Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Who Am I, and Who Exactly Are You? A New Lexicon for the Family

by Vicki ThornOnce upon a time, for eons and eons around the world, babies were conceived by two people through sexual intimacy, who in most cases were married to and in love with each other.Babies came in to a family with grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters, along with a mother and a father. Most of the time, these people were all genetically related. The exception to this was when a child was orphaned or abandoned and in the old times, often raised by extended family members. Cinderella reminds us that there were sometimes step relationships. Others were placed for adoption, and sometimes the adoptee was able to find the birth family. Overall, it was taken for granted that the child was conceived naturally.In the really old days, we knew about 450 people in our lifetime. They lived in our community and we knew who was related to whom! Everyone knew what the words meant and what the relationships were.There seems to be an inherent need to know who we are and how we fit into our families. Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) has changed all of that. This new means of reproduction, which separates reproduction from love and sexual intercourse, has led to a need for a new vocabulary of relationship.Today we have stepped over the edge into a Brave New World. We have “intended mothers” (the woman who will actually raise the child); “genetic mothers,” or “choice mothers” (the woman who donates her ovum to another woman) and “surrogate mothers” (the woman who carries the baby in her body and then surrenders it to another woman).We have “donor fathers” (sperm donors who are usually unknown other than by a number and a description at the sperm bank) and “birth others” (those who are somehow involved but might not be the genetic parents or who could also be an ovum donor or sperm donor).What do we call the half siblings of those conceived by a donor donation – either insemination or ovum donation, and in some cases both? How do we define who those people are to us? They are biological relatives but do not fit into our traditional family system.Why is this problematic? Let me address just one level. It has been discovered that everyone in the world carries exclusively their mothers’ mitochondria. (In this case, “mother” would be defined as the ovum donor.) Mitochondria are the energy bodies contained in the cells, and in his book “The Seven Daughters of Eve,” Brian Sykes discusses this phenomena. With his research and now through an ongoing National Geographic study called the Genographic Project, we can discover the lineage of our maternal line, and it is also possible for men to explore their Y lineage. Sykes lays out this research in “Adam’s Curse: A Future without Men.”As I read this research something made sense to me. I could never appreciate the section in Scripture of who begat who begat who. I mean, really, who cares? But after reading this research I realized that God cares – He made us to have this continuity of connection. And despite the anonymity of artificial reproductive technology, we’re hardwired to seek it, too.There are a plethora of web sites where those involved in artificial reproduction are speaking up. What they are saying is unsettling. One blog is called “Confessions of a Cryokid,” a reference to the cryopreservation process of freezing eggs and sperm for future use via in vitro fertilization.“Cryokid” writes the following as an introduction to the blog site: “What happens when artificially created bundles of joy begin to speak for themselves? Revolt! I am the product of an anonymous sperm donor and now that I’m an adult, I’m searching for answers and I am speaking out.”These young adults are looking for their fathers and siblings. They are searching for who they are.Wendy Kramer, the mother of a donor-conceived son, established the Donor Sibling Registry to help these searchers find their family members. Her son Ryan has discovered that he has nine half siblings. One member of the registry has found 65 half siblings.In 2005, a New York Times article delved into this whole new world of “family” reunions. Some of the registrants on Kramer’s site say that they call their biological father “donor” as a way to differentiate the social function of a father from the biological one. Women who have used the same donor also seek each other out on the registry because they “feel bonded by the half-blood relations of their children, and perhaps a vaguely biological urge that led them all to choose” the same donor. They seem “eager to create a patchwork family for themselves and their children.” But who are these people to each other, really?The need for a new set of terms continues. There is a blog of a “Dad to Donor Insemination Kids.” These are referred to as DI kids. There is a group calling themselves PCVAI: People Conceived via Artificial Insemination. Here are whole new categories of people that never existed before.Who is who in the California case from 2004, when a woman gave birth to twins conceived using her lesbian partner’s eggs and was declared the sole legal parent of the twins? The donating woman was required by the hospital to sign a consent form, including a waiver of parental rights to the resulting offspring.Who is who in the Toledo, Ohio fiasco reported nationally just this fall? A couple wanted to conceive and carry their own child, but the woman was implanted with the wrong embryo. The real, biological parents feared that the pregnant woman would choose abortion and end their chance to give their young twin girls a sibling. In the end, the surrogate mother gave up the child to its biological parents: What did her own children, who watched their mother carry “their” baby brother for nine months, make of seeing him given up to strangers? And it doesn’t end there: Now, the woman who generously carried out this pregnancy to term is unable to carry any more children, so – in hopes of a fourth baby – she is planning to hire her own surrogate.The New York Times article ends by recounting a story of a young man who was introducing his new found family of five half-siblings to his friends. He did so in a “self-styled sing-song,” saying, “This is my sister from another mother, and this is my brother from another mother, this is my other sister from another mother.”Perhaps that is about as good we can do at this time.(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *