This morning, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Olivia Pratten's application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. See the Vancouver Sun article here
Ms. Pratten is a Canadian woman who was conceived through the use of donor sperm in the early 1980s. Ms. Pratten sued the Province of British Columbia (and others) for, among other things, discriminating against donor-conceived people as compared to adult adoptees by failing to take steps to ensure that identifying and medical information about the donor was available to donor-conceived people upon reaching the age of majority. Ms. Pratten alleged that donor-conceived people suffered from various traumas as a result of not having access to such information, and this allegation was accepted by the lower court. Ms. Pratten was successful in the lower court, but the decision was overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal. For more information about the decisions, read this article here
The fertility community - including parents, donor-conceived people, clinics, sperm banks, doctors, and lawyers - was waiting with baited breath for this decision. Although the case was originally brought in B.C., if successful, it was widely believed that the implication would be a national ban on the use of anonymously donated sperm and eggs across Canada. This would be the case for all donor sperm and eggs, despite the lack of known or open identification donors among various ethnic groups, the parents' preference, etc.At this point in time, of all the donor sperm used in Canada that is not from a known donor (for the most part, such sperm being imported into Canada from the U.S. and Europe), about 60% is from open identity (open-i.d.) donors, meaning upon reaching the age of majority, the child already has access to information about the donor through the sperm bank (notably, though, this is a contractual relationship and the information provided is not through the state, province or territory). The specifics of what information is available to the donor-conceived person varies from sperm bank to sperm bank. The only remaining national Canadian sperm bank, Repromed, also offers donors and parents open-i.d. as an option. Over the past decade or so, there has been a definite increase in Canadian parents' preference to use known or open-i.d. donors as compared to anonymous donors. However, this preference isn't necessarily true for everyone, and isn't necessarily true of parents from every community. For example, some fascinating research has been published about the British South Asian community which seems to suggest that this community is one that would struggle with the idea of known gamete donation.Is it acceptable that parents have a choice in deciding what is in the best interests of their child, taking into account many different factors, including the culture in which the family exists? Is it enough that through education and research, without imposing a complete ban, far more Canadian parents are choosing known or open-identity donors than are choosing anonymous donors?
In my opinion, the best way to encourage known gamete donation across Canada is not to impose a ban on anonymity (which clearly isn't legally sound as per the B.C. Court of Appeal's decision), but for each province to draft legislation which clearly sets out the rights and obligations of sperm and egg donors, parents and children conceived through gamete donation, with respect to parental rights. If parents were less concerned that a donor may have parental or other rights to their child, it seems logical that they would be less concerned about the issue of anonymity.
Last night, I saw the play Hatched
at the Toronto Free Gallery. I had been waiting eagerly for the play to open, ever since first being contacted by the playwright, Claire Burns, reading a draft of the script, and then attending at and speaking at a fundraiser. Hatched
is a play about egg donation. It asks important questions: what makes a family? How important is biology? How much of a person is nature vs. nurture? Should parents tell a child born through the use of donor gametes about their conception, and if so, when? What role should a donor play in the life of the child conceived through the use of the donated gametes? Hatched
goes a step further, though. It asks questions about the emotional experience of the egg donor. What does the experience mean to an egg donor? Is the donor curious about children born through the use of the donated ova? It explores the emotions of a woman who had donated her eggs in her youth and later ends up suffering from infertility; the only child with a biological link to her that will exist is the child who was conceived with the use of her donated eggs.
Because Hatched is a play and is therefore not required to be true to life, there are parts that are a little bit fanciful. An intended parent being able to steal the medical records of an anonymous egg donor seems unlikely. Even more unlikely is the egg donor being the guidance counsellor of the child conceived with the use of the donor eggs. Regardless, I think it's important to explore the issues surrounding egg donation (and other third party reproductive technologies) from all perspectives, and theatre and art are excellent forums for this. My one caveat, though, is that the audience must remember that this is a play, and not the actual experience of the donor. If we look back to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaids Tale
, for example, when it comes to reproductive technologies, sometimes fiction has taken the place of reality in making policy which is a dangerous thing.
Hatched is playing through the 17th of November. Tickets can be purchased here
The Supreme Court of British Columbia released a landmark fertility law decision where, for the first time, sperm was held to constitute property at law. You can find the J.C.M.
. decision here
.Briefly, here are the facts of the case:A lesbian couple purchased sperm from a US sperm bank. Using this sperm, they conceived two children at Genesis Fertility Centre. The couple later broke up and divided up the assets of their relationship, but inadvertently failed to come to an agreement about the remaining sperm. The applicant, J.C.M., later met a new partner and wanted to use the remaining frozen sperm to conceive a child who was biologically related to her previous children. A.N.A. refused
to allow the use and instead asked that the cryopreserved sperm be destroyed. J.C.M. brought the application seeking a declaration that the sperm was her sole property.The Honourable Madame Justice Russell ordered that the 13 remaining sperm straws be divided between the parties.Here is what I had to say about the decision:
watch the brief video hereTake home point: while an important decision, I doubt that the issue of whether gametes are property at law is resolved by this decision. How would the judge have decided had the remaining donor gamete been a single cryopreserved egg that could not be divided? Would the decision have differed had the donor sperm not been purchased by the parties, thereby taking away any meaningful argument from the respondent that treating human gametes as property devalues and commercializes human tissue?