Home > Opinions > “Canada’s First Embryo Donation Service”: The Unregulated Business of Creating Children for Separation from their Families

“Canada’s First Embryo Donation Service”: The Unregulated Business of Creating Children for Separation from their Families

The Saturday, April 3 edition of the Globe and Mail gave front-page coverage to the announcement that Canada’s “first embryo donation service” will open for business.  A Hamilton, Ontario enterprise proposes to charge prospective parents $13,500 for connecting them with people who have ‘left over embryos’ in the freezer.  The Executive Director says, “We are not there to make a whack of money off this.  It’s not about making money.”

Trading in the origins of human life, this enterprise appears unimpeded in pursuing its goals.  But enterprises that risk causing significant negative effects on stakeholder groups and society at large must typically obtain regulatory approval before embarking on a new scheme.  For example, a company would need to demonstrate before a public body how it would satisfactorily mitigate any harmful effects before engaging in an oilsands project.

By contrast, this Hamilton enterprise has decided to do as it wishes and apparently there is no one to stop it or, at least, to slow it down by asking difficult questions.

The questions are many: What evidence currently exists that the deliberate creation of children to separate them from their genetic families is good for children?  How does the Hamilton agency propose to collect data on the psychosocial outcomes for children of what is, in fact, an experiment?  And why should we accept the organization’s claim that infant adoption and embryo donation are morally equivalent?

They are not morally equivalent.

Adoption usually occurs when pregnancy is unintended.  It aims to minimize the harm of a sad situation – that the genetic mother cannot rear her own child.  Adoption is usually a last resort for the mother who surrenders her child to the care of others.

By contrast, the Hamilton outfit plans to initiate a pregnancy with the very purpose of separating the child from its genetic parents and full siblings who are its family.  The purpose isn’t to find a good home for a baby; the goal is to create a baby for a home – a home in which the child’s genetic parents and siblings will not live.

Demand for babies to adopt is high and supply is low.  Adoption agencies may have less work than they are able to perform.  So embryos in the freezers of the nation create a new opportunity.  As a surrogacy broker once said, “I saw a demand and I knew I could fill it.”

Thus the Hamilton outfit has announced that it will experiment on the health and wellbeing of children; and this announcement has received free, national publicity.

Where are the voices of donor-conceived persons, one of whom has lamented that she went from being a bundle of joy to a person of sorrow?  Why do we not hear from these adults first about the effects on them of being conceived for separation from their kin?

Of course, the Hamilton agency has said that the prospective parents must permit an open relationship with the biological parents because it is “crucial” that “children must know their genetic origins.”

But this assertion seems disingenuous.  If knowing your genetic origins is crucial, then why deliberately rupture the genetic and social aspects of parenting?  Moreover, who would be in a position effectively to advocate for the child?  The rearing parents would have no legal obligation even to tell the child about its unusual conception or that it has a genetic family elsewhere.

Canada has affirmed that every child has a right, as far as possible, “to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”  Canada has agreed to respect the right of the child “to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.”  Where children are illegally deprived of some or all elements of their identity, Canada has promised to “provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.”

Canada is not doing much of that right now.  The federal Assisted Human Reproductive Agency appears paralyzed as it awaits the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of major portions of statute under which it was created.  Likewise, Parliament seems reluctant to begin its review of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, a statutory duty it has had for more than one year.  Such a review should, at minimum, cause Parliament to reverse its current acceptance of donor anonymity and the possibility that the donor-conceived might not ever learn the truth about their origins.  After all, Parliament has recognized and declared that the health and wellbeing of children is the highest priority.

So, for Canadian regulation, one might need to look elsewhere – to the professional organizations that govern physicians.  Provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons have ethics codes that require physicians to consider the wellbeing of society in matters affecting health, and to refuse to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.

Indeed, the Canadian Medical Association has expressed concern about assisted reproductive practices given that they aim to create children.  It has stated unequivocally:  “The Association believes that a child is entitled to the same respect and to the same treatment as all other people.  It, therefore, wishes to go on record as maintaining that if developments in the domain of reproductive technology cannot sustain such a perspective, if these developments reduce the child to the status of an object, or if they require that those who are involved adopt an instrumentalistic outlook toward children, the Association opposes such developments fundamentally and unalterably.”

The Hamilton agency’s announcement is certainly news but it is doubtful that it is good news.  Why should we applaud yet another means by which children are created to be reared apart from one or both of their genetic parents?

These children grow up to be adults.  Such adults (including some of the undersigned) already exist.  Many are asking how anyone could have let this happen.

Juliet Guichon is Senior Associate in the Office of Medical Bioethics, and Ian Mitchell is Professor of Paediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine University of Calgary.  Michelle Giroux is Associate Professor in the Civil Law Section, University of Ottawa.  Olivia Pratten, a Toronto journalist; Barry Stevens, a Toronto filmmaker; and David Gollancz, a solicitor in London, England are all donor-conceived persons and members of the International Donor Offspring Alliance.

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