As parents of donor gamete children, my husband and I worry that our kids may someday become the target of sneers, ridicule, or ostracizing that often accompany an unwillingness to accept anything unfamiliar. Although we are thoroughly comfortable with our family planning choices, we are also keenly aware that they are controversial enough to take our family from us status to them status, a polarity indeed. Thus, as parents who made these choices for our family, for our children, it is our obligation to ensure they are raised with a prideful sense of self and family inclusion regardless of genetic history.
To assist us with this effort and prepare us for potential obstacles, we sought professional counseling prior to our dual donor in vitro conception. Of course, we are aware that it is going to require thoughtful disclosure with repetitive explanation and reassurance to shape our children’s esteem. And yes, we realize that we will, at times, need to educate others around us to establish an accepting environment in which our children can thrive. But we certainly didn’t expect that we’d have to advocate for patient and family rights, which the law already guarantees us, or defend against people and organizations who openly and directly threaten our children’s emotional and psychological well-being. And yet, here we are: them within the debate of third party assisted reproduction. A recent article featured in the TribLocal Newspaper of Naperville, IL revealed opposition on the part of one councilman and 16 local residents to the building of a fertility clinic, citing moral concerns as the foundation of their objection. ( http://triblocal.com/naperville/2012/03/21/residents-raise-moral-objections-to-proposed-fertility-clinic/ ) One opponent, Mary Kizior, asserts that in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures involving third party assistance are treated as human tissue commodities and as such, create the opportunity to exploit her female peers. I will gladly address both aspects of that objection.
Two of my children were conceived using both donor eggs and donor sperm. The donors are completely unknown to us and to one another. Yet, they are the providers of the most precious gifts anyone could ever bestow upon us. And no, we did not pay them for these gifts as if they were a commodity. We covered the costs of their medical expenses and reimbursed them for their time, effort, health risks, and possible physical discomfort endured while donating. I assume Ms. Kizior did her research before making her accusatory assertion, therefore she should already be aware that it is illegal to use human tissue of any type for commerce.
Along a similar vein, Mike Brummond refers to children like mine as “manufactured”. Does this mean that organ donor recipients are manufactured as well; that they are simply human wastelands of recycled parts? In both cases, third party assisted reproduction and organ donation, an amazing gift is given; the gift of life. Such a gift is made possible by the exclusively human trait of blind compassion, as donors and donor families will likely never know their beneficiaries. In the case of gamete donation, the donors go on to live full, productive lives. They can donate again and even have children of their own. However, in the case of organ donation, the donor must be deceased. Furthermore, the donor must be young enough, healthy enough, and deceased. If we are to remove the emotional component of human-to-human donation by using basic utilitarian language such as “manufactured”, does that make organ donor recipients nothing more than “vultures” preying on the prime subjects of society as Mr. Brummond’s “manufactured” comment infers? I certainly think not.
This brings me back to Ms. Kisior’s comment about “preying on the financial vulnerability of [her] female peers”. The only tissue I have ever donated is blood; a minimally inconvenient, painless donation for which my efforts, not my actual tissue, were compensated with a cookie and the comforting knowledge that my actions truly helped someone in need. I have no firsthand experience as a gamete donor. Therefore, I will make my case on behalf of my donors rather than myself. Obviously, human anatomy and physiology tells us that sperm donation is even easier than blood donation. However, many of the legal hoops through which a prospective donor must jump are similar to that of an egg donor. But since it is only the “female peers” that Ms. Kizior is concerned about, and it is egg donation that is significantly more medically complicated, it is the egg donor’s integrity that I will focus on defending.
Egg donors are a supremely exclusive group. In addition to the fact that only a small portion of the female population is interested in egg donation, those who do opt to donate are screened extensively and are subject to very strict inclusion criteria. Typically, the donor needs to be between the ages of 21 and 30. She needs to be educated and/or pursuing higher education, physically healthy, abstain from smoking during all phases of the donation process (preferably a non-smoker in general), abstain from alcohol and illicit drug usage during all phases of the donation process, and be free of tattoos. She will endure extensive psychological evaluation, must provide a detailed family medical history, and will be tested for any genetic anomalies for which she may be an unknown carrier. If she passes the screening thus far, she must then sign legal contracts and documents declaring the truthfulness of her medical claims, ensuring the privacy of her recipients, relinquishing any rights to children conceived with her donation, and acknowledging and accepting health risks such as infection, infertility, and even death due to hyper-stimulated ovaries. If she is still interested in moving forward, she will begin 3-4 weeks of hormonal therapy that includes giving herself daily injections to sync her reproductive cycle with that of her recipient. Additional hormone therapy will stimulate egg production, a process that is very delicate and requires monitoring every other day via ultrasound examination. This entire process from application to donation takes several weeks (approximately 60 hours of actual contact time with medical professionals) and the donor retains the right to withdraw from the process at any point. The final phase is retrieval, an outpatient procedure known as transvaginal ultrasound aspiration ( http://www.stanford.edu/class/siw198q/websites/eggdonor/procedures.html ).
As one can clearly see, egg donation is neither simple nor the product of an impulsive decision. Additionally, there are ample opportunities to reverse the decision throughout the multi-week process. Women who are eligible to donate are also legally eligible to drive, marry, consume alcohol, purchase firearms (for which there is only a seven day waiting period and no psychological evaluation required), vote, and even run for public office. Yet, Ms. Kizior believes egg donors are being exploited in some manner, that they are too naive or ignorant to know better. That’s a pretty offensive characterization of her “female peers”. And yes, of course reimbursement plays a role. But if, as Ms. Kizior implies, egg donors are hapless, unknowing individuals who donate solely as a result of financial manipulation, I do not want them to retain any of the aforementioned rights either. Maybe their motivations aren’t 100% altruistic, but it is myopic to assert that are acting solely upon personal vulnerabilities. Is it possible that egg donors have educated minds and compassionate hearts? I certainly think so.
And so, as National Infertility Awareness Week draws to a close, I would like to reiterate that I emphatically reject the comments of those who oppose families like mine. Mr. Brummond’s claim that my children’s conception, and thus their being, is undignified is beyond offensive. I am proud, damn proud, to be a them within the third party reproduction debate. And with Mothers’ Day right around the corner, I would also like to share a sentiment of gratitude to all those who have assisted as a third party reproduction donor. In the spirit of Dr. Suess: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the Star Bellied Sneeches who shared the star-starters from within thars, to allow stars to grow within ours! And shame on those of you who strive to tarnish our stars---believe it or not, they are just as valid as yars.
Kelley Wendel, RN, BSN, & most importantly MOM Kelley Wendel is the author of Birds of a Different Feather, a children’s book designed to instill a prideful sense of self and celebrate family inclusion regardless of genetic history. To learn more about the author and the book, visit: www.kelleywendel.tateauthor.com Follow me on Twitter and Facebook; links available through the website.