Web Letters | The Nation

Emily Douglas replies

(This web letter is in response to Jennifer Lingeman's web letter).

Jennifer, thank you for your very thoughtful letter in response to my piece. I agree that we should listen to the voices of donor-conceived children, being open to their experiences and ready to hear any negative feelings, doubts or anxieties they have about the circumstances of their conception.

I did notice that the IAV study found that donor-conceived children of two-parent families, gay and straight, had better outcomes than children of single parents. I considered including this in my post, but decided that because I was impugning the legitimacy of the entire study—which I stand behind—it wasn't worth it to examine this piece of the study and treat it as a usable piece of evidence. In fact, it would have been counterproductive, because it would have suggested that the study's own findings—which I claim are not credible—are enough to demonstrate lack of animus towards same-sex families.

The study itself may not reserve its most damaging arguments for same-sex families, but the organization that backed the study does, and I thought that was worth noting. The IAV's larger agenda is to question the validity and possibility for success of any non-traditional family. Yes, there should be a study of the psychological well-being of donor-conceived adults. However, I don't think there is any way to compare the Pediatrics study and the IAV study, or to extract any useful data from the IAV study.

Emily Douglas

New York, NY

Jun 23 2010 - 11:57am

The jury is still out...

I was so saddened to read Emily Douglas's response to "My Donor's Name is Daddy." Clearly, the study is deeply flawed, and the Institute for American Values has an agenda distasteful to many progressive people, myself included. However, whatever Ms. Marquardt's conservative views on gay marriage/parenting, this was not what all 140 pages of the study was about. It should be noted that her co-author is a donor-conceived person. I am confused by Ms. Douglas's assertion that this study was an attack on same-sex families, when the study actually finds that donor-conceived offspring of same-sex couples do better on many measures than those raised with opposite-sex parents. I believe Ms. Douglas, in her justifiable outrage at the presumed attack on gay parenting/marriage, does a disservice to the needs of donor-conceived children and (perhaps unintentionally) silences a minority that is very much trying to find their own voice and advocate for their community.

The study is the largest to date, and also the only one that has tracked adult, not adolescent, donor-conceived children. The Pediatrics study only tracks adolescents. Adoption studies have shown that many mental health issues and issues of identity do not appear until children reach adulthood. How do we know this is not the same for donor-conceived children? This alone makes the Marquardt study significant and the Pediatrics study useless, as its outcome measure is worthless. As to Ms. Douglas's assertion that we should pay more attention to the Pediatrics study because it is in a medical journal and her intimation that it is therefore less biased, as a physician I am happy to educate her about many instances of bias against the null hypothesis in medical journals. With the huge market in assisted reproduction and the many prospective patients, the field of pediatrics has every reason to assuage parents that they are on their side and encourage potential consumers of their services.

What disturbed me the most about Ms. Douglas's response was her dismissal of the voices of the donor-conceived children. I cannot help but see, once again, parallels to the experience of adult adoptees, particularly transracial and transnational, whose multitude of voices have been silenced by need of the affluent, white and Western market for adoptable children, and the huge profits that follow, similar to the big business interests of sperm banks. There is a growing rights movement of donor-conceived children advocating for their rights, most vehemently (and successfully in Sweden and the UK) for an end to anonymous donation. Sadly, their voices are frequently silenced in the United States. It saddens me to see the gay rights and feminist movements in such seeming opposition to the welfare of children. The truth of the matter is that in sperm and egg donation, as well as adoption, children simply have more complex kinship than in the traditional Western nuclear family. Is the right of adults to start families as they choose more important than the right of children and the adults they become to know their genetic heritage should they choose to? I don't think so, nor does the Hague Convention, the United Nations, the open records movement, or the donor-conceived person's movement, or the countries of Great Britain, Sweden and Croatia.

The appropriate response to the Marquardt study is a bigger, more comprehensive study on donor-conceived outcomes, an open ear to the voices of those whom this affects most, the offspring, and an openness to the complexity of heritage that is inherent in this kind of reproduction. Gay- and lesbian-headed families, interracial families, those created by adoption, and families created by assisted reproduction are different from the traditional American family; shouldn't we embrace that truth, study it, understand it, and not suppress and deny it? The rights of adults to start families as they choose is surely not more important than the rights of children to their heritage. There is simply insufficient information to really assess the long-term outcome of egg/sperm donor-conceived persons, but to throw out the largest and most longitudinal study to date because one does not like the conclusions is not the answer. The donor-conceived children, and the adults they become, should be the most powerful voices in this debate, as they have become in other countries. Perhaps you will feature some of their viewpoints soon.

Jenifer Lingeman

Salt Lake City, UT

Jun 21 2010 - 3:35am