Assisted Baran Article

Thoughts on Donor Insemination

by Annette Baran


I knew vaguely that AID – artificial insemination by donors as it was then called – existed but we, in the adoption field had no understanding of the issues involved. Let’s date my ignorance, and I believe that of most of my colleagues, as late as the late 70’s, early 80’s (of the last century- feels weird to say that).

My personal awareness began when a couple who had a daughter born to them applied to adopt a second child. In our initial interview, they raved about their child, and how her birth had enriched their life. When I asked about their fertility problems in conceiving a second child, the wife suddenly became stone-faced silent, staring down at her hands clenched in her lap. The husband reluctantly admitted to being sterile, and that their daughter was the product of donor insemination. It was, he said, a deep secret shared with no one; not their families, not even the pediatrician. They felt, however, that they had to be honest with the adoption agency and assumed we would keep their secret confidential. Naïve me, after assuring them their secret was safe with me, I asked them why they didn’t go the same route this second time, since they had such success the first time. They both were silent for a while, and finally, from deep in his gut, the husband managed to say with amazing succinctness, “if it can’t be mine, I don’t want it to be hers either.” His wrenching emotion was so unexpected and powerful that I could feel the hairs on my neck standing up.

This was the beginning of my involvement and interest in donor insemination, and decision to interview as many people affected by it as possible ---no easy task given the shroud of secrecy that existed. When I did a search of the literature to find relevant articles and opinions of experts, I found NONE relating to human beings. Let me repeat that, not even one article. I found a lot of literature available from the world of animal husbandry. I learned more than I needed to know about the cows and the bulls. Those experts kept impeccable records because the price of meat was dependent on their expertise in breeding. However, when the human breeding experts made that leap from bulls to humans they threw all the records away. As opposed to adoption which was hard to keep totally secret, donor insemination offered the possibility of a complete cover up, and that is the route they chose.

Now, after all of that introduction, I have reached the point of my point of view. The world of donor insemination in human beings started with secrets and lies and has never really moved away from that stance in the United States. Most importantly it began without any rules or regulations, without any governmental oversight, without codes or laws. No one really knows how large that industry is. How many donor offspring are born annually is anybody’s guess. We have now added egg donor offspring, embryo adoptions, again without any laws or regulations. We have taken the business out of the doctor’s office in rural America and moved it into fertility clinics, but there are no rules about how many times a man may donate his sperm, or a woman have her eggs harvested. College newspapers offer large sums to coeds who are brainy and beautiful. There is a thriving business for surrogates who will gestate for others. Outsourcing is not only related to high tech industries, but now includes a surrogate industry in India.

Now that we know so much more about genetics and its importance these lies and secrets become even more immoral and amoral. Other countries have regulations in place that dictate the number of donations permitted, the information on file, the money that may change hands, and the ability of the offspring to gain information about and access to their identity.

It is time we do something about the sorry state of affairs in this country. In our county, state and federal government, we have boards that regulate hundreds of areas of operation. How did these laws come into existence? I suspect that the people working in these areas, and the people they were serving wanted protection, and they exerted enough pressure to enact legislation.

And so it becomes incumbent upon people like you to start doing something now. It may not be easy, but it can be done. This is a time when people are less secretive, more accepting about alternative family building and beginning to practice openness similar to open adoption. Being the old dowager of this world, I feel comfortable in passing it on to you and looking forward to watching your success in bringing about important changes.