Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

What does it mean to be a parent?

Bronwyn Parry
Fertility ethics
Fertility industry
Ethical consideration
Un-regulated Vs Regulated
The area of, you know, online donation is a very interesting one because it’s basically almost impossible to regulate that market or very difficult to regulate that market. So it can include everything from people who are as you suggest, you know, things like Pride Angel and so on, where people are linking up in an almost kind of like a dating agency sort of way with people and coming to their own arrangements about what kind of co-parenting situation they want to be in. Whether that is sort of fully involved or partially involved. Whether the person is just a sperm donor or what have you. I think there are a number of, of issues there.
I mean, there are issues around consent and that might surprise people because if you willingly go onto these sites and, you know, presumably you’re consenting. But, of course the question of what you are consenting to is not always easily specified. So for example, a single woman, a single parent, a lesbian for example may go somewhere to meet a, chap who says I am going to offer sperm donation for you on site but of course you don’t really know what they’ve got in mind when they get there, exactly what the technical arrangements are going to be and there is a risk you may come to some kind of harm in those sorts of arrangements.
There is also the question of the fact that there is a temporal issue here I think because what you agree to at the time of the conception so, for example, I do not want this sperm donor to be closely involved in the upbringing of my child or alternately, I do want them to be closely involved. That can all turn on its head after a year or two and might require you or you may wish, all of the parties may wish to revisit that situation. But, of course, it can be the case that one party wants to revisit and another party doesn’t or one party wants to have a closer involvement, the other party doesn’t. So there are concerns about that.
There are concerns I think also around health and safety. You have almost no way of knowing what the status of the person who is donating in those circumstances. So if you take conditions like HIV, usually, when you’re donating sperm in a clinic the sperm is quarantined for a period of time. So in other words it is donated and then it is held for 3 months. So it is tested again just to make sure that nothing has developed in that window because as we know HIV doesn’t become apparent in the system immediately. You don’t have that kind of safeguard when you are just meeting someone.
On the more positive side of things, I guess, one of the advantages of these kinds of arrangements is that, again, they sort of allow more flexibility, I think, in terms of the social arrangements that people wish to make. And, of course historically we’ve had a rather fixed model of parenthood. So, you know, there is the father and the mother. And typically they are in a relationship with each other. Often, you know, that relationship is formalized in law. You are sort of bound to it. You are bound to it as parents.
And I have heard of and spoken to people who have enjoyed being able to sort of creatively reinvent the concept of parenthood by having children with, for example, gay women who have children with their best male friend who they have a very close and supportive relationship with but with who they are not having an intimate physical relationship with. And many of those relationships actually have greater longevity and are calmer and more supportive than some of the more volatile ones that we know arise out of, you know, passionate love affairs.
So, I think in that sense it can be very constructive for people to have an opportunity to sort of revisit the whole idea of family life, family building and, and in the 21st century think about the possibilities and opportunities that can give us. But the person I think that really has to remain at the centre of those deliberations is probably the child because all of this is visited upon the child. So they have no autonomy in this circumstance, at least to begin with. So they have, they have no opportunity to say, “I think that is a great idea, I think that is the worst idea you’ve ever had” but it is going to dramatically affect their life going forward.
So I think all of those decisions about how the child is conceived, how the child is parented, who is involved their level of involvement, disclosure and all the rest of it have to operate with the rights of the child as it’s central and primary focus.

Bronwyn Parry is a professor of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London and a member of the KCL/UCL Joint Bioethics Colloquium, a collaborative forum that explores inter-disciplinary themes in bioethics.

In this segment, she introduces some of the issues and concerns that particularly affect unregulated fertility arrangements, as well as some of the merits of this approach.

The first issue that she tackles here is the issue of consent. Key to this is that the consent is given freely. In the context of elective co-parenting, this can sometimes be tricky. For example, there may be a conflict of interests, when a donor and a recipient want different outcomes.

Safety is another issue that is important whenever we are talking about exchange of gametes (sperm and egg). When individuals donate in a clinic, this is strictly safeguarded by quarantining sperm for up to six months to test for any developing infection, and donors usually undergo genetic screening for hereditary abnormalities.

Finally, Professor Parry expands on the whole notion of parenthood. What does it mean to be a parent today, when there can be so many different ways to be involved in a child’s life.

For discussion: What does parenthood mean to you? How many different types of parenthood have you encountered? To what extent is it a biological link, and to what extent a social relationship?

This article is from the free online

Making Babies in the 21st Century

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now