An Opportunity to Love
According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), in the UK, donated sperm or eggs are used in around 14,500 fertility treatments every year. As Christians, many of us would have concerns about the use of donated sperm and eggs on an ethical level, but perhaps we should also be concerned about the impact that the use of a donor might have on the children who are born as a result of such fertility treatments.
Last week, the New York Times brought this issue to light with a photo essay by Eli Baden-Lasar. Baden-Lasar is a young man who was conceived through the use of donated sperm. He was always aware that this was how he had come into being, but it wasn’t until he was 19 that he discovered he had half siblings, in fact 32 half siblings. In the article, he shares the story of how he made this discovery and of a project he then embarked upon to meet and photograph all of his half siblings.
Some of the article makes for quite sad reading. Baden-Lasar tells a story from when he was 11 years old. He started to ask questions and so was given a copy of a questionnaire that had been completed by the sperm donor. He proceeded to carry this questionnaire around with him to remind himself of the reality of the donor’s existence. He explains, ‘It was a way to help me understand myself.’ His quest to find his half siblings started when he heard that two friends, both also conceived through a donor, had discovered that they were actually half siblings.
What struck me most in the article were some of the statements from Baden-Lasar and his half siblings about the emotional impact of being conceived through a donor and of then discovering so many half siblings. Baden-Lasar himself says, ‘The sheer quantity of [siblings] gave me a feeling of having been mass-produced.’ One of his half sisters reflected, ‘As more and more half siblings were introduced into my life, it made me feel like a statistic rather than an actual person. I feel drowned out with the numbers.’ Another sister speaks of how meeting the half siblings has helped her, but in the process, she reveals some of the difficulties she has felt from knowing she was conceived through a donor: ‘Since meeting my siblings, I’ve become more confident of my identity. I’m no longer wondering, Who am I? And being connected to that side of my genes really helped me feel less alone, because a lot of the siblings, when I first met them, were going through similar struggles.’
I find it interesting that this isn’t an issue I’ve often heard discussed. Admittedly, the HFEA website does include information answering the question ‘What can my children find out about their donor or donor-related siblings?’, but there’s no hint in the information given that this might be a difficult area for donor-conceived children.
This oversight seems to be another example in our culture where the wants and desires of adults are allowed to trump the safety and wellbeing of children. This should be a problem for Christians. Paul commands us, ‘do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves’ (Phil. 2:3), and he exhorts us to ‘please our neighbours for their good, to build them up’ (Rom. 15:2). In all areas of life, to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the sake of others is the very nature of Christian love and the ultimate following of the example of Christ.
Given all of this, I think we might fairly ask whether the use of donated sperm and eggs is fair on the children who are conceived as a result. None of this is to overlook the deep pain of infertility which is in many cases the driving force behind the use of sperm and egg donors. This is a pain which is real and legitimate. It should be acknowledged, expressed and borne with the upholding support of church family alongside.
But perhaps this pain is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to show real love, the love of self-sacrifice. There are already lots of children who are unsure about their identity and don’t know about their biological roots. Children who need the love and security of a family. Children who are looking for their forever family. The love of self-sacrifice can be shown in the choice not to use a donor for the sake of the wellbeing of a child who might be born as a result and in the choice to lay down some of one’s own wants and desires for the sake of a child who needs a family. Adoption is an act of incredible self-sacrificial love, and it’s an act which reminds us of the ultimate self-sacrificial love, the love through which we were adopted and we were given the ultimate forever family.