The question in the title of this blog has been rolling around in my head since I watched the second episode of Generation Cryo on Wednesday night. I really don’t have any hard and fast answers to this but all I can say is that it felt very uncomfortable to watch 18 year old Jesse looking at the photo of himself with a group of half-siblings when he was 13 and talk about how his parents virtually forced him to meet them. Jesse’s opposite sex couple parents talk openly about the donor, their interest him and how they’d like to meet him whilst Jesse squirms and says he’s not really sure he’s interested at all. The dynamics in this obviously rather well off Boston based family are interesting. Jesse’s younger sister Emily was conceived without donor help. “I’m natural” she boasts but with all the talk about and focus on donor conception she is clearly the one who is jealous of her ‘special’ brother. Jesse’s father is very clear that he loves both his children equally and he and his wife have gone out of their way not only to be open with Jesse but, as indicated previously, have engineered contact with some of the half-siblings and are 100 per cent behind any search for the donor. What they don’t seem to have is respect for Jesse’s reticence about it all. His mother speculates that this may be to do with Jesse wanting to protect his father and suggests that the two men have a heart to heart about this. The conversation that then takes place on the golf driving range between father and son brought tears to my eyes. Whilst this was a wonderful moment of bonding between the two it remained unclear to me whether or not protecting his dad had been behind Jesse’s lack of interest in his donor or not. Could it be that he really is fine as he is and genuinely does not want to know more?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the meantime Bree expresses surprise that Jesse appears not to want to read the profile of the donor, but then (for the benefit of the camera??) he does so and as he does a change seems to come over him. He connects with some of the description and as he says… ‘He just got real for me’. From this point on he seems happier to help Bree in her search.
As I have only seen the film once and don’t seem to be able to watch it again (videos on the MTV site appear only to be viewable in N.America) I’m a bit confused as to the sequence of events, but at some point a plot is hatched between the half-sibs (and others including Hilit and Jonah are involved here) to go to the sperm bank to see if they will pass on a message to the donor. The woman they speak to at California Cryobank appears happy to co-operate with this plan but we also learn that Julian, another half sib who is the child of a single mom, has already taken this step and the donor has apparently failed to reply. Jonah, meanwhile, is reluctant to get involved in further attempts to contact the donor but finds it hard to explain to his sister why this is.
So we have the twins Jonah and Hilit and Jesse from heterosexual couple families who have various shades of reluctance about tracking down the donor and this despite differences in attitudes of their parents… Jesse’s being super supportive to the point of being pushy and the twins having a dad who does not see the donor as being part of the picture of what his family looks like. Whilst Bree, daughter of a lesbian couple and single mom Janis, mother to (another) Jesse and twin Jayme are keen to get on with the quest, as is Julian, son of another single mom. There really do seem to be significant differences here. And it’s not just lesbian and single moms and their children on one side and heterosexual couple and their kids on the other. It also has something to do with sons of infertile men. Jesse’s dad of course was clearly only sub-fertile as he went on to have Emily without donor help and I can’t help wondering if this later evidence of his fertility is a factor in his relaxed attitude to Jesse finding his donor. Although this may not be so at all. I know a number of dads by DI, including Walter, who have no problem at all in acknowledging their infertility and need for help in creating a family.
But the central question is, just what role should parents play in making genetic connections for their children? In the UK, where connecting is difficult because of the lack of donor identifying numbers, single women are by far the biggest group of donor conception parents who are looking to find half-siblings. Some have deliberately chosen to import sperm from US cryobanks where it is possible to get a donor number so that they can link up with half-sibs via the Donor Sibling Registry. Some are doing this whilst their children are very young so it is impossible for the children to give properly informed consent prior to contact being made and relationships developing. Does this matter? It’s not something I feel clear about at all, but I know some people feel quite strongly that moves to make half-sib links should only come from the children/young people themselves as they grow old enough to understand the meaning of the genetic connection. Will Jesse feel pleased in the future that his parents insisted on him meeting his half-sibs in early teenage years? Just what are the obviously complicated things going on in heterosexual couple families where children feel so ambivalent about their donor, even if half-sibs are a welcome extension of family? Are children’s rights being supported or denied by parents making links to other families genetically linked to their donor whilst the children are young
I’d love to discuss these issues, but please folks can we stick to the topic?