Fatherlessness, Sperm Donors and ‘So What?’ Parentage: Arguing Against the Immorality of Donor Conception Through ‘World Literature’

Article Summary by Grace Halden

Is biology and knowing biological ancestral information essential to the construction of identity? Bioethicist James David Velleman believes this is the case and argues that donor gamete conception is immoral because a portion of genetic heritage will be unknown. Velleman is critical of sperm donation and the absence of a biological father in donor-assisted families. His bioethical work, specifically the 2005 article ‘Family History’, is frequently cited in articles debating the ethics surrounding sperm/egg/embryo donations and diverse family formations. However, I wonder to what extent Velleman’s ethical stance is exhibited in contemporary culture? Velleman suggests that innate knowledge of bio-superiority helps readers and audiences appreciate the importance of biological family structures in literature and film; he says, ‘When people deny the importance of biological ties, I wonder how they can read world literature with any comprehension’ (2005, 369). Velleman understands the stories of Oedipus, Moses, Telemachus and Luke Skywalker as demonstrating a universal cultural comprehension that genetics are essential to identity construction. I adopt Velleman’s list of stories and ask if they really can support an antidonation sentiment and suggest that most of the stories actually support diverse family structures. By exploring the significance of story-telling in cultural understandings of family and identity, it is possible to identify the ways in which story-telling can impact how society negotiates complex issues such as assisted reproduction, donor conception and donor industry regulation.

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Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Portrait of Grace HaldenGrace Halden is a Senior Lecturer with research specialism in reproductive technologies, donor conception, and bioethics.

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