Anonymous Sperm: Isn't it Ironic?

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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!

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  1. Forget the lesbian couple, that just obscures the issue. Basically the crackpot is saying that some infertile couple goes out and buys sperm is somehow encouraging men to be irresponsible. Get rid of anonomous sperm donerhship and no one in their right mind donates sperm and responsible couples who would otherwise have had and raised children won’t be able to do so. Yeah, Kay that is one hell of a sollution to the problem of fatherless children.

  2. Because God knows, jerking off into a dish is one of the most irresponsible things a man can do.

  3. 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

    Am I the only one who reads this as an argument for getting rid of laws requiring the biological father to pay child support, if he can show that it was not his intention to father a child?

  4. I read the whole article and am still unsure what Hymowitz wants, except that she seems to disapprove of sperm donation and AI.

  5. RC,

    I think Hymowitz was illustrating an argument she disagrees with. Yes, you are exactly right that that is where the argument leads. This argument is gaining a lot of credence in family law. Many states have what is called “constructive fatherhood”. This doctrine is used when a man raises a child as his own for a few years only to find out that his wife was cheating on him and the child was not his. The man then divorces his wife and says he is not paying for the child since it is not his, “go talk to the deadbeat who was banging my wife”. The courts then apply the “constructive fatherhood” doctrine and say since he raised the child and intended the child to be his, he must pay support.

  6. “O, the irony!”

    The Onion thinks about irony in this context…
    hier

  7. “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.)”

    What a radical notion.

  8. Alternate Headline:

    Dead Beat Dads Rejoice

    AI lets people have biological children. AI lets some guys make $50 for jerking off in a cup (cupfuckers). How is this interfering with “traditional” fatherhood? And isn’t this the same argument morons make against gay marriage… that a diffrent form of marriage some how disrupts the “original” form of marriage?

    Constructive fatherhood… Paternity tests right after birth, problem half-solved. Women objected to pre-nups for years, but are getting more commonplace all the time.

  9. RC,
    I read it that way too. There are however very key differences between donating sperm and having a time of it with a girl. The first is presumably a method by which someone who would not otherwise be able to conceive is now able to have a child that they (obviously) have very actively chosen to have. Sex can be pleasureful without resulting in pregnancy, and therefore the intention of sexual relations is not always to have a child. Therefore, when intercourse is involved, both parties need to be responsible for a child. If it’s a mere matter of a woman impregnating herself with your semen, the gesture on her part is clearly intentional. Someone who cannot afford to have children shouldn’t be artificially inseminating themselves to require the sperm donor to pay child support.

    I guess what I’m saying is that, while the argument goes in the direction of letting men off the hook for unintended offspring, there are many key differences that can be used in policy determination. That’s how I see it anyway.

  10. Really, if anything, the guy who donates sperm does so with more intentionality regarding pregnancy than the guy having the one night stand.

    I mean, donated sperm has one purpose (to make a baby), but sex has many purposes other than making babies.

  11. R C Dean

    You’re right. Let’s take all things to their extreme, shall we?

    All pregnant women have the right to abort at any time. Men have no right to question this decision.

    Similarly, since they are only sperm donors, no man may be held accountable for any child. Women, who are free to proceed or terminate at will, have no right to question this decision.

    Ah, the New World Order of Reproductive Freedom!

  12. Cain’s Ability,

    Your first point, All pregnant women have the right to abort at any time. Men have no right to question this decision, is the state of the law now, if you add “before fetal viability” after ‘at any time’.

    I think that your second set of points flows naturally from your first.

    On any other day, this’d be our 400-post thread.

  13. what Cain’s Ability said

  14. Gray Ghost

    Your amendment noted, and definitely worthwhile. I’m no Luddite or anti-feminist, but the possibility of what I just outlined (with help from others) frankly scares the shit out of me.

    And yes, a bad day for such discussions. As disturbed as I am by other events, I think that this one, in the long run, trumps even 30+ dead children.

  15. Reinmoose

    Thanks. I fear I may have seemed a little to reproachful/mocking of R C Dean, though. It was not my intent.

  16. I thought women as a whole were a cabal?

    😉

  17. R C Dean

    You’re right. Let’s take all things to their extreme, shall we?

    All pregnant women have the right to abort at any time. Men have no right to question this decision.

    Similarly, since they are only sperm donors, no man may be held accountable for any child. Women, who are free to proceed or terminate at will, have no right to question this decision.

    Ah, the New World Order of Reproductive Freedom!

    Evolution never saw this coming

    “Man willfully exterminates self due to a technicality on reproductive rights”

  18. A man who is married to a adulterous woman is on the hook for support of her children. This is another case where presumed intentions supplant biology.

  19. All pregnant women have the right to abort at any time. Men have no right to question this decision.

    Boo friggin’ hoo.

    I say the host has the complete moral authority over the dispensation of the parasite. The infecting agent is superflous to the decision.

  20. de stijl

    So, should the infecting agent, since it is superfluous, have zero liability for either the well-being of the host or the parasite?

  21. Cain’s Ability,

    Hey! Don’t try to box me in! I was only talking about the parasite phase. Once the parasite reaches independent viability, all bets are off.

  22. jerking off into a dish is one of the most irresponsible things a man can do

    Yes, yes it is:

    BENEDICK: O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not: I cannot endure my Lady Tongue.

    Exit

  23. Cain’s Ability,
    Only after posting did I realize that I may not have read your previous statement exactly as you intended it.

    The way I read it was:
    Similarly, since they are only sperm donors (when they actually do only donate sperm), no man may be held accountable for any child. Women, who are free to proceed or terminate at will (when deciding to artificially inseminate), have no right to question this decision.

    That is to say, in response to RC Dean’s statement, Really, if anything, the guy who donates sperm does so with more intentionality regarding pregnancy than the guy having the one night stand, that while the intention of donating the sperm may be for its eventual use in AI, the recipient of the sperm donation knows exactly what’s going to happen when she artificially inseminates herself. As far as legal rights are concerned, you’re talking about a woman making a claim against the sperm donor for monetary support of a child she decided to mother. That would be like suing someone for maintenance costs on a car that they donated to you. Sure the donor knew there would be maintenence costs, but that doesn’t mean they’re his responsibility.

  24. What I meant was

    men are sperm donors, regardless of how the sperm is donated

    women are incubators who should have total control of their own bodies

    fertilized eggs are parasites until their hosts extrude them

    if abortion should be legal, then donors of any sort should have no obligations of any sort

  25. And shall we invoke the precedent of the UK, where sperm donors are finding their anonymity (and financial un-involvement!) threatened?

  26. of course, the extruded parasite has no rightful claim on either the host or the donor.

  27. For sake of argument…

    of course, the extruded parasite has no rightful claim on either the host or the donor.

    Of course not, but the host may claim continued ownership of the extruded parasite and nurture it to maturity. The donor may elect to either share ownership of the parasite with consent of host, or claim ownership if the host elects to not claim ownership. In the event that neither host nor donor accept ownership, the fate of the parasite is determined by the host.

  28. And shall we invoke the precedent of the UK, where sperm donors are finding their anonymity (and financial un-involvement!) threatened?

    Sure, if you want to destroy the artificial insemination industry by making sperm donors subject to child support orders. Sperm is strict liability in the US: if you can identify the father, you can sue him for child support, sperm donor or no. Hymowitz has to know this. That’s why I’m very suspicious of articles like Hymowitz’s which purport to be about the sanctity of fatherhood. They are usually not about fatherhood at all, other than as a pretext to garner more child support money for mothers.

  29. if you add “before fetal viability” after ‘at any time’.

    Gray Ghost,

    This statement is quite silly given the fact that the Supremes have overturned every state law that has been passed to ban partial birth abortion, which obviously occurs very late in the pregnancy. While Roe technically leaves open the possibility of a late-term abortion ban, such a ban must contain exceptions for the health of the mother if it is to pass constitutional muster — and not merely physical health, but mental, social, economic, familial, etc. So, in practice there can be no restriction on abortion at any time in pregnancy.

    More directly, I might ask how many post-Roe successful prosecutions have there been for performing an abortion in the third trimester (which is the Roe definition of viability). Hint: it’s exactly the same as the number of miracle cures embryonic stem cell research has produced, but that’s another subject.

  30. jerking off into a dish is one of the most irresponsible things a man can do

    Every spem is sacred,
    Every sperm is good.
    Every sperm is needed
    In your neighborhood.

  31. Most women who choose anonymous donor insemination (“artificial?” Is the sperm made of dacron????) do so because they either have a partner who will be the second parent, or they do not want another parent involved in child-rearing decisions. I know of no one in this country who has even pursued an anonymous donor for child support. I cannot even find out who the donor is, although ours was willing to be made known to the CHILD once s/he reaches age 18. The courts need to honor those contractual arrangements.

  32. I’ve never donated sperm, but I always assumed the donor signed some type of legal documents waiving parental rights to any resulting offspring and the recipient, likewise, waived any right to pursue financial support or involvement from the donor. If this isn’t the case, why the hell isn’t it?

  33. Legal scholars argue that we should reject biology as the basis of parentage in favor of “intentionality.”

    So in the case of failed birth control (ripped condom, mis-seated diaphragm) the father is not responsible? The use of birth control shows the lack of intent to parent a child.

  34. Crimethink, my characterization of the state of the law wasn’t silly at all. I can’t think of any legal restrictions on the right of a woman to abort a non-viable fetus. Agreeing on what age makes the fetus non-viable is another matter, and differs in states that have enacted late-term abortion bans. The existence of a late-term abortion ban hardly equals Cain’s second sentence, Men have no right to question this decision.

    That is a different point from yours, which is that the federal government in practice overturns all late-term abortion bans. Until they are overturned though, the legal restrictions they bring still exist, and definitely ask as “questioning the decision.”

    That said, what is your opinion on Gonzales v Carhart?

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