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The New Kinship

The New Kinship: Constructing Donor-Conceived Families

Naomi Cahn
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    The New Kinship
    Book Description:

    No federal law in the United States requires that egg or sperm donors or recipients exchange any information with the offspring that result from the donation. Donors typically enter into contracts with fertility clinics or sperm banks which promise them anonymity. The parents may know the donor's hair color, height, IQ, college, and profession; they may even have heard the donor's voice. But they don't know the donor's name, medical history, or other information that might play a key role in a child's development. And, until recently, donor-conceived offspring typically didn't know that one of their biological parents was a donor. But the secrecy surrounding the use of donor eggs and sperm is changing. And as it does, increasing numbers of parents and donorconceived offspring are searching for others who share the same biological heritage. When donors, recipients, and donor kids find each other, they create new forms of families that exist outside of the law. The New Kinship details how families are made and how bonds are created between families in the brave new world of reproductive technology. Naomi Cahn, a nationally-recognized expert on reproductive technology and the law, shows how these new kinship bonds dramatically exemplify the ongoing cultural change in how we think about family. The issues Cahn explores in this book will resonate with anyone - and everyone - who has struggled with questions of how to define themselves in connection with their own biological, legal, or social families.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7204-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    How do you know who is in your family? How do you define the group of people whom you label as family members? Do you consider them to be members of your family because you have chosen them or because you were born into a particular family with

    “your” parents and siblings? Imagine that you are not biologically related to at least one of your parents—or to either of your parents—because he or she used donor sperm, eggs, or a complete embryo. Are you related to the donor? Most donors are anonymous. No federal laws in the United...


    • 1 Peopling the Donor World
      (pp. 13-30)

      The donor-conceived world is filled with secrets. Unless they’re told otherwise, children don’t know that half—or in some cases, all—of their genetic heritage came from someone else. And even if they are aware of their genetic origins, they may never know who their donor is. Similarly, the donors who provided the egg or sperm don’t know whether they have helped create any children, or whether they have dozens.

      Using donor sperm or donor eggs is not a casual decision. Choosing to create children through another person’s gametes means entering a world of planned families and, often, of secrecy....

    • 2 The Meaning of Family in a Changing World
      (pp. 31-46)

      The goal of participating in the donor world is to have a child in order to create, complete, or expand one’s family. But changes in the structure of the American family over the past half-century are causing a cultural rethinking of what constitutes afamily. The donor world helps show that the meaning of family in today’s world is changing and becoming more complex. In 1968, famed anthropologist David Schneider was able to proclaim that Americans define “my family” as “a unit which contains a husband and wife and their child or children.”¹ Indeed, he noted that living together as...


    • 3 Creating Families
      (pp. 49-60)

      When people enter the donor world, they are looking for children. And, almost always, they are hoping for children who will be genetically related to them or to their partner and for children who will have “good genes.” Indeed, as they create families, they do so in a cultural context where biogenetic relationships are central, almost “mythical.”¹

      This chapter explores the first type of new kinship that is created through the use of third-party gametes: the kinship created between parent and child and, in two-parent families, the development of new connections between partners who must now see themselves as parents...

    • 4 Creating Communities across Families
      (pp. 61-88)

      In a highly acclaimed 2008 book for tweens,My So-Called Family,the narrator, Leah, is a thirteen-year-old who feels that something is missing in her life.¹

      When she comes home from kindergarten one day after learning that her friend’s mother is pregnant, she asks her mother to explain “sex.” Once her mother tells her where babies come from, Leah asks why she doesn’t have a father. Her mother then

      “explained that there had been a very nice man who’d known there was a mommy out there who needed his help to have her little girl. She said even though we...


    • 5 The Laws of the Donor World: Parents and Children
      (pp. 91-106)

      Numerous areas of the law converge in the donor world. Family law provides legal definitions of parenthood, determining when a donor is, or is not, a parent. It considers biology, intent, and function to identify the parents. Law also establishes the rights of children, determining whether children have interests distinct from their parents and it has the potential to answer questions such as whether half-siblings have any rights to access information about, and establish a relationship with, their donors. Health law issues concern the safety and testing of gametes, informed consent, medical information and history, and counseling. Privacy law, health...

    • 6 Law, Adoption, and Family Secrets: Disclosure and Incest
      (pp. 107-122)

      The pervasiveness and visibility of families in which children and one (or more) parent(s) do not share a biological tie is comparatively recent. While adoption has been practiced throughout history, its contemporary form—in which the adoptive family serves as a legally complete substitute for the biological family—is less than two centuries old. Adoption and ART have many parallels; most significant, of course, is that both enable people to become parents outside of the paradigm of heterosexual reproduction. Similarly, adoption and ART law, policy, and practice must balance the sometimes-competing rights and interests of the parties involved, whether they...


    • 7 Reasons to Regulate
      (pp. 125-136)

      The future of regulation for assisted reproduction technologies depends on societal interests as well as the voices of the donor-conceived community. The looming question is whether these familiesshouldbe further regulated by the law. Past regulation has protected the integrity and profitability of the fertility business and has also facilitated the use of donor gametes—and it has helped create many happy new families. On the other hand, as explored below, it has not adequately considered the interests of all members of these new, complex families. This chapter underscores the importance of developing a new framework that focuses on the...

    • 8 Regulating for Connection
      (pp. 137-150)

      Regardless of family type, most donor-conceived people are interested in learning more about the donor and any half-siblings who were conceived through use of the same donor. There are numerous issues—and potential approaches—to the question of how to promote these connections. This chapter discusses two different types of solutions: one set of proposals facilitates donor-conceived families finding each other; and a second concerns legal links, or the possibility of more formal legal recognition, between families through, for example, expansion of coverage of family and medical leave laws. These new forms of regulation are part of the paradigm shift...

    • 9 Regulating for Health and Safety: Setting Limits in the Gamete World
      (pp. 151-162)

      Donors are helping to create new families, yet their gametes are subject to minimal testing requirements, they are not required to update their medical information, and there is no limit on the number of children born from their gametes. Applying a new paradigm means that the fertility industry, including clinics, sperm banks, and egg donor brokers, needs further incentives to ensure the best interests of donor-conceived family communities. This principle leads to a reconsideration of existing approaches to ensure that relational interests are a significant factor in the formulation of law and policy. Legislatures must require improved record keeping, limits...

    • 10 Why Not to Regulate
      (pp. 163-180)

      Making changes to the existing system will not be easy. No consensus exists on the basic principles of supplementing a commercial model with a familybased, nurturant model, nor of further government involvement in the fertility markets. There is even less agreement on specific policy proposals. The fertility industry is protective of its ability to self-regulate, without outside intervention. Consider the vehemence with which Jamie Grifo, the program director of the New York University Fertility Center, defended the industry in the wake of disclosures about large numbers of children produced by the same sperm donor: “Too often in medicine, regulators and...

  9. Conclusion: Challenging and Creating Kinship
    (pp. 181-184)

    As donor-conceived families come together, there is much uncharted territory on how to define their connections. While existing doctrine provides some useful analogies, they are incomplete models. This book has explored how we might begin to nurture relationships, foster emotional connection, promote children’s interests, and recognize the multiple forms of intrafamily relationships. It has suggested a paradigm shift toward regulating donorconceived families and their communities not just as scientific and medical constructs but also as relational entities. Families connected through the same donor, but who do not share dependencies or a home, may develop emotional intimacies that resemble those of...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 185-230)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 231-241)
    (pp. 242-242)