Defending My Donor Egg & Donor Sperm Family – Part 3
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This is the last of an ongoing three part series whereby I defend my family planning choices, and thus my children, against misguided perceptions, disparaging comments, and a threat to other families whose reproductive rights are being called into question. For those of you who have been following, you know that my first installment defended my family against comments made by the general public in response to the building of a new infertility clinic in one Illinois suburb. And my second challenged the study findings of Elizabeth Marquardt, the editor of FamilyScholars.org and vice president for family studies and the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. Well, Mrs. Marquardt is back at it. She also has a few accomplices in her crusade, Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture in California, and David Prentice, a professor with the Christian faith-based organization, Family Research Group. As you may have guessed by the last gentleman’s credentials, this piece will strive to defend third party reproduction against their arguments, some of which include religious perspective. (No sense in ending on a light note, eh?!)
*Before continuing, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not attacking nor attempting to discredit any religious doctrine, perspectives, or rituals. I am not a student of the Bible and am unqualified to speak in specifics or to quote scripture. I am merely responding to accusations and allegations that third party reproduction violates Christian sensibilities.
To review where we last left off with Mrs. Marquardt, she pioneered a questionnaire style study comparing the psychological experiences and overall satisfaction scores between donor offspring, adoptees, and bio-raised adults. In her 140 page document, (http://www.familyscholars.org/assets/Donor_FINAL.pdf) she dances around the final data and statistical analysis, substituting conjecture and devoting a disproportionately large portion focusing on the few negative responses received. If you recall, in the end she could only report a 3% upbringing and family dynamic dissatisfaction rate among the donor offspring respondents. Yes, that translates to a 97% approval rate among the donor offspring respondents, which she glosses over and fails to illuminate in her conclusions and discussions. I guess the 140 pages of rhetoric were indeed necessary to bury an impressive outcome like that.
This time Mrs. Marquardt is taking on the issue of surrogacy. Mrs. Marquardt asserts, “As mothers ourselves, we reject the exploitation and commodification of women’s bodies happening right now in the U.S. and around the world.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-marquardt/surrogate-motherhood-_b_2024435.html) Yet, when referring to the particular court case cited here, we see that she employs her usual deception by omission tactic by highlighting one very bizarre case and presenting it as the norm within third party reproductive practices. The biological mother discussed in the cited article was, by her own admission, neither exploited nor treated as a paid commodity for her participation in the scenario. This woman alleges that she entered into a pregnancy agreement with a “good friend” with the understanding that they would co-parent the child; though she admits she did not even know this “good friend” well enough to know he is homosexual with a life partner. That’s not the only suspicious part of this story. Why would she agree to conceive with donor eggs despite a lack of an infertility diagnosis if she truly believed she would be co-parenting her own child and retaining 50% of parental rights? And who paid for the extremely expensive acquisition of donor eggs and subsequent in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure? She also entered this purported agreement without a legal contract. And although, as Mrs. Marquardt points out, “in Texas, as in all states, the birth mother is the legal mother, even if donor eggs were used, so long as there is not a valid surrogacy contract” this woman lost primary custody of the twins. What’s more, the father was granted a restraining order against the plaintiff, and she is allowed “just two hours daily supervised visitation. The door must remain open, she cannot bring a friend to help her hold the twins, and she is not allowed to breast feed — she is not even allowed to take their picture.” To clarify, the law is on the side of the plaintiff. However, she has severe legal injunctions placed upon her and her parental rights. What is Mrs. Marquardt not telling us here? Is this the best example she could muster to make her case: a woman who naively, or so she claims, enters into a pregnancy agreement without legal representation and who has been deemed unfit by the courts to even be alone with the children? No, it’s the only one she could find, thus she had to use it and again, gloss over the obvious. There’s no third party controversy here, just insanity. And I assure you, this is not the norm.
As mentioned above, Mrs. Marquardt is not the only opponent of reproductive technology. In February, researchers from Christian groups, as well as other family advocacy and women’s groups, gave presentations to the Senate health committee claiming that commercial surrogacy exploits and endangers women. (http://cjonline.com/news/2013-02-20/topeka-sperm-donor-mentioned-senate-hearing) Here, we see the same concepts being alleged; particularly that third party reproduction treats women and babies as commodities. David Prentice states that third party reproduction has led to “areas of ethical concern and to cavalier views of nascent human life and of women, including stockpiling of ‘excess’ human embryos, and instrumental use of women for buying of their eggs or use of their wombs as surrogates.” I believe I adequately addressed the reimbursement issue for time, effort, and discomfort involved in assisted reproduction in the first installment of this blog series. Mr. Prentice addressed the Senate health committee on behalf of his Christian-based group, while the committee also heard from Dana John Onifer who questions whether in vitro fertilization (IVF) is “good, right and Christ-honoring treatment”. Thus, I’d like to briefly address my perspective regarding religious scrutiny of third party reproduction.
First, I am curious as to why it is assumed that gamete donors and/or gestational surrogates are in exploited relationships with intended parents. As discussed in my first blog under this title, the inclusion criteria is extremely difficult to meet and the duration of the process alone offers more than ample opportunity to annul the agreement. I can understand how an outside observer may view this transaction as simply that, a business transaction. But to both the intended parents and the donor, be it of gametes or womb, this is not the case at all. Donating gametes or gestational services is the utmost in human compassion; it is a supremely selfless act of giving of oneself to another less fortunate; it is more than just a life saving event, it is a life giving one. And often times the donor or surrogate is a dear friend or even a family member who requests no reimbursement what-so-ever. This level of altruism is not consistent with Christian principles? Jesus would object to reaching out to one another in such a manner? The basic dynamics of any donation situation dictates that one party is the giver and the other the taker; that doesn’t mean the recipient is taking advantage. And if religious groups still insist on assuming a negative perspective, isn’t it possible that donors and surrogates are exploiting the intended parents, that our bone deep heartache makes us the vulnerable ones? And yet we put our faith, love, and vulnerability out there. And instead of exploiting us, good people, dare I say sainted people, come to our aid. That sounds like Christ-like behavior to me.
Secondly, it is undeniable that IVF and third party reproduction does raise certain ethical quandaries. I have hundreds of sleepless nights and whispered prayers under my belt as testimony to that. However, advancing technologies are improving success rates and even eliminating the need to conceive more than will be placed in the uterus. But even in the commonplace case of excess embryos, intended parents have options regarding the outcome of those embryos. When managed properly under the guidance of a skilled embryologist, those embryos retain their right to life at a success rate that is often on par with the pregnancy rate of naturally conceived embryos. And if a family does not desire to pursue further pregnancies, they often donate them, completely free of any financial gain, to other infertile couples. Again, I assert that is good, Christ-honoring behavior.
Lastly, an all too frequent argument that I have heard from Christian advocates is that third party reproduction is selfish. The argument goes something like this: I am so sorry for your losses [miscarriages], but maybe this is God’s plan for you. Don’t you think it is selfish to create more children you were obviously not meant to have when there are so many underprivileged children in the world needing to be adopted? (No, I am not exaggerating. Ask any infertile woman or couple; they’ve heard it, more than once.) And in all honesty, I can see the validity of that point. But, if that is true, everyonewho conceives their own children, regardless of method or genetic connection, is selfish. By this rationale, any intended pregnancy while there are parentless children in the world displeases God. By this rationale, the most selfish people in America are the Duggars. They obviously have the willingness, love, resources, and patience of five Jobs to take on two baseball teams of children. And not a one of them is adopted. Yet interestingly enough, this family is on a Christian pedestal; they are a beacon of Christian family values. Why do Christian groups love them so much, but I am selfish for wanting to nurture a child into existence from beginning to end, even when that means I need to accept the helping hand of a stranger?
Of course there will always be examples of mismanagement. Nearly any situation lends itself to scrutiny and manipulative tactics; third party reproduction is by no means an exception. And sadly, we live in a society that likes to sensationalize the worst of examples, especially emotionally charged ones, to be presented as norms. I don’t like irresponsible infertility patients (Octo-mom ring a bell?) or unscrupulous infertility clinics (Octo-mom’s infertility team) any more than anyone else. In fact, such deplorable examples make it even harder for me to defend my choices and my family. But here’s the thing, as much as I judge those examples, as much as I advocate for better, in the end there is only one final judge from a Christian perspective. And I stand firm on my personal choices. I am willing to meet that final judge knowing in my heart that my husband and I did take an ethical path, we did respect life in the utmost, we did accept a loving human-to-human donation, and we bestowed that same degree of love upon our children. Our children are being raised with the Christian principles of altruism, love, gratitude, and tolerance. Yep, I feel pretty confident in saying they were created in God’s likeness with the assistance of God’s children. Personally, I don’t think that displeases Him.
-Kelley Wendel, RN, BSN, & most importantly, MOM
Kelley Wendel is the author of Birds of a Different Feather, a children’s book designed to instill aprideful sense of self and celebrate family inclusion regardless of genetic history. Birds of a Different Feather is endorsed and recommended by Parents Via Egg Donation (PVED), Donor Offspring: Books for Children, Creating A Family, and Adoption.com. To learn more about the author and the book, visit: www.kelleywendel.tateauthor.com Follow me on Twitter and Facebook; links available through the website.