I can better take care of the children by myself than together with you, so the children are all my responsibility from now on." But I don't think we want to say that the alcoholic parent is now free and clear, entirely off the hook. Here is a thought experiment as to why. Suppose a couple days after this, the alcoholic parent joins AA, and goes sober for about a year. The parent who kicked out the alcoholic, however, over the year becomes a physically abusive drug-addict, and refuses to feed the children. The children come knocking on the door of the formerly-alcoholic parent, begging for shelter and help. The former alcoholic tells them to go Social Services, because parental responsibilities have been terminated.

Clearly, something very badly has gone wrong. The alcoholic parent is not free of parental responsibilities simply by having been relieved of them. Rather, it is better that while he or she is engaging in alcoholic behavior he or she not strive to fulfill the parental responsibilities that the other parent can better fulfill. But he or she is not off the hook.

4. I think this example suggests that we should distinguish release from responsibility from cases where one has a responsibility, but one ought not do the actions that would be a fulfillment of that responsibility. In such a case, one ought not fulfill one's responsibility--but nonetheless one has a neglected responsibility. Consequently, it is wrong, barring commensurate reason, to put oneself in the position where one ought not fulfill one's responsibility. (It would, plainly, be wrong for one parent to become an alcoholic in order to escape from parental duties, hoping that upon becoming an alcoholic the other parent or the state would relieve him or her from parental duties.)

5. Maybe here is another way of looking at it. It is not the case that the mother's authority over the children is somehow greater than the father's. While it makes some sense to suppose that one can release a subordinate from responsibilities, the idea that one can release someone who is not a subordinate is a somewhat dubious one.

Marty said...

There are an awful lot of people out there who are content to accept and even create tragic situations for children, if it somehow meets their own adult needs.

There is a large and growing base of DC customers who use donor conceptions not because of any infertility or medical reasons, but purely to ensure that the child will not have a legal Father or Mother of his/her own. Gays and Lesbians are the fastest growing users of DC services.

Growing up without a mother or a father is a tragedy, but bad things do happen. Death, abandonment, prison, abuse, neglect, are all valid -- and tragic -- reasons that a child may wind up without a mother or a father. But gender bias? Tragic, yes... but valid?

Pathetic, in my mind. Cruel and unusual.