A few weeks ago I posted a video of Millie Fontana, a donor-conceived daughter of lesbian mothers. In her speech, Fontana touched on the imbalance of “equality” in the LGBT debate.
Indeed, “equality” is the buzz word for this debate. Marriage equality. Family equality. Of treating people with equal respect for who they are as human beings.
But what about the men, women and children involved in achieving this “equality”? To make a family with children even partially biologically related to them, same-sex couples must use third-party reproduction.
Consciously or unconsciously, to desire a child as the end result of a technological procedure instead of the fruit of marital love is to treat the child not as a person to love, but a product to obtain.
Even the children conceived through this technology often recognize this fact, themselves.
According to the 2010 study “My Daddy’s Name is Donor“, the first real effort to learn about the identity, kinship, well-being, and social justice experiences of young adults who were conceived through sperm donation, 45% of children conceived from an anonymous sperm donation reported that they were bothered by the fact that money was exchanged in order to conceive them.
Quoting Jessica Kern, a woman conceived and born via anonymous egg donation and surrogacy:
“As much as I do believe that surrogacy can come from a compassionate place… as a product of surrogacy, it’s hard not to be aware of the fact that there is a price tag. There is an awareness that, you know, in essence, you were bought by the family that you grew up with. You are a product at the end of the day.”
Alana Newman is another outspoken donor-conceived woman and founder of Anonymous Us, a support group for the children of anonymous sperm donors. Earlier this year she and another donor-conceived woman co-authored an article supporting fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana for criticizing artificial reproduction:
I am indeed a human being. My liver, heart, hair, and enzymes all work the same. I’ve discovered it is my psychology that is different and not-quite-right, due to my conception. It’s not a matter for doctors to fix; it’s a spiritual problem. My father accepted money, and promised to have nothing to do with me. My mother was wonderful and I have always loved her deeply, as she has loved me. But my journey is a battle against the void left by my father’s absence, and a particular disability in understanding the difference between sacred and commercial, exploitation and cooperation. Those torments for me far outweigh any social stigma or momentarily painful gossip I’ve endured from ignorant people.
Even with the best intentions, taking the creation of life out of its natural, God-given context and moving it into the science lab seriously alters how many view the wonder and mystery of new life and how that new life should be treated.
Nowhere is this more evident than in India where surrogacy has become full-scale human trafficking with babies literally being bought and sold on the black market.
Then, of course there are the women who put their bodies and lives on the line in order to obtain the “raw materials” needed for this cultural experimentation.
Women like Maggie, who was never informed of the risks egg donation posed to her own health and well-being. Who was used repeatedly for others’ gain, but when things turned bad for her, she was left on her own to navigate tests, treatments, surgeries, and an unknown prognosis.
Women like Brooke, an Idaho woman who served as a surrogate three times and died last month carrying twins, reportedly for a Spanish couple.
Surrogacy and egg donation —- especially in places like India -— takes advantage of those of a lower social position in life and then exploits them.
HBO Vice correspondent, Gianna Toboni, recently traveled to India to report the country’s booming surrogacy industry where impoverished women are recruited to be “gestational carriers” for middle-to-upper-class Western women. In an interview with NY Magazine, Toboni said that most American couples turn a blind eye or don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes in Indian surrogacy agencies because, “they want their baby fast, and they want it done cheaply.”
The practice of commercial surrogacy is indistinguishable from the buying and selling of children. In fact, Cambodia has gone so far as to announce plans to officially classify surrogacy as human trafficking. And in 2011 the European Parliament passed a resolution calling surrogacy “an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs.”
Women did not come this far to be treated like breeding animals.
Even the men, whose contribution may not be quite as risky to his health or life as the women, are known only by a number and a set of physical characteristics. “Donor #T5, brown-haired and brown-eyed with O-positive blood type.”
To quote a saint whose feast day we celebrated last month: “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.”
Third party reproduction turns people into products.
How is that equality?
I love Gianna. (Background: Jessen has the “gift of cerebral palsy” and walks with a limp.)
Her tweet above reminds me of my response when people ask me “why don’t you use an electric wheelchair (it’s easier, you can move faster, etc…)?” “Because I can use my hands and arms,” I say.
Maybe it’s prideful, but I’ve discovered that when a disability takes so much away from you, you relish the things that you still can do…even if they do require a little more effort.
And, yes, you also relish proving to others that you’re not as broken or helpless as they think you are.
On a related note: this is a nice little video from Australia on Living With a Spinal Cord Injury.
There’s still so much we can do!
When I re-posted this graphic from the Center for Bioethics and Culture (using data from this study) on Facebook someone objected to it, concerned that something like that might be harmful to her adopted son if he ever came across it. Causing him to feel shame since his parents had to pay money, as well.
I understand her concern, especially since her son is still quite young. But the graphic clearly says “in order to conceive them,” which is the major difference between adoption and third party reproduction (3PR).
Yes, money is exchanged in both situations — but one is (ideally) a worth-wile attempt to make the best of a bad situation for an already born child in need; the other deliberately contracts the creation of a child to fulfill the wants and needs of the parents.
Having many friends who have lovingly opened their hearts and homes to children in need, I understand that on the surface there can seem to be similarities between these two issues (money changes hands, children want to know where they came from, etc…), and I try to be sensitive to that.
I also try to be sensitive to those I know who have themselves or have loved ones who have used 3PR with only the best intentions in mind.
Nevertheless, the statistic above is real.
More and more children of 3PR are speaking out about the injustice and indignity of their very existence being the result of a business contract and these children deserve to have their voices heard.
Alana Newman, who is a child of 3PR, has done a good job of explaining this, as well:
More to come…
The Florida Panhandle suffered the remnants of Hurricane Patricia all day yesterday. It quite literally did not stopped raining/storming for 24+ hours here in Pensacola.
This kind of weather is always good for reflecting on suffering.
During a search for storm-related quotes to lift my spirits yesterday, I came across the one above attributed to Vincent Van Gogh that reminded me of something from one of my favorite modern spiritual authors:
In all suffering there is a germ of life and of the resurrection, because Jesus is there in person. -Fr. Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace
In all people who suffer there is Jesus – on the Cross and Risen from the dead.
Christ crucified cries with us and shares in our sufferings — giving us comfort and strength. And Christ risen reminds us that suffering and death no longer have the final say, and there is still some joy to be found amid the struggle.
I love the way the late, great Fr. Richard Neuhaus put it: “as long as we are alive, we have all the life there is.” Whether we find ourselves terminally ill, permanently disabled, or facing some other permanent or transitory physical/emotion/spiritual hardship, we are never deprived of the beauty and goodness that life can bring.
It is not by fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our willingness to accept it, mature through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. (Spe Salvi, 37)
In his address to Congress last month, Pope Francis expressed concern for the family, which he says is “threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.”
He particularly called attention to, “those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young.” The children. When society starts messing around with the meaning of marriage and family, it’s always the children who suffer the most.
“For many of them,” the pope said, “a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems.”
Their problems are our problems. This is easy enough to see with regard to divorce and broken homes, but the Holy Father’s words reminded me of some of the more forgotten victim of today’s “new normal” — the children of assisted reproduction.
I recently came across a video of Millie Fontana, a “donor conceived child of lesbian parents,” giving a first-hand account of “The Cost of Equality” in Melborne, Australia this year.
“Nobody wants to hear about the ‘other side’ of the rainbow.”
Hollywood and the same-sex marriage lobby desperately want to push this The Kids Are Alright narrative, so children in Fontana’s position, she says, are shamed for coming forward. Silenced by people telling them what’s acceptable for them to feel.
To suggest that a child needs both a mother and a father is now somehow “homophobic” — even when you are that child.
“Was I ‘homophobic’ when I was looking in the mirror wondering where my father was?” Millie asks. “Was I homophobic when I looked at both my loving parents and pleaded with them to tell me who I was?”
It wasn’t about just fantasizing about having a father, but of putting a face to who she was. Of no longer looking in the mirror and wondering “where did I get these green eyes. Where did I get some of these aspects of my personality…that neither of my parents in the home had?”
As a result of her parents deliberately withholding information about her biological father growing up, Fontana said that, it was extremely difficult “to affirm a stable identity…And my behavioral and emotional stability suffered greatly because of it.”
Their problems are our problems.
It is interesting to note that Fontana is a self-proclaimed atheist, but “stands with Christians” in this debate because so far, “Christians are the only people trying to reflect the issues that follow with children.”
The Church’s position here is not based on “homophobia” or punishing same-sex couples, but on every human being’s fundamental right to know who they are and where they came from.
There are many different acts through which children can be conceived (the marital embrace, rape, fornication, adultery, incest and various technical procedures) but only one way is in keeping with the dignity of the child. Which is why the Catechism states that very human being has a right to be conceived in an act of love and “born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage” (CCC 2376, my emphasis added).
Fontana is not alone and much of what she describes experiencing is not entirely unique to children of same-sex parents. Thousands of donor-conceived people — those born to same-sex couples, single mothers and even many who have both a mother and a father, one or both of whom are not their biological parent — are growing up today with a deep longing to know where they came from, who they look like, whether they have any biological siblings and sometimes even why they’ve developed some genetic disease.
Many of them, like Fontana, are speaking out about being unfairly stripped of their right to a connection to their biological roots. And, sadly, most of them are met with the same dismissive and sometimes even hostile response.
Not enough studies have been done on the long-term effects of anonymous sperm and egg donation. So, whatever you think about same-sex marriage or third party reproduction, it is important to give people like Millie (and Alana, and Lindsay, and Jessica and many more) a fair hearing so that we can fully understand the ways in which this technology affects the children involved.
Their problems are our problems.
29 year old Brittany Maynard made headlines last year for announcing her decision to end her life with doctor-prescribed suicide after being diagnosed with brain cancer. A Californian, she was, in her own words, “forced” to move to Oregon to exercise her “right to die” because of California’s ban on assisted suicide.
At the time, critics of death-as-medicine were rebuked for speaking out because, according to her supporters and Maynard, herself, it was her “private” choice that would have no effect on our lives whatsoever.
Fast-forward almost exactly a year and we are now seeing the deadly fruit of Mrs. Maynard’s “private” choice.
For a while things looked positive. Early this summer a bill to allow doctor prescribed suicide in the state of California failed to make it out of an assembly committee. Then the issue was brought before a state court, where it was again defeated.
But that was not enough to deter those intent on engaging doctors in the practice of killing.
Just days after the court upheld the state’s ban on suicide they reintroduced the bill in an extraordinary session of the legislature, hoping to work around members of the assembly that are vocal opponents of the practice.
And it worked. And this was the featured image that accompanied the LA Times story on the bill’s passage.
Caption: Debbie Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter — Brittany Maynard, the California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life last fall — during a news conference to announce the reintroduction of right-to-die legislation in August. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
From the story:
Despite such heartfelt opposition, the proposal gained momentum after Californian Brittany Maynard, 29, moved to Oregon last year so she could end her life with drugs to avoid the debilitating effects of brain cancer. Her case was covered nationwide, and in a videotaped appeal before her death Maynard urged California lawmakers to pass the assisted-death legislation.
The bill easily passed the Senate and on October 5 Gov. Jerry Brown officially made California the 5th state to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide.
Boom. Millions of Americans affected by one woman’s “private” choice.
Our Suicidal Split Personality
The sickening irony of the passage of the bill in the California State Assembly this September is that it came during Suicide Prevention Week — specifically on Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day!
Which, again, makes me wonder: Why suicide prevention for some and not all? Why does our tune change for the physically sick and disabled? Why then, instead of calling for suicide prevention, do we cheer them on to their deaths — and call on our medical professionals to help them die?
We can’t have it both ways, folks.
No, really. We can’t. It turns out assisted suicide actually increases other suicides.
A study published the Southern Medical Journal recently found a statistically significant suicide increase in states that have legalized physician assisted suicide (PAS). From the article:
Controlling for state-and year-?xed effects, PAS is associated with an 8.9% increase in total suicide rates (including assisted suicides),an effect that is strongly statistically significant (95%) confidence interval [CI] 6.6%Y11.2%).
Once we control for a range of demographic and socioeconomic factors, PAS is estimated to increase rates by 11.79% (95% CI 9.3%Y14.1%). When we include state-speci?c time trends, the estimated increase is 6.3% (95% CI 2.7%Y9.9%).
Assisted Suicide is Never a Personal, Private Matter
What is perhaps most disturbing about Gov. Brown’s decision to allow the bill to become law was that it was, ultimately, based purely on selfish emotion. “In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” the Governor said.
Never mind the millions of sick and disabled who will be marginalized once death becomes an acceptable “treatment” for pain and suffering. Never mind the documented abuse and neglect of so-called “safeguards”. Never mind the “slippery slope” into anything goes euthanasia that is real and well documented.
And of course he ignored the fact that the majority of physicians — the people who would actually be responsible for ending the lives of those who want assisted suicide — consistently oppose assisted suicide. In fact, the president of the American College of Physicians wrote a strongly worded letter to Brown asking him to veto the CA legislation.
As I’ve said here many times: “death with dignity” is hailed as an exercise in personal autonomy, but the people claiming this “right” do not act alone. It’s never a personal, “private” choice. They require assistance — a coarsening of some other person’s conscience. Namely, doctors, whose job is to heal, not kill.
Not About Pain
Most advocates will argue that assisted suicide is about alleviating pain, but palliative care in the 21st Century has come so far as to be able to eliminate virtually all physical pain.
No, assisted suicide is not about pain control; it’s about the illusion of personal control even over death.
Take Washington state, for example, where a 43 percent rise in doctor-prescribed suicides in 2013 was motivated not by pain, but by feared loss of autonomy and “dignity,” according to the official state government report. This despite the fact that the state’s assisted suicide referendum was adopted largely on the basis of the idea that it would be used only for dying patients with unbearable pain and suffering.
Maynard, herself, in interviews, videos and blog posts prior to her own suicide, talked mostly about fear of losing her faculties and being a burden on her family than she ever talked about pain.
Death is not a right. It is an eventuality that will visit us all. And dignity is not achieved by withholding food and water or ingesting poison. That is profound abandonment — of others and of oneself. We have a right to expect the best palliative care and pain management at the end of our lives.
The Good News
All is not lost, however. I would like to end on a positive note, which I don’t get to do here very often.
Despite the movement for physician assisted suicide gaining momentum throughout the country, it still largely continues to be defeated in legislatures and in courts. Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have rejected assisted suicide, as has the British Parliament, shortly after the California decision.
Let’s pray that trend continues and California is not, as many hope/fear, the tipping point in this decades-long battle here in the States.
If the West is going to survive, we must recall our sense of community and our duty, not necessarily to take people out of their suffering — which is often not in our power — but to “be with” the other in their suffering, so that they do not have to suffer alone.
Caring for others is a noble and loving part of the human condition, but it needs people willing to be graciously cared for. As my friend Mark says: the independence of the individual must only exist within the interdependence of the community.
On the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009, Dr. Oz declared that the stem cell debate was effectively “over”. He explained that embryonic stem cells were harder to control and touted the then brand new discovery of induced pluripotent (Ips) stem cells.
I know many in the pro-life movement who agree with Dr. Oz’ assessment and, in many ways, he was right. In terms of regenerative medicine, embryonic stem cells continue to be out-performed by their adult counterparts. And even Ips cells, as relatively new as the research is compared to ESCR, are showing much more promise.
That being the case, coupled with the fact that many high-profile scientists have abandoned cloning/ESCR for Ips cells, and certainly after the announcement a few years ago that one of the largest biotech companies in the US, and the first to start trials using embryonic derived stem cells in human patients was dumping its embryonic stem cell research program altogether, it’s tempting to think that the stem cell debate is, in fact, over.
But I’m afraid we may have gotten a little too ahead of ourselves here.
In the latest episode of BioTalk, Rebecca Taylor and I discuss why the stem cell debate is far from over.
The explosive Center for Medical Progress videos have exposed the market in aborted baby tissue/body parts to the general public and put heavy pressure on State and Federal politicians to defund and investigate PP for their role as a fetal tissue supplier.
But let’s not stop there!
We need to stop using tissue from abortion in research. The longer this remains a common, legal practice, the more the scientific community drives the demand for aborted fetal body parts — and what happens when the demand outweighs the supply?
In one video, Cate Dyer, CEO of StemExpress, already admitted that they were working with “almost like triple digit number clinics (not all PP) and we still need more.”
We should be treating this much like we treated the embryonic stem cell debate 10 years ago — putting pressure on 1. lawmakers to defund and outlaw this research and 2. scientists to pursue ethical alternatives. If we do not, we risk ending up with a medical system that is inextricably linked to the abortion industry.
Today the Catholic Church honors the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Sorrows. Today also happens to be my birthday, so this feast has always kind of been a bit of a personal one for me.
Our Lady was so intimately linked with the redemptive work of her Son that she shared in His sufferings here on earth (Lk. 2:35) while standing by Him on the cross (Jn. 19:25). Besides our Lord, Mary is the greatest example of perseverance in suffering and is a constant source of strength and inspiration for me in my own sufferings.
This feast of our sorrowful Mother, who is also now the Queen of Heaven, is a great source of hope as well — a reminder of the reward of those who suffer for the sake of Christ:
If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. -2 Timothy 2:11-12
Finally, Our Sorrowful Mother teaches us that it’s okay to be sad and mourn the loss of loved ones that are dear to us. Sorrow is not a lack of faith or trust in God. Christ, himself, expressed sorrow many times in the Gospels — even openly wept at the death of his good friend Lazarus (Jn 11:35).
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. -Psalm 34:18
Prayer to Mary, Mother of Sorrows, by St. Bonaventure:
O most holy Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ: by the overwhelming grief you experienced when you witnessed the martyrdom, the crucifixion, and death of your divine Son, look upon me with eyes of compassion, and awaken in my heart a tender commiseration for those sufferings, as well as a sincere detestation of my sins, in order that being disengaged from all undue affection for the passing joys of this earth, I may sigh after the eternal Jerusalem, and that henceforward all my thoughts and all my actions may be directed towards this one most desirable object.
Honor, glory, and love to our divine Lord Jesus, and to the holy and immaculate Mother of God. Amen.
Let us celebrate with joy the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for from her arose the sun of justice, Christ our God!
Image: ‘The Birth of the Virgin’, fresco by Juan de Borgoña
Typically Church to celebrates a saint’s death day instead of their birthday. The birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an exquisite exception, however, since “her soul was the space from which God was able to gain access into humanity” (Pope Benedict XVI).
O, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
It doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. From St. Augustine, whose feast is today:
Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong — I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.
When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter for joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day. This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.
Is not human life on earth a time of testing? Who would choose troubles and hardships? You command us to endure them, but not to love them. No-one loves what he has to endure, even if he loves the endurance, for although he may rejoice in his power to endure, he would prefer to have nothing that demands endurance. In adverse circumstances I long for prosperity, and in times of prosperity I dread adversity. What middle ground is there, between these two, where human life might be free from trial? Woe betide worldly prosperity, and woe again, from fear of disaster and evanescent joy! But woe, woe, and woe again upon worldly adversity, from envy of better fortune, the hardship of adversity itself, and the fear that endurance may falter. Is not human life on earth a time of testing without respite?
On your exceedingly great mercy, and on that alone, rests all my hope.
Is not human life on earth a time of testing? Yes, it is, which is why refusing to suffer is refusing to live: “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” -1 Peter 1:6-7