Providing Alternative Ways to Genetic Knowledge and Kin
Privacy: The Rights of the Anonymous Donor
Politically, these mothers believe that children have the right to meet their genetic fathers, but they have reached this conclusion only upon realizing that sperm is not just a product but also an aspect of a person and a part of their children’s identities. Sperm donors, however, do not have to disclose their identity because our culture values the privacy and anonymity of the adult donor.18 As few donors agree to meet their offspring after they reach the age of eighteen, mothers must accept anonymity in exchange for a gamete.19 Therefore, mother and child relinquish knowledge and settle for a sketchy medical profile, despite a continued cultural belief in a tight connection among blood, kin, and family.20 Donors sever their legal, social, and moral obligation to the children their gametes create. Ultimately, however, the women seek to reconstruct genetic lineage and its relationship to identity and family for their children. Undeniably, the vast majority of women in this study would have liked to be able to contact the donors of their children.
Even those women who believe that nurture triumphs over nature underscore the importance of the donor to a child’s identity. No one mentioned future medical issues as a reason for a more open donor system. But, lacking such a system, women try to devise ways to locate the donors. Some women hope that paper trails in the donor’s file or maintaining contact with clinic personnel will someday lead to the missing person. They treat the information they have like an insurance policy they will use if their child wishes to know more or actually meet his or her genetic father. Teresa described how she laid the foundation for future detective work:
So I talked to this woman, Cindy, in the sperm bank, and she gave me the information about the donors. And I wanted a medical student for two reasons.
One, I wanted someone who, when they asked the medical questions, would understand what they were talking about. If I was going to get clean genes,
I wanted clean genes.21 Aid second, I figured if ever my baby wanted to search, it would be easier narrowing down the profession to that. … So anyway, I got all this information about this guy. And then I knew someone who worked at the university. And I said, can you give me a list of graduate students—because I knew when he would graduate from medical school. xAid I got the list—and maybe I’m wrong, maybe I didn’t write it down correctly, but I do believe I have the list of his graduating class and I very nicely wrote out the characteristics of what I had and I took the list that I had and I put it in a safe deposit box.
Another woman, Gorina, believed that local clinics should be more open to providing information not listed on forms. Because the clinic from which she had obtained the sperm she used for her first tries at insemination had run out of that donor’s sperm, she shifted temporarily to another clinic with an on-site sperm
bank. She thought that the odds were against her getting pregnant because she had been unsuccessful on numerous previous tries. But she decided to risk having less information about the donor at this new clinic rather than pass up a chance at conception. She became pregnant that month and hoped that continued personal connections to staff members would facilitate her ability to get sealed information about the donor if she should need it. For example, each year she gave the staff a letter to put into the donor’s file about the child’s progress in case he contacted the clinic wanting to know about or meet his genetic offspring: “One of my things is to leave a passive trail of information in case the donor should wish to be in touch. And I understand that they have files. . . . Also, I suppose I try to just build a connection with the individuals at the clinic. It’s probably been a couple years since I’ve been in touch with them.”2 2 In this way, she is like some adoptive parents who hope that certain clues they have will uncover a birth parent in the future.23