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Published in Culture Wars January 2009

Book review of Who Am I? Experiences of Donor Conception with Foreword and Afterword by Alexina McWhinnie; Idreos Education Trust

Review by Rosemary Fielding

One evening about a decade ago, I connected with my father’s side of the family in a profoundly beneficial way.  I was greatly encouraged by realizing the connection between myself and my late father’s side of the family.  I realized that my father and I were alike in many important areas of my life.  At that particular moment I greatly felt encouraged knowing that I had my father and his kin standing behind me, so to speak.
In the brave new world of the 21st century, there are children and adults who are barred by laws and social contracts from ever having the consolation and affirmation that I needed and received that evening.  The children who are cut off from one or both sides of their family because of in vitro fertilization (IVF), donor insemination (DI), cloning or other genetic engineering live in a kind of constant trauma.   My experiences provide a context from which I can understand their stories, but any identity crises I may have weathered are relatively minor.  The scale and quality of the disorder that they must deal with is vast and unnatural.  Their emotional tremors are earth shattering.
 Who Am I? Experiences of Donor Conception recounts the stories and the pleas of the offspring of donor insemination.  The stories of the three women who were born from the donated sperm of an anonymous father share the same theme—a theme of anguish and dread. The women have lived with a secret that has shattered any question of a secure identity or “feeling right” in the world.  Even when the secret is revealed, one side of them remains in inaccessible darkness—their father’s side. They cannot gain access to his life and his being that is the very fabric of their identity (as I had the comfort of doing).  His absence—total and unexplained-- is terrible, in every meaning of the word.     
Their plea is simple. The experiments that brought them into existence should not be allowed to happen.  Stop them. Or if society cannot agree to do that, then at least tell the offspring of DI that they were conceived through DI;  and tell them the identity of the man who “provided a woman gynecologist with a sample of his most intimate bodily fluids in full knowledge that his masturbatory activities could result in the birth of a child, his child, who would be brought up by strangers.” These words are written by one child of one such man. Her description of her father and her conception leaves no doubt as to the repugnance she feels.
The life histories in Who Am I come from the “first generation of donor-conceived people, now in their 30’s, 40’s and 50s.”  The donor-insemination took place in England.  According to Christine Whipp, one of the contributors, an estimated 12,000 donor-conceived adults were born in the U.K. prior to 1991.  Only a small minority are ever informed “of this unenviable truth about themselves.”   To understand the implications of this, one must understand what Joanna Rose, another contributor, now knows about herself.  “One of the potential fathers from the clinic at 52 Harley Street, Dr. Beeney, tells me that the students he knows of, those involved at the time and place of my conception, had tried to ‘corner the market.’ His honesty and information are refreshing—but yet he tells me that this handful referred to the clinics as the ‘wank bank.’ The young students had ‘cornered the markets’ of three clinics in the vicinity, and as a now respected and qualified doctor, he estimates that he, and each of his friends, have between one and three hundred children.”  These women live knowing they have potentially hundreds of siblings, some of them perhaps living, unknown to them, down the street.
Considering that Joanna Rose was conceived around 1975,  it is entirely likely that a young man of that time “made the mistake of treating his reproductive material as on par with blood to be donated—the more the merrier.” (5) After all, this was well into the second decade of the sexual revolution, and acting like “living machines” had become standard procedure in the sexual lives of the benighted youth who harvested the fruits of that revolution.  I do, however, find it somewhat astonishing that a medical doctor—a woman gynecologist—who performed many of the DI’s could do so without foreseeing the consequences of a man fathering—anonymously—one to three hundred children. I also find it chilling.
The doctors who performed these procedures of artificial insemination are representative of a group—the “experts.”  Their decisions, which are laid bare in these books as being phenomenally bad and bearing tragic fruits for both the individual and the society, are representative of the decisions that our “experts” still make. The “knowledgeable” elite—the best educated from the most prestigious universities holding the most prestigious positions—are making the same kind of phenomenally stupid decisions that violate the most fundamental truths of the natural law. We all know what these decisions concern in 2008—homosexuality, whether in questions of marriage or adoption or any other issue the homosexual collective has decided to move on; divorce laws, abortion laws, artificial conception, experimenting on embryos, harvesting of embryonic parts, separation of infants and mothers, the destruction of childhood innocence, the creation of sexually active children, cloning, women in combat, perpetual warfare and on and on.  Their decisions will continue to form whole new groups of wounded, disordered, mentally ill, or traumatized human beings; and to form societies that are becoming so influenced by this disorder that they barely function as societies. And then these same stupid, well-educated experts will wonder “why?”—about such things as the increase in childhood depression and other social pathologies—and never be able to put their finger on one valid reason “why?” because that reason would deny the validity their own wonderful ideas that they were allowed to put into practice in one continuous orgy of experimentation.
Who Am I? reveals the stupidity in full light.  It is a powerful and convincing argument that we had better not continue to go down this path into the gathering darkness of the total destruction of the natural order.  Whether the “expert” and “knowledgeable” elite will listen, however, is questionable.  The contributors are fighting an uphill battle in convincing the experts and their large, well-paid staffs that their experiments are failing and that the fertility industry needs to re-evaluate its ideas, if not deny them altogether.
This uphill battle focuses on one very intimate conflict—that between the infertile couples demanding children and the children that these same infertile couples “commission” into existence. “[T]he current issue emphasis is not on the outcome but on the plight of infertile adults. Conspicuous by their absence in the debate are the children created by these techniques,” writes Dr. Alexina McWhinnie in the “Foreword.”  (Dr. McWhinnie is the only one of the four contributors to the book who is not a donor-conceived person, but is the “author of numerous papers on social and psychological issues in IVF and DI families.”)
“What follows,” she writes, “is an exploration of how these children fare, in particular those conceived from donor insemination. What are the consequences for them in the short and long term?   Are there psychological, emotional and ethical issues for them resulting from their being created through a clinical procedure: insemination of a fertile woman with the sperm of an unknown man, a stranger to her, to her partner and of course to the child?
“Many argue that to be wanted and loved will be enough to make a happy child result. Is such an argument valid? Only those who have donor conception first-hand really know.  That is why this publication is of such crucial importance.”
Joanna Rose pinpoints this conflict in her account.  The infertile couples receive preferential treatment; the donor-conceived (DC) persons are not treated with equal respect. “To place the pain of infertility, rather than the interests of the child, as paramount is a retrograde social step,” she writes. Those who advocate donor conception because of sympathy for infertile couples but ignore the loss and grief of the offspring are either “blind to their own hypocrisy or happy to endorse the creation of a type of underclass to serve the utility and desires of others.” 
Christine Whipp writes that “we all thought slavery had died out in the days of William Wilberforce, but in the twenty-first century we are allowing proto-people to be swapped, bartered, shipped across international boundaries, experimented upon, defrosted and sold like fashionable consumer commodities. I firmly believe that one day, but perhaps not in my life-time, society will look back, as I do now, at the current explosion in ‘reproductive choices’ with disgust and disbelief, and wonder how anyone could have deluded themselves that assisted reproductive technology was morally justified, within a supposedly civilized society.”
These accounts give expression to the stories of the “guinea pigs.”  “I am telling you,” writes Rose, “of the results of the experiment on me.” The feeling of being something like a non-person, such as a slave feels—a feeling engendered because their own situation and experience was never taken into account—resounds through all three of the accounts.   These are persons who know they were “’produced’” and who are told “they should be grateful to be alive, with the suggestion that they should have minimal regard for their own genetic continuity.”  (‘Genetic continuity’ means that the mother, father and the children in one family share the same genetic material.)  Social engineers who regard human nature as malleable and unfixed—the so-called “experts”—have experimented on yet another group of non-consenting human beings. The desire to have “genetic continuity” is just one more “malleable regard, to be controlled and directed by others.” “I know personally what it is like to be experimented on, and those involved got it wrong,” writes Rose.
Christine Whipp writes that the facts of this project are “hideously opposed” to her own beliefs.   “I could not understand,” writes Whipp, “how the pioneers of Artificial Insemination by Donor had thought it possible to translate the breeding principles of animal husbandry into the more complex arena of human relationships and ‘family building.’ How could they justify something which seemed so morally wrong?”  
Obviously the controlling elite and social engineers don’t take moral  beliefs into account.  They “commissioned” Whipp’s existence because they were sure she, like all humans, is infinitely malleable in every way, including in her beliefs. For them, there is no such thing as human nature. Their experiments are now speaking—and they are using the word “should,” which means they do have moral beliefs and they are not infinitely malleable. “Institutions should never promote and facilitate [the fracturing of genetic kinship] as a means to other people’s ends,” writes Rose. 
The elite group of social engineers do have a “religion.” It says that the ends justify the means. They will use any means to reach their end. Rose writes that “donor conception has been introduced first by stealth, in the face of public opposition, as a secret practice, and then uncloaked itself and demanded acceptance on the basis that it existed and is expected by some.”  It is truly amazing to behold the number of times the great social engineering projects of our age have been introduced and instituted in exactly the same manner, and still the majority of the socially engineered public continues to fall for the next project.    As to how many more times it will happen again, “the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” (Bob Dylan).
As in all social engineering experiments of our times, the end result is different for those who find out that they are the victims of experiments and those who do not. For those who don’t find out, their victimhood continues.  For those who do find out, they must face the fact that they have suffered a great injustice which has profoundly violated and harmed their very being.  The “double standard”  that judges that the needs of the  infertile couple are “paramount” and the needs of the DC person are merely “taken into account” (at the very most) is the fundamental injustice that the contributors bring to light from this great social experiment.  “Assisted reproduction actually creates father-or motherless children,” writes Louise Jamison about this injustice.  It makes “ a child whose existence depends on its being deprived of a relationship with a natural parent,” and it does so without that child’s consent and at the demand of other persons who will not suffer the consequences that the meeting of their demand has caused.
The conflict between the infertile couple’s needs and the DC person’s needs arises because the DC person suffers greatly from the means of his or her conception.  Obviously, this suffering and fracturing of identity is a fundamental argument that the experiment in DI has failed. The three contributors are eloquent and compelling in describing this suffering.  Joanna Rose says the DC person suffers from “genetic bewilderment.”  This means that they know they are different from everyone else, and therefore their lives are not simple, even in childhood, but more complex—bewildering—than those of natural families.  
 “It is hard to say, or be in any way precise about the age at which I began to feel that something unseen and unspoken was pervading my life,” writes Whipp,  “just as it is simply impossible to describe the tense aura of ‘something-is-going-to-happen’ or to articulate the feeling of separatedness I endured as a child; one which to some extent I still do to this day.”
She gives a very common sense explanation for some of this feeling, one which the social engineers, with all their degrees, simply missed: “No wonder my traits and interests did not mesh with those of my mother, for while her blood group may have been compatible with that of the donor, I suspect that their personalities and values would have been very different.  In real life my parents would probably never had (sic) moved in the same circles, let alone had anything resembling a relationship, so in turn, some of my inherited characteristics are a conflicting, unruly mish-mash…With so much of my personality diametrically opposed to itself, and having been deprived of the influence of those who exhibited the opposing traits, there was little doubt in my mind that I grew to be only half the person I might have been.”
Louise Jamieson writes that she could not understand “why I had not inherited any of [her father’s] strengths or abilities. There seemed to be only one answer: I was a useless person…It seems likely…that the lack of a genetic link increases the likelihood of parent/child dissonance…I think it was difficult for my parents to even see great chunks of my personality, as they did not know what they were looking for…I suspect I pushed myself into exaggerated identification with my mother, as the one parent in whom I could see myself reflected. Yet parts of me are derived from the black void of my unknown biological father.”
Jamieson writes that “all my life, I had felt as if I was standing on a false floor and could not get to the real stuff underneath. It was like floating a few feet above the ground with no place to stand.”
“With no central government records until 1991,” writes Whipp, “it has been impossible for empirical and longitudinal studies to be carried out into the long-term outcomes for all parties concerned.”   Whipp says that “an estimated 90% of heterosexual commissioning couples are still hiding the truth from their children and wider society.”  This kind of secrecy means that “objective studies remain practically impossible.” 
Somewhat more subjective analyses, however, confirm that “while we would probably be seen by our respective peer groups as ‘ordinary, normal people,’ we admit in private to numerous problematic areas of our lives.”  Whipp continues: “My own feeling is that there may be a significant proliferation of parental mental illness, difficult maternal and social father relationships, general family dysfunction, and divorce.”  (Support groups and internet sites now bring DC persons together.)
Who Am I? recounts the lives,  perceptions, feelings, and experiences of the contributors.  It also answers many other questions in a more objective format in the “Afterword.” The answer, for instance, to the all-important question “How far are the life histories of the writers typical of donor conception outcome?” is that there is “confirmatory evidence” that the  three histories  are typical of the outcomes of the DC-person.  That evidence is summarized.
A person with a realistic knowledge of human nature would be not be surprised at the fact that something so unnatural as DI brings a host of problems into the lives of human beings and into a given society. The Catholic Church has always taught that human nature can be largely understood by simply using one’s “common sense”—a sense that all humans possess.  Even without the benefit of experimentation, the tragic features of DI would be apparent to anyone with common sense.  The Roman Catholic Church, which believes in common sense as a fixed element of human nature, and therefore uses common sense, has always forbidden this kind of biological experimentation. But the social engineers who conduct these experiments and create new victims don’t believe in common sense any more than they believe in natural law.  Therefore, they ignore it, and unleash their theories instead.  And they reap disaster after disaster. And when confronted with disaster, they overlook it and create their own reality with their own language. “I go to conferences,” writes Rose, “and hear others refer to the use of donor gametes as a ‘medical treatment’ or ‘infertility intervention,’ with the idea they will be ‘building’ a ‘normal’ family that then ‘gets on with life.’ The speaker frequently asserts that families come in different shapes and sizes—all of which must (apparently) be intentionally created and accepted. The simplicity and convenience of this gloss, created and projected from heartfelt aspirations, is familiar to me.”
Who Am I?  gives ample evidence of what happens when commons sense and the natural law are rejected.  We have yet another failed experiment repackaged as a successful fait accompli. Who Am I?  gives lie to that so-called success.  At least the victims of this experiment, unlike those of abortion, have been allowed the partial justice of telling the modern world just how bad a failed social experiment feels.  I hope that they succeed in changing minds and changing current practices. 

Copyright © Rosemary Fielding, 2011

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