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Monday, March 30, 2015

I want my children to feel equal, but equality isn't sameness

"You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that's how it should be," the clothing designer Domenico Dolce recently said, stirring up a bit of controversy. "I call children of chemistry 'synthetic children'. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog."

Synthetic children? Ouch. My first reaction was to extend an invitation to Signores Dolce and Gabbana to come over and babysit my little cyborgs for a few hours, so that they could experience first-hand their screaming, their whining, and all of their "artificial" bodily fluids.

But it's easy to be angry, and I don't want us, in our rejection of these hurtful statements, to shut down an important conversation. While singular in their disdain, Dolce and Gabbana express an unease that many of us, gay and straight, have around third-party reproduction. Is it ethical to pay a donor or a surrogate? Should a donor be able to remain forever anonymous?

As a lesbian parent, of course I want my children to feel that they are as equal and deserving as anyone else. Equality isn't sameness, though, and I need there to be space for us to discuss the ways that our family is fundamentally different, and how our reproductive choices impact the lives of others.

I don't think it's wrong for gay men (or anyone else) to have children via egg donor and surrogate, but we mustn't fail to expand the conversation beyond them and their right to pursue parenthood. The egg donor has the right to choose what to do with her oocytes, free from extreme financial pressure. The surrogate also has the right to choose freely if and when to use her womb. When the surrogate in question is an impoverished woman in another country, and the amount of money she's being offered could permanently house her entire family, it's difficult to argue that she has much of a choice.

And the sperm donor. My kids' donor. He, too, has a right to decide what happens to his cells. I don't know why he decided to donate. I do know that most of the donors in the catalog were actors, artists, musicians and/or students. I assumed that they were looking for supplemental income, not a way to feed themselves, and that no coercion was involved. Still, I am uneasy about the fact that money traded hands in order for my children's DNA to be complete.

I'm not alone. Many countries, like Australia and the UK, prohibit payment to gamete donors, and don't allow for entirely anonymous donation. Italy's law, which is particularly discriminatory, has just recently allowed for the use of donor sperm or eggs at all—for straight couples only. One unintended effect of these prohibitions is that those who can afford to do so look abroad for donors and surrogates, leading to exploitative situations like we're now seeing in India and Thailand. This also leads to a booming business in the U.S., where few restrictions are in place.

There's a line in the sand when it comes to reproductive technology, and it isn't IVF. It's a line that only some infertile couples choose to cross, but all of us who are queer must: involving a third (and sometimes, fourth) person into the act of reproduction. Whether it's birth parents, a gamete donor, or a gestational surrogate, no technology yet can make us parents in the absence of another person's body. These people become part of our families, if only as a spectral presence in our children's lives. I, for one, don't want my equality to rely on pretending they don't exist.


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