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Saturday, April 28, 2012

King Solomon would be Pleased


A judge in British Columbia resolved a dispute over frozen sperm by dividing it in half.  Two women in a relationship bought the sperm together at a fertility clinic.  They then had two children with some of that sperm; the rest remained in frozen storage.  The couple later separated, and their assets were divided and a custody arrangement with the children was put in place.  As for the remaining sperm, one of the women asked for it, so that she could have a child.  The other woman objected, saying that if her former partner had a child with that sperm, the two existing children “would be confused.” 

There’s not much to that objection.  Children stand in all kinds of relationships to their parents and to the adults with whom their parents had previously relationships.  Let’s say that woman A used sperm to inseminate herself and to gestate the two children, while woman B did not bear any.  After the break-up, woman B now uses the sperm to have a child of her own. The children will be related to one another as half-siblings.  There’s not anything inherently confusing in that, since lots of half-siblings exist, and lots of half-siblings exist because of sperm donation.  It may be that woman A wants nothing at all to do with woman B any more, under any circumstances.  If woman B produces children related to those of woman A, well, there’s room for relationships and intrusions into her life that woman A might not want.  But that’s a different matter than saying that children must be confused by the existence of half-siblings.  Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have half-siblings, and – unless you disagree with their politics – they seem entirely functional. 

The judge in British Columbia wasn’t much persuaded by the argument about confusion either.  He ordered the remaining vials of sperm divided equally between the two women.  The use of their share of the vials is now up to each individual woman.