Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Shipping Sperm?

Family policy and the rights of children.

Is there something wrong with mail order sperm? One recent book on the philosophy of the family is Brenda Almond's The Fragmenting Family.  Of the many interesting and provocative discussions in the book, Almond discusses the practice of shipping gametes (i.e. sperm and eggs) around the world to be used for in vitro fertilization.

Cryos International, the largest sperm bank in the world, ships to over forty countries. One positive result of this is that reproductive choice is expanded and many people are enabled to have families who otherwise would not have the chance to do so. There are many good things about this, given the presence of infertility and other barriers to having children. Many more people have the option to find the meaning and satisfaction in life that parenting can provide with the availability of reproductive technologies.

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However, there is a problem here from the perspective of the children who will come to be in this way. A child who is raised in the United States but whose genetic father is from Spain, for example, is made to suffer from a deliberate alienation from her cultural and ethnic roots. This may undermine the self-concept of the child in certain undesirable ways. There is an alienation from one's community that is morally problematic, and this is one example of such alienation, according to Almond.

Now this may not mean that the practice of anonymous donation and IVF is wrong, all things considered, as such a child's custodial parents may choose to acquaint her with her cultural roots in a variety of ways. However, an important lesson to draw here, and it is a lesson which Almond rightly brings up again and again, is that we must consider the rights and interests of children as we discuss, evaluate, and implement family policy. The rights and interests of adults matter in this context, but they are not all that matters.

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Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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