The dark past of anonymous sperm donation
Few of the essentials have changed since the first recorded case in 1884.- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the-dark-past-of-anonymous-sperm-donation/17504#sthash.8WgLe0tQ.dpuf
Maternity ward in Washington DC, about 1919
The use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) is so common nowadays that it’s easy to forget how quickly social attitudes have changed. The Atlantic recently published a feature about the early days of artificial reproductive technology under the headline “The First Artificial Insemination Was an Ethical Nightmare: The 19th-century procedure involved lies, a secrecy pledge, and sperm from a surprise donor”.
The implication is that that contemporary ART is far more ethical than it was in the bad old days.
Let’s look first at the origins of ART. The first pregnancy after artificial insemination apparently took place in England in 1790. The eminent surgeon John Hunter used the sperm of a “linen draper” to impregnate his wife. A doctor in France claimed that he had achieved eight successful pregnancies in the mid-1800s. An American doctor named Marion Sims attempted it several times in the 1860s with one pregnancy (which miscarried). He had to abandon his experiments after a public outcry.
All of these procedures involved the sperm of the husband. The first successful pregnancy after artificial insemination by donor was the topic of the article in The Atlantic. It took place in 1884 in Philadelphia but was not reported until 25 years later.
The patient was a married woman who had been unable to conceive. After examining her thoroughly, the doctor, William Pancoast, realised that the problem probably lay with the husband. It turned out that he had become infertile after a bout of gonorrhoea before he was married.
Without seeking the consent of either husband or wife, the doctor anaesthetised the wife and inseminated her with the sperm of the best-looking of a small group of medical students, who were all sworn to secrecy. Pancoast eventually told the husband who, surprisingly, was delighted with the result. The woman never found out how she had become pregnant.
No report was made of this medical landmark until 1909. One of the medical students, Addison Davis Hard, by then a physician in Minnesota, published an account of the event in a medical journal. “That boy is now a business man of the city of New York and I have shaken hands with him within the past year,” he wrote.
The main purpose of Dr Hard’s contribution to the journal was to portray artificial insemination as a eugenic boon, “a race-uplifting procedure”, which would produce children of “wonderful mental endowments” instead of “half-witted, evil-inclined, disease-disposed offspring”. “Persons of the worst possible promise of good and health offspring are being lawfully united in marriage every day … Artificial impregnation by carefully selected seed, will alone solve the problem.”
In his opinion, a personal relationship with the biological father was of no importance whatsoever to the offspring: “The origin of the spermatozoa which generates the ovum is of no more importance than the personality of the finger which pulls the trigger of a gun … It is gradually becoming well establisht [sic] that the mother is the complete builder of the child.”
So there you have it: the whole ideology of assisted reproduction in one of its earliest defences -- the irrelevance of the institution of marriage, eugenics, the irrelevance of the father, faith in technology and trust in doctors.
And one more thing. Who else could the father of this “business man of the city of New York” have been but Dr Hard himself? The pompous prose and the pseudo-scientific eugenic speculations cannot disguise 25 long years of yearning to hug that son he had so casually generated. ART cannot change human nature.
Has anything really changed since 1884? ART is increasingly divorced from marriage. Single women and lesbians shop for donors who will confer wonderful eugenic endowments upon their offspring. Many children become “genetic orphans” who will never know their fathers. To say nothing of the thousands of people who suffer the heartache of broken kinship links. Sperm donation always has been and always will be an ethical nightmare.
As a PS, the first significant article about artificial insemination by donor was published in the British Medical Journal in 1945. The authors, Austrian-born Bertold Wiesner and his wife Mary Barton and a colleague, described their experience at a London fertility clinic as a positive solution for male infertility. Many years later it emerged that Mr Wiesner himself was the father of perhaps two-thirds of the children produced at the clinic – probably about 600. No one knows how many because his wife had destroyed most of the records. Donor insemination may blight the lives of children, but it seems to corrupt the character of the donors.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the-dark-past-of-anonymous-sperm-donation/17504#sthash.8WgLe0tQ.dpuf
Sorry, but there won't be a newsletter tomorrow, as we are celebrating Australia Day Down Under. Normally that means barbecues, backyard cricket and beaches, but all that looks unlikely in Sydney as it is raining heavily at the moment.
Why January 26 -- a date we share with India's Republic Day? It is the day in 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillips, commander of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships, arrived at Sydney Cove and raised the Union Jack over Great Britain's new colony.
It is an increasingly popular holiday, even though there are lively debates every year about the meaning of the celebration. There is also a shadow over it. The indigenous people who watched the First Fleet sail in were probably alarmed. They had a right to be. It wasn't long before disease and conflict had reduced their numbers and shattered their culture. As early as 1938 representatives began protesting Australia Day and declaring it "a day of mourning and protest".
So there is a serious side to tomorrow. But basically it is a good excuse to chill out. We will be taking advantage of it.
|Jane Austen’s Emma at 200|
Camilla Nelson | FEATURES | 25 January 2016
Time has only given this classic novel greater fame.
|The dark past of anonymous sperm donation|
Michael Cook | FEATURES | 25 January 2016
Few of the essentials have changed since the first recorded case in 1884.
|Half of us live on 1% of the Earth’s land|
Marcus Roberts | DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY | 25 January 2016
And this map show it!
|Tweet!: Canadian cleared of harassment charges|
Denyse O'Leary | CONNECTING | 23 January 2016
Many people today have a self-image of victimhood that is both impervious to and unrelated to shared facts.
|Italy in heated debate about “civil unions”|
Chiara Bertoglio | CONJUGALITY | 25 January 2016
Same-sex adoption and surrogacy are also on the table.
|Octopus terrifies villagers|
Jennifer Minicus | READING MATTERS | 25 January 2016
In reality, the sea creature has more to fear than they.
Suite 12A, Level 2, 5 George Street, North Strathfied NSW 2137, Australia
Designed by elleston
New Media Foundation | Suite 12A, Level 2, 5 George St | North Strathfield NSW 2137 | AUSTRALIA | +61 2 8005 8605