The Rights of Women, Men, and Children with Respect to Artificial Insemination

Women have adamantly battled for political and social reproductive rights since, in particular artificial insemination, have become mainstream phenomena in the recent decade with a focus on rights of women. In fact, doctors have experimented with the procedure for nearly a century. However, with the womenıs liberation movement of the 1970s, physician-assisted and self-insemination has become more and more popular among heterosexual career women and lesbians.

The Origins of Artificial Insemination

She was a Quaker. The wife of a merchant. The infertility patient of Dr. William Pancoast. She was a woman whose name was never recorded.

Dr. Pancoast, a professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, had already examined and tested her numerous times. Finally, he discovered that she was fertile and that the problem was her husbandıs;; There were no sperm. Pancoast (or maybe it was one of his students) had an idea. He called her in. He just wanted to examine her once more, he told her.

The woman lay on the table as she had been told to do. Pancoastıs six medical students-all young men- stood around her body. Pancoast anesthetized the woman with chloroform. He took the receptacle into which one of his students had masturbated. With a hard rubber syringe, he inserted the studentıs semen into her uterus. He then plugged her cervix with gauze.

When she awoke, he did not tell her what he had done. He never told her. Nine months later, she bore a son. It was 1884. This was the first reported human artificial insemination with donor semen. It was a rape. (Corea, 12)

As explained by the above excerpt from The Mother Machine, artificial insemination is not a recent technological breakthrough. The procedure among humans has been in existence for over a century.

What is the purpose of Artificial Insemination?

Artificial insemination is a unique area of medicine in that it does not involve a life-threatening ailment or set remedy. Women, usually healthy and fertile, enlist the help of physicians because they do not have access to the one element that will yield them a child. And so, doctors prescribe a cure of sorts- sperm. The procedure allows women increased power to regulate the reproductive processes of their bodies. Ironically, artificial insemination was not created as a method of empowerment for women. Rather for men. Male scientists and researchers developed the technology for eugenic purposes, not to alleviate the pressures of alternative lifestyles of women. That is, to improve the human species.

With the onset of research in genetics in the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists entertained theories of quality control with respect to human reproduction. Scientists such as Francis Crick and Dr. William Shockley believed that the growth rate of the population was increasing too rapidly, and most importantly certain unfavorable demographic clusters were increasing. In short, the wrong classes and races were reproducing with more frequency than was desired by these men. They hoped that future progeny would be of the same superior caliber as themselves. To yield this, they proposed schemes to tax children; to provide cash incentives for sterilization; to license women for the number of children they may bear and men for the sperm they may deposit in seed banks; to put sterilants in the food or water supply. (Corea, 28) Feminists scorned these suggestions, as did government representations when approached. Such propositions denied citizens their innate rights to reproduction, protected the democratic laws of the country.

Male leaders in the reproductive sciences, such as Norman Pirie, believed people do not have the right to produce children. (Corea, 28) Pirie also believed that women in general, but, more importantly, less affluent, misguided women, often are not capable of choosing appropriate male specimens to father their children. Consequently, more children enter the world with little social, cultural, and political value. Such unacceptable mating is detrimental to the prosperity of the human race. Pirie and others deemed men the proper regulators of reproduction. If allowed, they would grant only certain, well educated women a license to propagate.

Artificial insemination appeared to be a plausible solution to the dilemma at hand. Early scientists viewed the procedure as a method of population control, not only in the quantitative sense but also in the qualitative one. It was their belief that most men would store their sperm and then undergo sterilization, ensuring the opportunity to produce offspring in the future. Secondly, sperm banks would enlist only the most intelligent and aesthetically pleasing males to collect sperm from in an attempt to promote the production of superior human beings.

How does Artificial Insemination effect men?

Men are the facilitators of reproduction, as they provide the necessary catalyst in the creation of new human life. With regard to artificial insemination, men participate most prominently by donating sperm. Issues regarding the rights of male in this instance revolve around the rights of the sperm donor. In debates over sperm donation, terminology applied to men who provide semen is most often discussed. Men who provide the semen for donor insemination have been called donors by most authors, although other terms, such as vendor (for men who sell their semen) and consignor (for a man who hands over his semen an the rights to it) have been proposed. (Daniels, 1522) The expression provider is used most frequently because it is neutral, and does not explicitly define the terms of the acquisition. That is, whether the semen was a gift or the appropriation of a monetary transaction. The majority of men who provide semen do so for monetary compensation, rather than out of altruism. Sperm clinics compensate men for their services either by reimbursing them for travel expenses and the like or a fixed amount for each sample. Monetary compensation is under debate at the moment by sperm banks for two specific reasons. Sperm collectors find it beneficial to pay providers because the pecuniary incentive attracts a large number of younger men, increasing the variety and number of samples available to patrons. On the other hand, providers are less likely to be truthful on surveys inquiring about personal, medical, and genetic information for fear that their sperm will not be accepted, and thus they will not receive payment.

In general, sperm providers argue that payment is necessary to compensate for the physical and psychological strain provision entails. Several immediate factors may affect providers:...abstinence from sex in some cases, embarrassment, and even the unpleasantness of having to masturbate to order in often in very unsatisfactory circumstances (e.g. In a toilet cubicle) and then hand the sample over to (usually female) staff. (Daniels, 1522) Moreover, society stigmatizes sperm donors, and men express the need for a monetary reward to comfort them in their period of psychological turmoil.

Doctors also have concerns with men who donate sperm for altruistic reasons. A great number of older men, that is around the age of 40, who have had fertility problems within their own families or have had friends with infertility problems frequently donate sperm. One serious concern physicians have with older men is the lower sperm count of the semen. Another is the tendency for these men to want to meet the women involved in the insemination process. Often times, they express interest in an involvement in the childıs life before and after birth. For this reason, physicians prefer to maintain anonymity on both sides throughout the process to avoid future emotional, psychological, and even legal problems. Most men find artificial insemination too accessible and fear that women will opt for alternative methods of reproduction. They feel that their role in the reproductive process is being diminished by the new technologies. This especially occurs with infertile married men who accompany their wives to fertility clinics. Most are concerned that he and the child will not share physical traits. To alleviate this pressure, doctors try to select a donor much like the husband physically. Even so, infertile married men tend to distance themselves from the child because he or she is not of their blood, and consequently often seek counseling.

How does Artificial Insemination effect Women?

Women have benefitted tremendously with the advent of artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies. Two specific groups of women receive the treatment--lesbians and career women. Lesbians prefer not to perform sexual intercourse to conceive a child through natural means, and so look towards science for alternatives. Older career women, on the other hand, often do not want to establish a romantic relationship with a man to bear a child. They solely desire motherhood, and not necessarily a traditional nuclear family. Regardless of lifestyle, these women choose technology over adoption because it provides the opportunity to experience motherhood firsthand, as opposed to raising another womanıs child. In this sense, artificial insemination is a positive process, but it can also have adverse ramifications on motherhood.

One issue feminists have raised over orificial insemination is that the technology strips women of a certain maternal power. For one, a number of women become attracted, and some times preoccupied, with the idea of bioengineering their child. They focus on the technological aspect of manipulating the sex of the child and even selecting donors for specific physical traits. Secondly, as noted above, the field of reproductive technology is dominated by men. Male scientists and physicians regulate the conception and birthing processes, in essence, rationalizing, objectifying, planning, and controlling motherhood. (Mies, 332) In short, women lose much of the intimacy involved in the process.

Feminists also have qualms with the restrictions society imposes on the reproductive rights of women. As all fertility clinics in the country are privately owned, doctors can selectively screen out women recipients of sperm on the basis of martial status, sexual orientation, race, and class. Physicians have the power to choose who should reproduce and who should not. They widely accept married women with infertile husbands, and occasionally wealthy lesbian or single women.

Women also faced obstacles in financing reproductive technologies. However, recently many insurance companies now consider infertility as a medical condition, and cover procedures such as in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination if necessary. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, for instance, allows the patron the option to buy additional coverage averaging $25,000. Of late, the government has taken a serious role in monitoring and regulating insurance policies. Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas require that insurance companies to offer benefits for pregnancy-related procedures. Ironically, Medicaid, government aid, does not cover reproductive services in its plan, and is not likely to modify the plan in the future. Like some private companies, the government finds reproductive technologies experimental and refuses to include such services in coverage. They deem such processes too expensive and frequently unsuccessful. This an unfortunate setback for underprivileged women who might benefit from reproductive technologies, not necessarily artificial insemination though, when studies have shown that more less affluent women and men are infertile than their wealthier counterparts.

Women who are deterred from fertility clinics on the basis of lifestyle or can not afford the approximately $12,000 for each attempt at insemination often turn to friends and in some cases virtual strangers, by placing advertisements in periodicals, for help. In such cases, women frequently run into legal trouble after the birth of their children. For instance in Georgia, an AID child is only legitimate when a physician had performed the insemination. In the case that a woman self inseminates, the child she bears is a bastard. (Corea, 42) Other women have been sued for custody of their children by the donor. As in Jhordan C. v. Mary K. (1986), the sperm donor, who impregnated a lesbian woman without physician assistance, was granted custody of the child by the courts. The courts specifically stated that the women could have avoided legal intervention had she enlisted the assistance of a physician. Moreover, the woman was denied access to her local fertility clinic because of her sexual orientation, which the courts did not take into consideration. In addition, a sperm donor was granted parental rights and responsibilities of a child in C. M. v. C. C. because the courts believed its was in the best interests of the child to grown up a two parent household, despite the fact that the well established, heterosexual, career women had the financial means to support her child on her own. (Blank)

How does Artificial Insemination effect the children involved in the procedure?

Children do not ask to be born, nor do they decide on the method of their conception. Adults have the power to conceive and to make known to the child the conditions surrounding his or her conception and birth. Consequently, reproductive technologies often have negative effects on the emotional and psychological well being of children involved whether or not they are aware of their biological history. Some children live their lives unaware. On the other hand, others recognize significant physical differences between themselves and their parents, and raise the issue, or else their parents admit this to them on their own accord. Physicians, legislators, and parents debate over whether the circumstances of conception should be explained to a child of conceived through artificial insemination. Some argue that a child has the inherent right to know who his or her biological parents are. Others feel that the anonymity of the sperm donor should be maintained. In fact, some sperm donors do not want to be involved. One sperm donor openly admitted that he preferred that his child not know his identity, saying that he donated his sperm solely for monetary reasons, and did not want the parental ramifications that followed when he was approached by his child. (Blank)

Another issue is the idealization of such children. Parents are often under the notion that reproductive technologies will ensure conception of a perfect child. If the child is born with a congenital defect or is of the wrong sex, the parents present feelings of disappointment, which is often reflected in the rearing of the child. (Blank) Moreover, parents treat their children as more fragile that other children in their nuclear family conceived by natural means, and tend to be overprotective of him or her.

Natasha Rosado

Works Cited

Blank, Robert. Human Reproduction, Emerging Technologies, and Conflicting Rights Congressional Quarterly: Washington D.C., 1995.

Corea, Gena. The Mother Machine : Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs New York : Harper & Row, 1985.

Daniels, Ken R. ³Information Sharing in Semen Donation: The Views of Donors² Social Science & Medicine v. 44 no5 (March 1997) p. 673-80

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last updated 9/8/98