Anonymous Sperm: Isn't it Ironic?


Over at the L.A. Times, Kay Hymowitz has some serious issues with sperm sales:

You'd think that we have enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births and divorce. But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination, or AI…

Legal scholars argue that we should reject biology as the basis of parentage in favor of "intentionality." It's the person — or persons — who planned the child who have parental rights and responsibilities. A sperm donor doesn't intend to become a parent, while the woman who uses his sperm does…As intentionality has supplanted biology, the law, by pretending nature doesn't exist, has pole-vaulted over reality.

I agree that the law should neither pretend nor pole-vault, but Hymowitz isn't asking for lawmakers to acknowledge the existence of "nature." She is concerned with fatherhood as a social/legal category, and emphatically does not want a body of law that reflects the superficiality of mere biological fatherhood. Anti AI-types want to foster the illusion that certain obligations are seminally transmitted. That's a defensible position, but it's no more natural than ordering a vial of sperm on the Internet.

There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men reinforces the worst that women fear in men. Think of all the complaints you hear: Men can't commit, they're irresponsible, they don't take care of the kids. By going to a sperm bank, women are unwittingly paying men to be exactly what they object to. But why expect anything different? The very premise of AI is that, apart from their liquid DNA, we can will men out of children's lives.

So Hymowitz finds it ironic that women both complain that men won't commit to being fathers and buy sperm from anonymous donors. I would simply observe that these may be different sets of women. (It is theoretically possible for women to think and act independently of one another.) Lesbian partners and straight traditionalists will prefer different familial structures. O, the irony!