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My daddy's name is adoption

16 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 607
On November 2, 2010, Elizabeth Marquardt testified before the Australian Senate. Her remarks included this statement: 'But I also want to make clear that - even with openness - the problems [allegations that donor-conceived children are more prone to social and legal trouble] do not completely go away. There seems to be something else about knowing that the person who raised you also deliberately denied you your other parent before you were even born'.

To those who know about donor conception, the words 'deliberately denied you your other parent' are striking. They seem to allege a wrong. This is no accident of wording, but a foreshadowing of Marquardt's agenda of condemning all donor conception on the grounds that it denies the child access to his or her biological parents. This might be a respectable position, if Marquardt didn't simultaneously praise adoption, despite the end result being the same.

In May 2010, the Institute for American Values (IAV) released 'My Daddy's Name is Donor', a report co-authored by Marquardt. This report is the basis for her involvement in donor conception and her team continues to use the report to gain an audience worldwide.

Toward the beginning of the report, the authors state their goal: 'We aim for nothing less than to launch a national and international debate on the ethics, meaning, and practice of donor conception, starting now'. At best they delude themselves. This debate has gone on for decades. IAV is merely trying to recast the ongoing debate in terms favourable to their ideology.

Other authors, including Professor Eric Blyth and Wendy Kramer, have capably criticised the ethics and methodology of the report, see My Daddy's Name is Donor: Read with caution!. My concerns centre on the report's imbalanced treatment of donor conception and hypocritical preference for adoption.

I agree with several of the report's points. As a father to three donor-conceived children with whom I'm open about their origins, I agree with the report's call for openness. I support a movement to collect and preserve biological and identifying information. I support a call for mandatory counselling and limits on the number of children conceived by a donor's gametes.

However, the report consistently mistreats donor conception, while painting adoption in a rosy light to advance an adoption-instead-of-donor-conception agenda. The report praises adoption with glowing phrases like 'adoption is a good, positive, and vital institution' or 'adoption is a child-centred institution that seeks to find parents for children who need them'. The absence of such high praise in the report for donor conception implies by its silence that it is the opposite.

Yet these evaluations of adoption wilfully ignore the parent-centric reality within the adoption industry. The authors do mention and dismiss concerns about how adoption is practiced in the real world, but proceed to continually prefer adoption in its ideal form while referring to donor conception at its worst.

Adopting the same critical attitude the authors take toward donor conception, we could criticise current adoption practice by writing something like 'adoption as widely practiced is little better than a child market, where would-be parents selfishly buy children from impoverished countries and - in the process - irrevocably separate them from their genetic parents'. Would that be a fair assessment? Hardly. Neither is the report's assessment of donor conception.

The report concludes by advising lawmakers: 'Those who support the practice of donor conception often claim it is no big deal because it is "just like" adoption. If so, then treat it like adoption'. This false dichotomy is both a straw man and alarmingly bully-like.

Because adoption places a living, breathing human being with a family, processes are employed to ensure safe placement and provide recourse if those involved are accused of wrongdoing. It makes no sense to require couples attempting to conceive to face these same processes. At the same time, the existence of differences does not change the fact that the issues for the offspring are similar. It's not 'one or the other'. Donor conception is a bit of both.

The report's insistence on framing grey issues as if they were black and white leads me to suspect an inconvenienced ideology that leads its adherents to bully non-conformists and frighten bystanders. The height of the report's ideological bullying arrives in its counsel to would-be parents. The report presses this astounding advice:

'Please consider adoption, or acceptance, or being a loving stepparent, foster parent, aunt or uncle, or community leader who works with children. There are many ways to be actively involved with raising the next generation without resorting to conceiving a child who is purposefully destined never to share a life with at least one of his or her biological parents'.

Please re-read that last sentence. The authors want us to believe that donor conception will rob the resulting child of both biological parents? This counsel is hypocritical, manipulative, and ridiculous.

Adoption, the report's favoured solution, often deprives the adopted child of 'sharing a life' with both biological parents, especially in cases of international adoption where children have little or no hope of ever reconnecting. Contrast with donor conception, where in most cases the child will 'share a life with at least one' biological parent. It is plainly hypocritical for Marquardt to condemn donor conception for severing biological ties while at the same time praising adoption as a 'good, positive, and vital institution'.

The wording of this recommendation is manipulative. It is no wonder the above sentence requires multiple readings, because it works too hard to weigh down its subject in emotional lading.

The report's suggested alternatives belittle the emotional suffering infertile couples face. This adoption-instead-of-donor-conception agenda too easily dismisses the mother's natural drive to birth and suckle her own. This counsel batters the reader with the implied pleading to choose anything other than donor conception.

Having reached a distorted, fever pitch with the bullying, the report surmounts another emotional peak with its scare tactics. On the final page of the main report, in the recommendations addressed to 'all of us', the report invokes genetic engineering and human-animal hybrids.

Introducing a new topic in one's conclusion is generally considered poor writing. But this invocation of highly-controversial issues at the final moment appears carefully calculated to paint the entire subject with borrowed controversy.

Toward its close the report asks the reader: 'Does a good society intentionally create children in this way?' Again, the phrasing is laden with false dichotomy and innuendo. Allow me to propose an alternate question, 'Do good people intentionally report in this way?' In both cases, the answer is almost certainly 'yes'.

To the report's question, I consider it good if society creates safeguards so donor conception is practiced in the best interests of the child, but does not bar would-be parents from this approach to family building.

To my question, I…well…the reader is welcome to consider how the answer to my question could be 'yes'.

14 November 2011 - by Susan Kane 
I have no doubt that Elizabeth Marquardt's report reflects the feelings of the donor-conceived people that she studied. However, since true scientific study of donor-conceived people is not currently possible, her claims must be qualified....
7 November 2011 - by Elizabeth Marquardt 
In today's debates about the family a new phrase can often be heard: 'intentional parenthood'. The term appears to have originated in the 1990s to resolve disputed surrogacy or lesbian parenting family law cases...
31 October 2011 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
'One Parent or Five: A global look at today's new intentional families' is the latest report from the Commission on Parenthood's Future (1). Authored by 'scholar Elizabeth Marquardt, a recognized family expert', it claims to offer 'the first-ever systematic critique of the concept of intentional parenthood [by] providing a global tour of today's new intentional families...
27 June 2011 - by Professor Naomi Cahn and Wendy Kramer 
The fertility industry in the US state of Washington will be transformed in late July 2011, when a new law to recognise rights of donor-conceived people comes into effect. Under the changes, anyone who provides gametes to a fertility clinic in the state must also provide identifying information about themselves and their medical history...
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