November 20 marks Universal Children’s Day—a day established by the international community in 1954 to promote the welfare of children around the globe. Since then, one of the stated goals of the day has been to bring about renewed attention to the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The plight of children around the globe is indeed worth serious international attention: more than 800 million children are estimated to suffer from malnutrition, 230 million children have never been registered after birth (which in many cases renders them incapable of receiving access to healthcare and education), and there are serious concerns about the rise of child labor around the globe.
As sobering and newsworthy as these statistics may be, they are rightly being monitored and addressed—even if insufficiently—by both international and domestic organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Children’s Aid Society, and others. Yet a growing area of concern for children is being ignored anddemands serious attention: the number of children, worldwide, that are intentionally being conceived apart from their biological mother and father.
Over the past four decades an unknown number—easily in the hundreds of thousands—of children have been conceived via anonymous egg and sperm donation. These methods have helped contribute an entire generation of children severed from at least one of their parents, where the parental desires to have children trump the rights of children to know and be known by their biological parents.
Consider the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we commemorate today. Article 7 states:
The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. (emphasis added).
Creating a Market in Body Parts and Children
Sperm and egg donation has created a market that incentivizes the very opposite. In the United States, there is no regulatory body to track how many times egg or sperm has been donated and by whom—effectively making it impossible for children to know their biological and medical histories.
Moreover, the children conceived through these methods strongly reject that financial incentives and legal contracts brought about their conception, rather than an act of love between both of their biological parents. Increasingly, they are speaking out to protest these practices. Both empirical studies and actual testimonies attest that young adult children born via anonymous gamete donation suffer serious genealogical bewilderment. At the same time, men and women who are enticed by the short-term financial gains of participating as “donors” attest that they later regret their decisions.
At a time when income inequality is rampant—and even contributes to many of the problems we seek to address on Universal Children’s Day—the business of egg and sperm donation is highly lucrative, but only for a select few. Buying and selling eggs and sperm privileges the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Moreover, the entire enterprise runs the risk of eugenic commodification. Ads commonly specify racial, physical, and intellectual characteristics—giving parents the opportunity to create their custom-made, designer child. An egg donor from Stanford University or a sperm donor who played football for a top-25 NCAA school will always be preferred over a single mom who dropped out of college to raise her child or a barista at Starbucks who is trying to pull together enough funds to pay for his tech-school tuition.
Why Should Children Needlessly Suffer?
Yet for those who use such technologies or that simply want to dismiss such concerns as futile—especially in the light of world hunger and child labor exploitation—they might wonder why some of us are concerned with what they dismiss as a trivial or secondary concern.
The reality, however, is this: children—regardless of location—thrive best when raised in a stable, intact, biological family. As the recent work of sociologist Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, and Robert I. Lerman, a professor of economics at American University, evidences, children raised in such environments are more likely to earn more money and achieve higher levels of education. Similar studies have confirmed that children raised in intact, biological families are physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to struggle with substance abuse, and are more likely to have healthier marriages and children of their own.
The practice of anonymous gamete donation makes such desirable outcomes more challenging from the very outset of conception. This is not to say there aren’t some happy outcomes and that every child conceived through such technologies will suffer. But such a practice does institutionalize the possibility that children will have to suffer more than necessary.
On this Universal Children’s Day, it’s time to promote the best possible outcomes for children. As Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.” Appropriate assistance and protection should mean either banning such practices or at the very least removing anonymity from the process. Countries that ignore this not only fail to adhere to their agreements, but will also increase harm to future children with their silence.