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8.12.05

Donor Conception Choices

Ampersand disputes the claims of Brad Wilcox that children concieved from sperm donors do worse than children concieved naturally. I happen to agree with him that there's no reason to think that donor-concieved children do any worse than other children raised in the same family situation (both writers make the assumption that donor-concieved children are all raised by single mothers), and indeed they may do better. But I find the framing of the question quite strange.

First, there's the implicit choice that we're considering. In comparing the fates of the children of single parents to the children of couples, we're assuming that this is the choice facing a woman who wants to be a mother. What's more likely, though, is that the choice is between single parenthood and non-parenthood. Thus it's not enough to say that donor children are worse off than other children. You have to argue that they're so bad off that they ought never to have been born. That's a pretty high hurdle for opponents of donor conception.

Second, there's the policy option on the table. The way these writers tell it, the only real response we could make if donor children turned out to have worse lives on average would be to ban donor conception. This makes a certain sense from a socially conservative viewpoint, where fatherlessness is directly detrimental to a child's wellbeing. If that's the case, all you can do is to avoid getting into that situation in the first place. From a liberal point of view, however, it's far more likely that the negative effects of single parenthood operate through mediating variables -- the lack of resources brought about by having only half as many adults in the household, or the cultural pressures that say fatherlessness is weird, for example. This suggests that there are things that we can do to support single parent families once they exist. This would mean that donor children who are already born would not be abandoned to their fate.

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