Thursday, July 9, 2015

Adoption, Donor Conception, Both, or Neither? (Part 2)

In part one of this two-part series, I talked about how our daughter's conception via donor embryo is not quite like adoption, the way I had originally believed when first pursuing this alternative to parenthood.  Here, I cover how it's not exactly the same as sperm- or ova-donation conception either.

The first and most obvious difference is that most donor conceived individuals still share half of their genetics with one of their parents.  (Except, of course, for those families who were built via "double donor", meaning sperm donor and egg donor, neither of whom know each other or the intended recipient parents (at least not in anonymous donation). But that actually presents a still further complication when it comes to ethics, so I'll leave it alone here.)  In embryo donation, the child born to the parents shares neither of their genetics.  This is precisely why the first part of this mini-series dealt with a comparison with adoption.  Adopted individuals likewise don't share either of their adoptive parents' genetics (again, except for step-parent or kinship adoption... seems like there's always an exception to everything, isn't there?)

This lack of any genetic linkage can be good or bad, depending on ones' perspective.  From the intended parent's perspective, I couldn't imagine mixing my own DNA with that of any man other than my husband.  On some level, it felt as though I would've had a child "with" this other man, putting my husband in a sort of step-parent role.  I know not everyone sees it that way, but I do, and that's why we didn't pursue single-gamete (sperm) donation.

From the child's perspective, I did consider that it may be better to at least grow up with half of your genetic relatives rather than with none.  Yet the gulf that the resulting implication (discussed above) would have left in my husband's and my relationship would've surely had a negative impact on our child.  Furthermore, the difference of knowing some genetic relatives versus none at all may have had an unbalanced effect on the child's relationship with the genetic versus non-genetic parent.  By utilizing embryo donation, the playing field was balanced out.

Another difference between embryo donation and gamete donation - at least the kind we utilized - is that my daughter was not specifically conceived with the intent of growing up not knowing some of her genetic relatives.  She was not conceived specifically so that she would grow up in a "less than ideal" situation.  These are perspectives I'm reading from donor-conceived adults, which is how I know these are things they think about.  This process of being created on-demand, as it were, makes them feel manufactured, like a commodity.  It affects the entire sense of self worth for some.  And while there are "embryo donation" programs that are essentially double donor programs that are started before the intended parents come onto the scene, the "traditional" embryo donation is a lot more straightforward.

Our daughter's donors are a married couple who faced secondary infertility.  They turned to IVF and surrogacy to complete their family.  After three years, they decided they weren't going to transfer the remaining embryos created with their family-completion IVF in mind.  It took three years for them to place the embryos into the embryo donation program, which tells me that they must have agonized over the decision.  They didn't choose to destroy them or donate them to science, which tells me they either believed the human life present in their pre-embryos deserved a chance to fulfill their potential, or they wanted to give another family struggling with infertility a chance to grow their family, or both.  This is very different from a gamete donor providing their DNA in exchange for money.  This sort of information gets internalized by the donor conceived offspring.  How their donors came to the decision to donate effects how the offspring feel about their conception, and by extension, their self-worth.

Finally, most donor conceived offspring have many, many genetic half-siblings "out there", which creates a need for a lifetime of searching (for those curious about their genetic relatives and whose donors were anonymous).  The real risk of inadvertently meeting and marrying a genetic half-sibling grows with the more "popular" donors and/or less regulated/ethical sperm banks.  (Due to the nature of egg donation, there generally can't be more than a handful of genetic half-siblings due to egg donation.)  In embryo donation, on the one hand, all siblings are full genetic siblings, but on the other hand, there are only a very limited number of them.  If the donors had a large number of pre-embryos they donated, these may have gone to several different recipient families.  Otherwise, all pre-embryos were donated to the same recipient family, and the only genetic siblings the donor-conceived offspring has "out there" are the children of their own donors.  If they find one of them they find them both.

To sum up, embryo donation - where "left over" pre-embryos from the donor family's own IVF treatment go to a recipient family - differs from gamete (sperm or egg) donation in these three ways:

1. The embryo donor conceived offspring does not share genes with either of her/his parents.
2. The nature of the embryo donor conceived offspring's conception is not marred by material gain or purposeful creation into a subpar situation.
3. The embryo donor conceived offspring has one group of genetic relatives - both donors and siblings - that if found, are found in one fell swoop.

From what I read, donor conceived offspring's most common concerns are the ethics surrounding their creation and the sheer volume of possible genetic half-siblings, neither of which applies to my daughter.  The first difference - that she doesn't share genetics with either of us - is why I considered if her situation was more like traditional adoption.  Yet based on my reading of concerns adult adoptees often have, I don't expect her to share a lot of those concerns.

So where does that leave us?  Only she can decide for herself as she matures with which group(s) she chooses to identify, if either.  Until then, I will need to continue to listen to both adult adoptees and donor conceived adults and take to heart the issues they describe and consider if and to what degree they may affect my daughter.

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