Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Medical Pit-Falls of Sperm Donation

For those of you who don't hang out on the internet or watch late-night news shows, you may have missed the story: a man who donated sperm to an unnamed San Francisco sperm bank while in his 20's has recently been diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a potentially deadly heart defect that causes sudden death in people previously believed to be completely healthy. It is already confirmed that nine of his 22 off-spring inherited the condition, one of whom died from the disease at age two. This story highlights the medical concerns raised by using young, anonymous sperm donors to assist in the conception of large numbers of children. This is not a situation where anyone acted irresponsibly -- according to all accounts, the sperm bank followed appropriate testing protocols in place at the time the donations were made (although apparently those protocols are now being revised to include a donor EKG); and the donor disclosed all known medical conditions at the time of his donation, without withholding any pertinent information. There are no villains here. I actually have a friend who donated sperm in his 20's, through a local sperm bank (maybe even the same one in the story -- I have no way of knowing for certain, since the sperm bank remains unnamed), believing that he was completely healthy. His mother and one of his sisters have since died of breast cancer, and testing has shown that his family carries a genetic trait that greatly increases the breast cancer risk for his female off-spring. As the father of two daughters that he is parenting, he knows what steps he will take to care for them and protect them as they grow older. He wishes that he could effectively let the parents of any female donor off-spring know that they should do the same. But he has no way to communicate with them, since his sperm donations were anonymous. These stories certainly point up something many in the fertility industry have long acknowledged: that the risk of passing on genetic diseases through egg and sperm donation cannot be avoided, and all pretenses that a family can protect against this risk by choosing a "perfect" donor are just that: pretenses. Further, they point to the need for a uniform system for passing medical information between "anonymous" donors and the families of their genetic offspring that protects the autonomy of both donor and recipients, while assuring timely communication of important medical information as needed. Hopefully the American Association of Reproductive Medicine, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, and other like groups will address this issue promptly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Open Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger

Thank you, Governor Schwarzenegger, for signing The Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act into law today. It has been a bruising couple of years for lesbian and gay families in California. We saw our dignity and equality recognized by the California Supreme Court in May of 2008, only to have the voters decide at the ballot box in November -- in passing Prop 8 -- that our families do not deserve the full equality afforded different-sex families after all. We saw the same Supreme Court that said that "[w]hile retention of the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples is not needed to preserve the rights and benefits of opposite-sex couples, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the designation of marriage works a real and appreciable harm upon same-sex couples and their children," turn around and state only a year later that "marriage" is just a name, and that denying same-sex couples access to the nomenclature of marriage does not violate equal protection. Well, SB 54 -- The Family Protection and Marriage Recognition Act -- codifies the best of the Supreme Court's Prop 8 ruling, clarifying that same-sex couples unequivocally have the right to fully recognized unions in the state of California, whatever we call them. It makes clear that folks who married out of state prior to passage of Prop 8 remain legally married in California; and, in part two, it clarifies that same-sex couples that marry outside of California after passage of Prop 8 will have their unions legally recognized in this state -- and be entitled to all of the rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage inside this state -- whatever we call that union. Analogies to Prince (as in "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince") and Lord Voldemort ("He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named") aside, it means a lot to know that California really is a state that believes in equality. Your decision to sign SB 54 into law allows for a level of clarify and security for same-sex couples that has been lacking for many months now. I understand that it took courage and conviction to stand up to the onslaught of negativity thrown your way by the Yes on 8 folks; and I wanted to say Thank You -- what you did today has made a difference. Sincerely, Deborah Wald Now, back to Prince.... 'Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over Oops out of time So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999

Monday, October 05, 2009

On Your Feet Foundation

I was at a benefit last night for the On Your Feet Foundation of Northern California. On Your Feet Foundation is a relatively new foundation in California, modeled off a foundation in Chicago bearing the same name, which seeks to provide support to birth mothers who have given up their children for adoption. A little background: it has long been a problem that birth mothers who choose to give their children up for adoption generally do so in hopes that the children will have a better life than the birth mother would have been able to provide; but the birth mothers themselves are then left behind to fend for themselves, without the support and without the access to resources that their children now will have as a result of the adoptions. This inequity is very troubling to many adoptive parents. California law provides that adoptive parents cannot give money to their children's birth mothers, beyond paying for living expenses during pregnancy plus all of the expenses associated with the adoption itself, in order to avoid creating an incentive for women to "sell" their babies. This is sound public policy -- we do not want babies to go to the highest bidder, as opposed to the family that is the best fit -- but it leaves adoptive families with few options for helping their children's birth mothers, even if they are so inclined (which they often are). For example: I had clients who wanted to set up a trust fund to pay for a higher education for their very young birth mother. They were precluded from doing so by the legal restrictions on payments to birth mothers. Enter the On Your Feet Foundation. Adoptive parents -- and the rest of us involved in the adoption business -- now have a place to which we can donate money, knowing that it will go to help birth mothers get back on their feet, to provide them with support and education and resources, without sullying the adoption process. Truly a worthy cause. The birth mothers who spoke at last night's event were both eloquent and moving. They told of the grief associated with the decision to give their babies to others to raise; and of their relief at finding a community of support; and of the access to education provided by On Your Feet Foundation grants that were helping pay for educational and vocational training. Listening to their stories reminded all of us in the room of the best that the adoption community has to offer -- to children, to parents, and to each other. So if you have benefited in any way from the adoption business, and if you have time, talents and/or dollars to share and are looking for a way to "give back," check out the On Your Feet Foundation.