The Ethicist Chimes In

Here is the dilemma:

My fiancé received a letter at his office from a woman claiming to be the product of his sperm donation nearly 20 years ago. Her stated intention was to receive medical information, something he would willingly provide, but she strongly implied that she desired more, and he does not wish further contact. Was it ethical of her to obtain his name and business address? Must he reply? ”” name withheld, Portland, Ore.

Think about what you would say before you click to see his response.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

13 comments on “The Ethicist Chimes In

  1. Knapsack says:

    So, Mr. Cohen, having wiped out millenia of human culture and tradition, let alone the teachings of most major religious bodies, by saying “parenthood is . . . not . . . genetic material,” could you spare a few words on what parenthood is? In your opinion? Thank you!

  2. Knapsack says:

    [checked back to the article — “parenthood is not defined merely by genetic connection” would be the quote, but my question stands. Or if some passing Elf wants to edit that back into the previous and delete this, that’s fine by me!]

  3. Philip Snyder says:

    While I am not an elf, I will take a crack on defining parenthood.
    Parenthood is relational, not physical. As an adoptive father, I am my son’s father and not the man who “begot” him. My son is much more a product of my wife and I than he is of his birth parents. Parenthood is staying up late with your sick child, making sure he does his homework or that she picks up her room. Parenthood is crying with the child when he has been hurt and armoring her against futher hurts so that when they come, she will not be devestated by them. Parenthood is ohhing and awing over handmade gifts or gifts from the dollar store that are given just because your son loves you. Parenthood is about preparing a young child to become an adult and then sending that adult out into the world in the hope that you didn’t mess up too much.

    Parenthood is much more that passing on genetic material. It is passing on personhood and the ability to give and receive love.

    Phil Snyder

  4. Knapsack says:

    Phil — Brother, bless you in your fatherhood. What i want to say is that while parenthood can surely be more than genetic connection, it cannot exclude that. I am sometimes asked if i “believe in” divorce. Well, i see quite a bit of it, so i kind of have to believe in it. But i do not believe you cannot cease being someone’s one-flesh partner by the simple expedient of legal paperwork and spatial distance. Pay the settlement and move around the globe, and you are still connected to that person.

    In the same way, i would quietly, gently, and only discreetly say — such as in a discussion like this, with you, though not your child — there is still a father and mother to your child “out there.” Nothing can erase the eternal reality of their connectedness to your child, even if they never meet or even think of one another.

    My concern is that out of an over-sensitive anxiety for offending persons such as yourself we are gradually accepting, and even promoting the fiction that one can create life (let alone have sexual intimacy) without there being eternal effects. The fact that you will be a better parent to this child than those who gave it life — do i believe in this? again, i see it too often to say otherwise — cannot be made to change the fact that they are still, in a meaningful sense, biologically and relationally, parents.

    Legally, some folks should have that fact carefully fenced away from action and effect in their children’s lives, and the world and the Faith needs many more who are willing to serve the Kingdom as true parents. Again, bless you, and i hope i do not offend your parenting by making the wider point which “The Ethicist” so casually dismisses.

  5. Marty the Baptist says:

    “parenthood is not defined merely by a genetic connection”

    Obviously this man’s daughter thinks otherwise.
    How would YOU feel if you found out that your “real dad” was paid $50 to wank into a cup and forget your existence forever?

    I’d want to meet him — and punch him in the nose.

  6. Tom Roberts says:

    5- I think that is the point of that citation. Sperm donors are not “real parents”. But consider how if your hypothetical existence was predicated on such a donation, without which you would never been born and raised by others? That $50 was well spent, for you.

  7. Philip Snyder says:

    I am a father both biologically (with my daughter) and non-biologically. I am no less of a father to my son than I am to my daughter – even if there is not genetic link. Parenthood is more than a genetic link. For my son, there is a birth mother (whom he has met) and a birth father (who is unknown). There is that genetic relationship with his birth parents and I am sure that some of his behaviors come from them, but the parental relationship is much stronger with my wife and I.

    Marty – While IVF is not the ideal way to start a family, it is the only way that some women do conceive. If that were the way I was conceived, I would wonder about my father. I may resent the fact that he is not in my life (assuming that I don’t have a father in my life), but I would also realize that without him, I would not be alive.

    Phil Snyder

  8. Marty the Baptist says:

    Tom: That $50 was well spent, for you.

    A pretty crass was of looking at it, from where I sit.

    Phil: I may resent the fact that he is not in my life (assuming that I don’t have a father in my life), but I would also realize that without him, I would not be alive.

    All the more reason you might want to go to great lengths to locate and establish a relationship with the man.

    The stories of the donor-conceived are only now being heard — and many would prefer they remain silent. While almost all of them mean no dishonor or disrespect and have nothing but affection for their “legal parents”, a great many do feel that they have been cheated out of something very important.
    is one place where you can hear their stories, firsthand. There are others.

  9. Tom Roberts says:

    It might be crass, but you’ve failed to indicate how it is not [i]true[/i].

  10. Katherine says:

    Why does this young woman, about 20, know that she was conceived with donated sperm? This used to be done fairly often for infertile couples, especially after Roe v. Wade allowed so many adoptable children to be killed before birth. The child was born to a mother and father and never knew anything about a donation. Her dad would be the one she had known from birth, who, like Phil and his son, raised her. Sounds like there is something else wrong here.

  11. Marty the Baptist says:

    Tom, your statement is one of the many ways used to silence the legitimate feelings of the donor-conceived. In effect it says “Shut up — you should be grateful just to be alive!”


  12. Tom Roberts says:

    Marty- you’ve extrapolated wildly. Don’t make out a physical fact to be a logical contradiction to what might be a coherent argument on your part. Life is messy, but in the first instance, some man has to contribute the sperm, one way or another. Your concerns are where matters proceed from that fact.

  13. Lydia Evans says:

    Re: Katherine’s comment about privacy considerations, is it not possible that the young woman was given this information by the one who raised her? (I make this comment not having read the article — only the bit on Kendall’s blog and these comments)