One of the things we are looking forward to Professor Marcus Pembrey explaining about tomorrow at the DCN national meeting is exactly how epigenetics work in the case of egg, sperm and embryo donation. There has been much speculation about the impact of epigenetics – where environmental factors in the womb and during the upbringing of a child have an impact on the switching on or off of some gene functions – in egg donation. But presumably this happens with every pregnancy, whether or not the genetic material comes from the raising parents or a donor or donors. Whilst we await Professor Pembrey’s perspective on these matters, interesting viewing can be found in the short video on the BBC Health site where Professor Tim Spector of the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College, London gives a short explanation of epigenetics in a health context, illustrated by identical twins with very different health histories. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15940381
Back to a topic I have written about several times over the last couple of months. That of known donors, particularly but not exclusively in the lesbian and gay community. On Thursday 15th March the Guardian carried news of the outcome of the case that had gone to the Court of Appeal. I first blogged about this on 2nd February and then again on 13th and 19th February if you want the history. In this case a gay man whose two year old son lives with his lesbian mother and her partner has won the right to be involved in the child’s life. The two women had argued that the original agreement had been that he would be acknowledged as the child’s father but would have only secondary involvement. However, the mother of the child entered into a ‘marriage of convenience’ with the ‘donor’ who was also present when the child was born and during much of his early life. This is a man who clearly had a relationship with the (his) child from his earliest days and it seems a completely proper decision that he should be fully involved the child’s life. Lady Justice Black observed the courts were struggling with “still new territory” but it was “an area of family law in which generalised guidance is impossible”. Lord Justice Thorpe commented that the father was “seeking to offer a relationship of considerable value. It is generally accepted that a child gains by having two parents. It does not follow from that that the addition of a third is necessarily disadvantageous”. Interesting.
Here was a man who was seeking more involvement in his son’s life, and is presumably happy to shoulder the burdens and responsibilities of being a parent alongside the joy and fun part. So what are we to make of an increasing phenomenon, certainly in the States and likely to be here any time soon, of men who agree to help create a child for a woman of their acquaintance and then have a variety of hands-off and certainly responsibility-free roles with the child as s/he grows up. The on-line men’s mag Details.com has a very interesting and balanced article about several of these situations http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201203/sperm-donor-dad-artificial-insemination In most of the cases illustrated the child is still very young so not yet in a position to question why dad isn’t around much or demand more of him. Most of the men seem happy to play some role in their child’s life but equally happy to defer to the child’s mother for all decision making. None of them seem to contribute financially. The women involved seem to be happy with this situation (many are in lesbian relationships), but for me it begs a lot of questions. Whilst absolutely not wishing to stereotype men – for I am married to a wonderful one and know many other extremely loving and responsible fathers -isn’t this part-time dad scenario just playing into (some) men’s fantasies of being able to prove their fertility without commitment to an adult relationship and all the responsibilities of becoming a father. Is this really something we want to encourage? And what sort of role model of being a father does this provide to the children for the future? Someone who’s around for the fun parts but makes himself scarce when the going gets tough. Could it be, as Details suggests in the introduction to the article, that arrangements such as these are nothing more than an emotional time bomb?