ICBioethics Blog 

Ethical Issues in Sperm Donation and the Definition of Parents

Written by: Leah Jeunnette, Ph.D.(c)

The Kansas Department for Children and Family has filed a petition against William Marotta, from Topeka, Kansas, to have him reimburse the state for $6,000 in child support that the state provided for a child. Normally, that would be an open and shut case.  However, in this specific case, Mr. Marotta is a sperm donor for a lesbian couple that signed an agreement 3 years ago waiving all parental rights and financial responsibility.  However, when the lesbian couple broke up and one of the mothers went to the state for public assistance for the child.  The state began to investigate and looked into the child’s paternity.  As a result, the state filed their petition because even though they sperm donor and couple has a written agreement, the did not follow state law. This sperm donation and artificial insemination was not done through a physician and therefore an Kansas law from 1994 is being enforced. This law says that a sperm donor is only not considered a father when a licensed physician is involved in the donation and artificial insemination process. The state of Kansas refused to acknowledges the agreement between Marotta and the lesbian couple. So now, Marotta, with the support of the child’s mothers, is fighting the petition.

This case brings up three obvious ethical issues. First is the definition of parent from a biological, and social perspective. Biologically every child has a mother and a father. These individuals are the sources for the genetic material.  The source for biological material has been complicated as technology has developed, but sperm donation has been around for decades. However, social parents is a different definition. The child in this case has only know the two mothers. The child does not have contact with the biological father as arranged before conception. However, that state of Kansas clearly defines parentage based solely on biology. Only if a physician is involved can a sperm donor waived parental rights. This inconsistency in definitions is confusing because the legal, medical, and societal definitions are overlapping. The second ethical issue is the rights and identification of gay and lesbian couples. While this blog post is not a direct argument for or against the legalization of gay marriage, it does show the additional issues that gay couples face when it comes to parenting and rights. The laws and social issues are in conflict and with each case becomes more and more complicated and detailed. Third, is the Kansas state law the requires sperm donors to use a licensed physician for the artificial insemination. While the law is intended is protect all those involved for clarity and to make the sperm donation process easier, in this case despite having a written and signed agreement that law is proving problematic for Marotta.

Now, Marotta is fighting the Kansas Department for Child and Family. He is spending money in legal fees and if he loses, he will have to spend more money to reimburse the state- all because he donated sperm, but did not use a licensed physician for the artificial insemination.

Mitch GennusoComment