Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Who’s on the Family Tree? It’s Complicated

This was written a few weeks ago but it is such an important topic that I choose to release it here also. This is just one example of my Daily Words of Wisdom from Dr. Beth.

If after reading this article you would like to see more Daily Words of Wisdom from Dr. Beth just go to the following link and you will see a link to sign up to experience for free these suggestion filled daily posts of advice to become a better more in control happier YOU.

Join today! It is free for 30 days and there is no obligation to continue but I believe when you have a chance to experience this daily missive you like all others will find it daily reading that you cannot imagine not having.


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If after reading this if you beliieve as I do that this information should be must reading for every person thinking about or may try to use advanced reproductive methods invite them to go to my website http://www.drbetherickson.com/ and read this article and suggest to them that they should share this information with their friends and acquaintencnes,


With the advent of many advances in reproductive technology, such as sperm donors, surrogate mothers, same-sex parents, stepparents and stepsiblings, and infertility treatments, it is difficult to say unequivocally who is related to whom. Time was, there were only two ways to become related: through marriage or along bloodlines. But now, family ties are murkier, relationships are more complex, and family trees have many more branches.

How "family" is defined is a crucial question on many levels. Beyond the debate over same-sex marriage, it affects income tax filings, adoption and foster care practices, employee benefits, inheritance rights, hospital visitation, and countless other legal matters and just as importantly the future of your health and means for treatment.
In this post, I will discuss how family trees are beginning to look like tangled forests and the implications of this increasingly complex 21st century phenomenon. And in order to comprehend these families, you have to be able to think complexly.

Census Data

For the last six years, according to United States census data, there have been more unmarried households than married ones. And more same-sex couples are having children using surrogates or sperm donors or by adoption. The California Cryobank, one of the nation’s largest sperm banks, said that about one-third of its clients in 2009 were lesbian couples, compared with seven percent a decade earlier.

New questions are being phased in nationally on the standard birth certificate questionnaire about whether, and what type of reproductive technology was used, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Aspects of This Issue

Tracing a family tree is more than an intellectual exercise. There are medical, legal, bioethical, and emotional dimensions to this issue. As the composition of families changes, a new set of questions emerges as to who gets a branch on the family tree.


If a child becomes seriously ill who was born using artificial insemination, how will that child ever know his/her health legacy? If s/he needs a bone marrow donor, for example, and there is no known sibling or father who could be located to serve as a match, that child is out of luck if his/her mother is not a match.


Who is a legitimate legal heir to a deceased parent’s estate? Who inherits property? Unless the deceased person specifically has named a child in his/her will who is not related by blood, for instance a stepchild, that individual has no legitimate claim to the deceased parent’s estate.

In addition, there is no regulatory framework in place that would protect the children who are born using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) from harm. In the United States, there is no consistent regulatory framework to protect the children born using ART from harm. And the regulations that do exist are generally less effective than they need to be.

Bioethical Issues

Currently, few regulatory mechanisms are in place at either the state or the federal or state level that would protect unborn children from their parent’s decision to reproduce by any means possible.

Many issues of reproductive technology have given rise to bioethical issues, since technology often alters the assumptions that lie behind existing systems of sexual and reproductive morality. People contemplating becoming parents by any means possible need to consider issues like:

Just because we can do something, should we do it?

How do adults and we as a society balance The Right to Reproduce vs. the Rights/Best Interests of Children?

Alas, too few physicians and would-be parents contemplate such important questions before they proceed with choosing their best option for bearing a child. Witness the “Octo Mom.”

Further, it is not known how many “leftover embryos” that could be babies are sitting in cryogenic storage in fertility centers. Some estimates are as high as 400, 000 in the U.S. alone. Although it is unclear how many of these embryos will be discarded in the next few years, their presence has fueled the debate over human embryonic stem cell research.


Some children who have to comprehend and explain to others who their relatives are and how they are related may develop a sense of alienation from their peers who grow up in more conventional homes. Then, they also can experience a sense of isolation and a feeling of being odd and weird. Although, of course, it clearly is not their parent’s intention, the unconventional circumstances of their birth can cause these children emotional pain that can last a lifetime.

What of Other Children Fathered by the Sperm Donor?

Technically, they could be the child’s half-siblings. But especially if there is no chance of knowing who they are, they might better be called “donor siblings.”

It is even possible that half-siblings conceived with the help of a sperm donor might be attracted to and want to marry his/her half-sibling. This would be a case of accidental incest, and who knows what the legal ramifications of that might be!

Case Example

Many years ago, I treated a woman whose father was a sperm donor. Since Assisted Reproductive Technology has only been around for about 25 years, her mother must have been a pioneer in using artificial insemination to bear her daughter.

Her mother’s choice had profound implications for the daughter. Apparently, she thought nothing of them when she made the decision to exercise her personal right to bear a child by any means possible. My client spoke of a profound sense of loneliness and emptiness when she was unable to answer the question of who her father was. And she got little comfort from her detached mother who, in truth, only knew of the sperm donor’s approximate age, eye color, ethnic background, and that he was a medical student. She had no information whatsoever about her half-siblings who theoretically could number in the dozens.

All I could give the woman was a kind listening ear as she cried and railed at her unfortunate circumstance, which was precious little comfort, I’m afraid. But clearly, it was more than she felt she could get from her mother.

What This Means for You

• If you have already had a child using ART, be aware of the voids in that child’s psyche and soul.

• To never know both birth parents is a profound loss for these children.

• Parents need to help them grieve.

• This is true of other circumstances as well, such as a child whose parent is killed in a war before s/he is born.

• Being fathered by a sperm donor is the smallest scintilla of fatherhood there is.

• Who is in a child’s family is becoming increasingly more complicated for all concerned, and I suspect its complications will continue to grow exponentially

© Dr. Beth Erickson 2011

1 comment:

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