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The Iona Blog

The man whose ‘son’ will really be his half-brother

Author: Tom O'Gorman
Date: 9th April 2012

A story has emerged from Holland that should make anyone’s toes curl . It involves a married couple in their early 30s who discovered they could not have a child because the husband produced no sperm.

But instead of adopting they decided they wanted a child that was a close a match to them genetically speaking as possible. The wife could provide her own egg to an IVF clinic, so they went looking within the family for someone who could donate sperm. However, the husband had no brothers to make such a donation.  Their solution? To use sperm from the man’s father.

This would mean that the resulting child would have a "father" who was his biological half- brother (or sister) in reality, and a "grandfather" who was his biological father. The wife would have given birth to her father-in-law's child.

Reading the story, we find that “all parties were comfortable with the decision”. Of course, what they mean is that all the adult parties were happy with the decision. Obviously, the as yet unconceived child couldn’t be consulted, although the parents will one day find out whether he or she is “comfortable with the decision”.

According to the story, before proceeding, “the couple had a discussion with the hospital ethics committee, the clinic eventually decided to honour the couple's wishes”.

In other words, the hospital’s ethic’s committee decided that, ultimately, the fact that the child’s social father would be his half brother wasn’t a problem.

According to the story, experts “have varying views on the issue, but most agree so-called intrafamilial assisted reproduction should not necessarily be banned, and can perhaps work in some circumstances”.

Adrienne Asch, another professional ethicist from Yeshiva University in New York says that she’s not sure that such donation should be banned.

But she thinks couples who request it "should be very carefully counselled about the psychological pitfalls that could await them".

I’m sure Ms Asch is very concerned about the children conceived in such circumstances. But she seems to be more worried about the adults. Which sums up the whole problem with the AHR industry.

The case is a neat illustration of the paradox at the heart of the AHR industry as pointed out by author Elizabeth Marquardt.

Marquardt, in a 2006 paper called The Revolution in Parenthood on the subject, writes: “Adults who support the use of new technologies to bear children sometimes say that biology does not matter to children, that all children need is a loving family.

“Yet biology clearly matters to the adults who sometimes go to extreme lengths— undergoing high-risk medical procedures; procuring eggs, sperm, or wombs from strangers; and paying quite a lot of money—to create a child genetically related to at least one of them.

“In a striking contradiction, these same people will often insist that the child’s biological relationship to an absent donor father or mother should not really matter to the child.”

The genetic link, for such parents (and clearly for the parents in this case) is very important. But it is supposed to be “no big deal” for the children.

The UN’s Declaration Of The Rights Of The Child says that in any laws relating to children “the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration”. The AHR industry obviously didn’t get the memo.

P.S. The Iona Institute published a paper on this subject in 2009. Entitled Making Babies: Towards a child-centred view of Assisted Human Reproduction, it was written by Breda O'Brien and is well worth a read.

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