Glenn Stanton says one of the most significant social and cultural trends for 2012 could be one that no one is watching. Scientists call it Artificial Reproductive Technology. Stanton has another name for it: disembodied procreation.
ART is the growing industry surrounding sperm donation and artificial insemination. Stanton, the director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, told The Christian Post that “it is a huge growth market that is just not getting much attention. But the implications are enormous.”
There are two main factors fueling the growth of ART and the sperm industry. The first is that many within the lesbian community are using artificial insemination to have children.
In a recent article, Stanton tells the story of a lesbian couple who used the sperm of one of their gay male friends to have a child. The two women are raising the child, but the little girl still visits her “dad” and has a relationship with him.
Stanton said this is just one of many examples of how the industry is creating new family situations that never existed before. The impact on families is that “it dramatically redefines what the essence and nature of a family is. It becomes a legal entity.”
The jury on the impact for children is still out, but already there are blogs and websites with children of sperm donors searching for their “real” parents.
Kathleen LaBounty has a blog called: “Child of a Stranger: Conception Through Anonymous Sperm Donation.” She talks about her search for her real father, only knowing that he was an anonymous sperm donor at Baylor College of Medicine.
NPR did a story on her search. She contacted 600 men from her donor’s medical school yearbooks, receiving 250 responses. The men who donated their sperm at BCM had to sign a contract promising not to look for their offspring, but LaBounty is allowed to contact them.
According to NPR, 250 replied. “Some clearly freaked out, asking her not to contact them again. But to her surprise, most were incredibly supportive. One said he'd waited 26 years to get a letter like that and felt sure he was the guy. But a flurry of correspondence, then DNA tests, found no match. It was an emotional roller coaster,” NPR reported.
"One man actually told me he was heartbroken," she said in the radio report. "Another man started crying. And these are grown doctors, so I did not anticipate that reaction at all."
Olivia Pratten is in a similar situation. “’If genetics don't matter,’ she asks in the radio segment, ‘then why don't they just hand out babies at random in the maternity ward?’ Like LaBounty, Pratten is haunted by her donor's absence, haunted by the fact that he could be anybody.”
While more and more children are gaining the right to know who their biological parents are, anonymous egg and sperm donations are still allowed in the U.S. So the problem is not likely to go away in the coming year, especially because Stanton said more and more men are donating their sperm in large amounts.
“There are men who have fathered 50 kids in two years,” Stanton said. The impact of that carries across many levels, especially on the “psychological level of a guy thinking he can just do that with no consequences spiritually or physically.”
It also keeps men from fostering a family life. Stanton said “the biggest problem any culture faces is the unattached male.” The growing number of “unattached males” leads to another trend, less young people getting married, or deciding to cohabitate before marriage.
Stanton said that the rate of couples cohabitating is growing. He cites two factors: “False expectation of marriage and the man shortage.” Our culture needs more programs and a bigger emphasis on fostering men into family life, he stressed. Without that integration they are much less likely to learn healthy male behavior and attitudes.
And without displays of healthy behavior, fewer women are inclined to want to marry the type of men in today’s culture.
Sociologist and author of Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told Bradley Wright echoed Stanton’s thoughts on the issue. He told CP that “people simply get married less often, whether because they live with someone or simply choose not to form long-term relationships.”
But Wright also posed some questions for the church as they start to deal with these trends of disembodied procreation and changing family structures.
He asks: “How does the church make sense of these people when they don’t fit into the traditional categories of people – youth, young marrieds, or (marriage-based) families? What does it look like to have sustained church growth without the relatively-stable building blocks of family life?”
Stanton also wrestles with these questions. He said that with disembodied procreation the “bodies of mothers and fathers don’t have to meet in an intimate way. If you just have two people [create life] through a contract, it is a radical understanding of what it means to be human. We need to do some real theological work on that – dig into the depth of what that is really about.”