Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Wed Mar 19 20:46:38 CST 1997

On Wed, 19 Mar 1997, Sankar Jayanarayanan wrote:


> What are the ethical implications on artificial insemination through
> semen-donation? Suppose a man donates his semen to a woman whom he has never
> met, and a baby is born to the woman, is the man duty-bound to bring up the
> child like a father? I have no views on the subject of ethics in cloning or
> artificial insemination and would like to know if the two issues are related
> in any way. Thanks.

The man is of course the biological father of the child conceived through
artificial insemination. But if he has no knowledge of who has used his
sperm, he cannot reasonably be held responsible for the child. From what I
gather, sperm banks insist on such anonymity, although there have been
instances of people trying to find out and make contact. There has to be a
set of guidelines for such things, e.g. sperm banks generally donate sperm
only to an infertile couple. Still, no man can be forced to donate sperm
against his will. Cloning is much more complicated, as it is quite bizarre
to consider the possibility that genetic material can be used from any
part of the body to construct a DNA bank. The real problems will arise in
a totalitarian society that suppresses diversity, or devalues individual
choice, or in a society where the masses are ignorant and a few
influentially placed individuals or groups blatantly misuse their power.

There can be no universal answers for such situations, I suppose. Each
case has to be evaluated on its own merits. Take surrogate motherhood, for
example, where a foetus is implanted into another woman's uterus and the
pregnancy is brought to term. The child that is born is genetically not
hers, but the fact of having reared the foetus makes the surrogate mother
attached to it. There have been many such cases, and the legal and moral
implications are quite confusing. Generally, if such conflicts are
litigated, judges grant custody to that family which they think best
serves the welfare of the child.

However, the emphasis on all these complications misses the essential
contradiction at the root. The idea that one's child has to necessarily be
of one's own flesh is rooted in a basic identification of the "I" with the
body. This dehAtma-buddhi is the root cause of all the misery rising from
such situations. Any karmic implications of any human activity, including
cloning, artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood arise from this
basically mistaken notion. For that matter, even having children through
regular sexual intercourse involves such dehAtma-buddhi. The only
difference is that the world religions have had a long time to regulate
the institutions of marriage, parenthood etc, but they have to face all
these complications that today's society brings up. Advances in
biotechnology are only going to raise more such issues in the future.

> This is a much more common occurrence: there are people who bring up others
> children as their own (e.g. Karna was the son of Kunti, but grew up in the
> house of a charioteer, and Sita was "born of the earth" but was brought up by
> king Janaka). Who exactly is the "real" parent: one who is genetically the
> parent, or the one who looks after the child? Sita is often called Jaanakii,

Both answers are right, in their own contexts. In my opinion, the one who
looks after the child tends to have a better right to be called parent.

> but Karna never publicly acknowledged Kunti to be his mother. (These cases may
> or may not include child adoption).

Karna was very upset that Kunti cast him away, and chose not to
acknowledge her. He felt a higher affinity to Radha and Adhiratha, his
foster parents. His attitude is understandable, because Kunti's
acknowledging him as her son was quite opportunistic.


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