Misconceptions about a new vein of comedy

Not knowing your biological father is hardly a fit topic for Hollywood slapstick.
Damian Adams | 21 November 2011
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Starbuck is a new French-Canadian comedy about what happens when a sperm donor who has fathered 533 children is tracked down by over 100 of them. There is all manner of hilarious slapstick when he anonymously steps into their lives after watching them from afar. According to the Ottawa Citizen, it’s “a sparkling crowd-pleaser”.

Donor conception has had unparalleled popularity in recent years with big Hollywood movies such as The Switch, The Kids are Alright and The Back-up Plan all hitting the screens last year with much success. While it is fantastic that a topic that was very much secretive and shameful for many people is being brought out into the open to reduce this stigma, the continual use of the topic as a means for comedic material is more than a little disconcerting for me.

What these movies fail to acknowledge is growing evidence that some of these kids are not all right. Some of them have extreme difficulty dealing with their conception and the fact that their connection with their biological fathers has been broken. Even when these children are raised in loving homes and are afforded truth and honesty rather than deception, which was the norm in previous eras, they can still suffer.

It all starts with the specimen cup that removes the humanity and connection between generations. The movie Starbuck was based on a real Canadian Holstein bull which sired hundreds of thousands of cows. Given that it is possible to divide one sperm donation into many treatments, and that in many places there is little regulation to prevent excessive utilisation of one donor, we have already seen evidence that progeny number figures as presented in the movie are not just a comic fantasy. They have already occurred. The New York Times recently reported a case of a sperm donor with at least 150 offspring.

How can these children process their conception? Are they then just another “siring” to increase the human herd. Or just a medical experiment in social science? And in the current era of more openness, whereby half-siblings are meeting each other as well as their donor, how are they to manage and deal with such an inordinate number of relationships?

With so many half-siblings running around who often live near each other due to demographics and clinic locales, the risk of consanguineous relationships, particularly between those who are being deceived of their origins, is unacceptable.

Evidence suggests that many offspring feel as though half of themselves is missing. Their identity is being compromised by not having that connection with their forebears. And for some the lack of genealogical continuity is deeply troubling. These were lessons learned from adopted children. However, in some jurisdictions these lessons have not affected policy or practice for adoptees, let alone for the donor conceived.

As a society we do not find it funny when a child has been separated from either or both parents through happenstance. We recognise death or divorce to be immensely tragic. Yet intentional pre-conception separations are regarded as humorous.

Why?

Because in the first instance there is empathy for the child, while in the second instance the empathy is directed towards parents who have gone through the pain of infertility. Such empathetic redirection thereby neglects the child’s perspective and changes societal acceptance.

Political correctness has reduced the number of topics to poke fun at. Some may say that this is a bad thing and perhaps in some instances we have gone too far. However, when our amusement is directed at a process that potentially leads to the suffering of vulnerable children, it really and truly isn’t funny any more.

Just as certain groups are allowed to poke fun at themselves and not anyone from outside, the same should apply here. The only ones who should be allowed to laugh at the so-called comedy Starbuck should be donor-conceived people -- provided that they are not weeping or nauseated instead. Donor conception is more suited to tragedy than comedy.

I'm donor-conceived and I’m not laughing.

Damian Adams is a medical research scientist at the Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute in Adelaide, South Australia. However, he is writing here as a Donor Conceived person. Damian lobbies for the welfare of children conceived through reproductive technologies as the paramount concern and guiding principle for a paradigm shift toward a child-centric ethos.

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