Starbuck (no, not our much beloved coffee chain) is a French Canadian movie about a sperm donor who donates enough sperm to create 500-plus live births, i.e. children. Then the 500-plus biological children discover each other and band together to start a lawsuit to find out the true identity of Starbuck. I recommend watching the movie—it's delightful. Hollywood liked it so much, they've remade the movie in English, starring Vince Vaughn.
The idea for the movie is compelling—why couldn't it happen? It's easy enough to donate sperm and make a few bucks right? So, if you're in a pinch and need to make rent, why not? If I've learned anything from TV, it's that sperm donation is always an option to make some money. It doesn't seem impossible that one donor may have fathered a large number of children.
Well as some of you would-be sperm donors already know (and I learned this week during my legal research), in Canada, you cannot make a buck donating sperm. You cannot make a buck as a surrogate mother either, for that matter. Parliament has come down strongly on this point—under no circumstances will anyone in Canada make any money by helping to make babies for LGBTQ couples, infertile couples, or would-be single parents. If you are going to be part of the process of making these babies, you will do so out of the goodness of your heart and that is it.
And your heart must be good if you are going to donate sperm—generally sperm banks only accept donors that are willing to sign up for a year-long process involving a battery of health and background checks. Before becoming a sperm donor, Parliament decreed that sperm banks must conduct a background check on you that goes back three generations. You must also pass the rest of the health tests and remain disease free for six months after donating your sperm.
Considering the commitment a sperm donor is required to make, it's no wonder that in my brief Internet search I learned that there is often more demand than supply for sperm. On top of that, sperm banks are limited by which donor can supply a particular region. Parliament has said that no one donor can facilitate more than three live births per region with 100,000 people.
Despite the commitment it takes to be a sperm donor, it's no where near the burden a surrogate mother takes on. Parliament has made it exceedingly clear that women are not to be compensated for carrying and giving birth to someone else's baby. They are not even allowed to be compensated for lost work while pregnant, unless they have note from their doctor saying they are not allowed to work.
Considering that Parliament also prohibits growing a baby outside of human body past the first 14 days of development, it makes it exceedingly difficult to have a baby if you're not blessed with a fertile womb. (For those interested, Parliament also prohibits making chimeras or hybrids, which is mixing human cells with non-human cells to make a baby—of sorts. I found it fascinating that this was in the realm of possibility, such that Parliament has considered it and prohibited it.)
So what if you are a sperm donor/egg donor/surrogate mother? Are you also a parent? Biologically and scientifically, yes for the sperm donor/egg donor. In B.C., legally, no, not necessarily for all three. As of March 18, 2013, the Family Law Act has been in force and contemplates the parentage of babies made the modern way. It's predecessor, the Family Relations Act was notably silent on parentage of babies made the modern way. So for those people exploring their procreation options, it should be a breath of fresh air. The basic rules are these: if you are a sperm or egg donor, you are not considered a parent, unless prior to conception there was an agreement made between the people presumed to be the parents and you.
Yes, that's right. All of you are now thinking about young Della Wolf. The first child in B.C. to have three parents on her birth certificate. How did that come to be? Well, legally, Wolf's birth mother and her life partner decided to have a baby. When seeking out a potential sperm donor, they had the choice as to whether or not they wanted this person to be a part of their child's life as a parent figure. They decided that it was important and found someone who felt the same way.
Together they would have crafted an agreement, naming said sperm donor as a parent, prior to conception. The "prior to conception" part is key—likely to avoid coercion on either part after the fact. After wrestling with the bureaucracy at Vital Statistics (the birth certificate ministry), Wolf emerged with her three parents. A beautiful story! Unless (until?) it falls apart. Then there are three parents warring over contact, parenting time, and parenting responsibilities—and many of you know how that goes.
So, slow though we may be, B.C. is finally taking its first steps into the modern age and recognizing different family structures, in which babies are no longer only made the old-fashioned way.
Check back here next week for Joseph Fearon's captivating foray into the world of animal rights law.