Reasonable Doubt: Starbuck's children and making babies the modern way

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      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.

      Laurel Dietz practices family law and criminal defence with Dogwood Law Corporation in Victoria, B.C. Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. She can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/UnbundledLawyer. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at straight.reasonable.doubt@gmail.com. A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.

      Comments

      8 Comments

      robinottawa

      Mar 1, 2014 at 5:46am

      I understand a single ejaculation could fertilize hundreds of eggs.

      DonorChildren

      Mar 1, 2014 at 7:43am

      If you are sperm/egg/embryo donor conceived, a donor, or used a donor to conceive a child please join the first donor community social network. We are a free resource. We are organizing/connecting the community and connecting biological family.

      www.DonorChildren.com

      Matt

      Mar 1, 2014 at 7:54am

      I have over 300 anonymous siblings. It is awful. The chance for incest is so high. I will probably never get to meet them all. It breaks my heart. This whole practice is sick at any level. Denying human beings the ability to know their real, biological parents should be a crime. It is human trafficking and nobody cares about the rights of the donor conceived but only their own. It's disgusting and anyone who says otherwise is delusional and self-serving. Children should not be a commodity like the puppies created from puppy mills or cattle for the slaughter. Canada should be ashamed for subsidizing laws and ones that support anonymity. Shame on you.

      It's not 'heart'

      Mar 1, 2014 at 5:41pm

      It's ego that would have a man father so many children.

      Bruce

      Mar 1, 2014 at 9:58pm

      "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."

      This is fine for the purposes of child support, etc. The problem comes with the idea that it is up the donor and/or parents to decide whether the child has a right to know the donor's identity and contact them. It would seem to me that anonymity is unethical. It assumes that the right of a child to know their parent is something a third party can own and sign away. As if the child were a kind of chattel, or property. The fact this was not addressed in the new family act us a glaring inconsistency, given its overall principle of the "best interests of the child" being the only interest worth considering in family matters.

      designer babies, dystopian society

      Mar 1, 2014 at 10:42pm

      Designer babies. Babies produced like they're things off an assembly line. Is that modern - or is that pathological? Laurel Deitz seems to be like a lot of women in our society: men are sperm donors and children are toys and it's all about finding the right anonymous donor and the right womb surrogate while I go to Tahiti and hit on teenage gigolos. Why be a father? Be a sperm donor, instead. Why be a mother? Just get a womb surrogate and, when the kid pops out, pay the surrogate what she's contracted for and then pay another woman to look after the kid while you travel and pretend you're a parent. Only a lawyer doesn't think this is sick.

      Bruce

      Mar 1, 2014 at 11:28pm

      @Matt

      "have over 300 anonymous siblings"

      This about matches the legal limit of one conception per 100k population per donor in Canada, mentioned above.

      Back of the envelope estimates then:

      Of those 100,000 population per sperm donor child, 50,000 are of the opposite gender. Say 1 in 10 are close enough in age to date or marry, leaving us with 5000 people.

      1/5000 seems like low odds, right? Look at it another way: for those 300 children from across one donir, the odds are 1/17 or so that one of them will have a child with a sibling. If each sleeps with an average of 10 people in their life, the odds of an act of sibling incest among them is over 50%. And this is optimistic: in reality people don't behave randomly. They choose mates based upon similarities, and parents who might use a sperm donor are likelier to be part if similar subcultures and social classes.

      And that's not even getting into the second generation, and their odds of unknowingly getting it on with a first cousin.

      marilynn

      Mar 11, 2014 at 3:49pm

      Donors sort of sell themselves into reproductive slavery - people that buy their sperm or eggs believe they own the right to reproduce the donor's body and that they own the right to keep and raise and name the donor's offspring. This is just the same way people like Jackson and Washington felt about having bought a whole person a few hundred years ago - the big difference is the incredible stupidity of gamete donors who were not caught and shackled but actually agreed to let people buy the right to decide where, when and with whom they will reproduce and have offspring with. People owned by Jackson and Washington did not want anyone to have custody and title over their children. That sense of entitlement a person gets when they are given or purchase the right to reproduce another human being is wrong and the sense of entitlement they have over that person's offspring is wrong. These people are not born free as their parents were - they are serving out the terms of a contract for indentured servitude that their biological parents drafted prior to their births in order to conceal the shady nature of the deal that would be detected in a normal court approved adoption. Cutting the deal in advance where everyone colludes to conceal the identity of the bio parent is the very hallmark of black market adoption and the fact that this country turns the other way because it is a multi billion dollar industry and we can't be bothered to protect the freedom of a population of people who might have no other source of financial support than the State if they were to be set free from the people who black market adopted them.

      So wrong