Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Craigslist Sperm Donor

Did you hear the one about the Craigslist sperm donor? Two women in a committed relationship wanted to have a child. They had opened their home to several children through adoption, but wanted the experience of a pregnancy and a child biologically connected to at least one of them. They ran into trouble when their doctor balked at giving them the certificate they needed to go to a sperm bank. The sperm bank requires a doctor's note, basically, that you'd be a good parent. Apparently successfully parenting several children already didn't convince this doctor that lesbians could be good parents. So rather than deal with that hassle, the women went the at-home insemination route. (They sell kits for this, fyi.) And they went to Craigslist to find a kind, generous man who agreed to be their donor. A child was born. The donor signed a contract, waiving all parental rights and responsibilities, and the two women both legally adopted the child.

Cut to 3 years later. The two women have now separated, though they appear to remain committed co-parents. The main breadwinner for the family now suffers from a serious illness (the nature of which has not been disclosed, nor should it be). As the split family has tried to deal with the financial fallout from the break-up and the loss of income due to illness, they have turned to the state assistance resources specifically intended for people like this, good, hard-working people who have fallen on tough times and need a little help to get to the other side.

Here's where the poor sperm donor comes into play. The State of Kansas doesn't want to foot the bill for this child. One might wonder whether our ultra-religious governor's pro-hetero, anti-gay marriage stance might have something to do with one of the state's administrative agencies not wanting to pay assistance to the spawn of a lesbian and a sperm donor who was then being raised by two lesbians. Given the Kansas Department for Children and Families' stated preference for all people to be married (they have truly pitched the idea that women should marry their way out of poverty), it isn't overly-cynical to presume that disapproval of two lesbians co-parenting without a dad might have something to do with this situation. Because the Department insisted the women provide the name of the sperm donor. And have subsequently gone after him for child support. Even though the child has two legal parents, both of whom have legally adopted the child. The two women are steadfastly on the sperm donor's side in opposing this attempt to collect child support.

The Department's stated justification is that the women didn't go through a proper sperm bank, so the man's waiver of parental rights and responsibilities isn't valid. Ok, I get the distinction they're making and how Kansas law specifically addresses sperm donation through a licensed sperm bank and not through private donations and inseminations done in the home. But, still, wasn't this issue of legal parentage addressed when the legal adoption went into effect? Generally, when a child is legally adopted, that means the person or persons who have adopted the child take on all legal responsibility for said child. And then the people who previously had legal responsibility, like by being the biological parents, no longer have that responsibility. So how does this sperm donor's alleged legal responsibility survive the child's adoption?

When adoptive parents fall on hard times and apply for food stamps or WIC, we don't turn to the biological parents to step in and pay for the kid. Those biological parents have, after all, terminated their rights and turned those rights over to the adoptive parents. Without an asterisk of "unless they can't afford it any more." We recognize in other situations that sperm and egg donors are not on the hook financially for the child if their only involvement is providing the starting material. I took a class on bioethics in law school. In that seminar, we spent a few weeks studying these kinds of cases involving donation and surrogacy and the question of who is the legal birth parents of the resulting children. At that time, back in 2000, it appeared that the emerging consensus seemed to be toward considering who put the conception and birth into motion with the intention of parenting the child. So the surrogate, for example, would not have a claim to the child over the person who hired the surrogate. Likewise, the two women who find a sperm donor would have the superior claim over the donor. Especially when there are clear written contracts to that effect, as there was in this case.

Kansas DCF is dead wrong in this case. I hope they come to see that soon. The national publicity and general backlash might cause them to rethink. Right? In this day and age, with all of the various methods available for people to produce children and become parents, this would be a bad and dangerous precedent to set. Any potential egg donor, sperm donor, or surrogate in the state of Kansas should be very leery of helping someone else become a parent. Heck, anyone giving up a child for adoption might be a little nervous. In this case, we have two legal parents. The sperm donor is not one of them. The state should honor the adoptions it granted and leave the guy who just wanted to do a good deed for two people who wanted to be parents alone.

UPDATE: Except forget all of this because the articles that said there was an adoption were all wrong. Grr. Honestly, folks, that's a really important detail. Don't put it in the story if it's not true. Sheesh.

I still say the state needs to update its laws and practices to allow for people to become parents in creative ways. Or to allow for same-sex unions and adoptions. Why not allow someone, like say a sperm donor, to waive his parental rights and responsibilities when there is someone else willing to step in and take that up? That's the whole principle of adoption, after all. In this situation, the non-biological mother was ready and willing to do that. She, in fact, did that. She just isn't recognized for doing so in the eyes of the state.

1 comment:

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