Is Adoption Morally Superior to 3rd Party Reproduction?

Dawn Davenport


Every so often, we get a whiff of superiority coming from a few folks in the adoption world — especially related to those who chose to create their family through third party reproduction (donor sperm, egg, embryo or surrogacy).

Is adoption morally superior to donor sperm, egg, embryo or surrogacy

I received the following email from a mom of two conceived by donor egg:

Just listening to podcast on the emotions of infertility, which raised some really important points. I particularly connected to the question from a Mom who had a four year old adopted son and was thinking of using donor egg but felt ashamed/unsure of how or if to tell her adoption buddies about this.

I am a mother of two children by donor egg. This was actually my second choice to adoption. A legal change in Ireland (ratifying Hague convention) stopped anyone here adopting for a long time. I have found quite often when I post questions on support groups about talking and telling or feelings around having a donor conception child I get quite aggressive and hurtful comments back from the adoption ‘side’.

A particular example was when I asked if any other Moms of egg donor babies struggled with feelings that their child didn’t have a genetic link to their family; especially family members who had died before the baby was born. I lost my father before my son was born and sometimes struggled talking about ‘your grandfather’ to my son as technically he was not and in reality he never even met him. It really made the lack of a genetic link painful.

A number of adoptive parents jumped in and gave me variations on:

  • “yes, I thought about issues like that, and that’s why I didn’t go for egg donation.” Or,
  • “It is weird/unnatural so what do you expect if you use third party reproduction. You should have adopted then the relationship would be more straightforward.”

None of which was very helpful.

I don’t know whether this is moral judgment against using third party reproduction, or unresolved pain at the loss of a pregnancy experience, or an evangelistic need to promote adoption. I could understand any of those points of view; however, I would have hoped that a community that has had to face infertility and deal with some pretty tough emotional stuff might have learned a little empathy along the way.

Maybe it’s time to open this discussion? As your psychologist on the show pointed out there are valid reasons why people may choose to use donor technology as well as, or instead of, adoption. The loss of a pregnancy/birth experience, giving our partners the chance to have a genetic child are valid reasons, and after the losses of multiple IVF rounds, not totally selfish reasons to make this choice. People adopting undeniably have the moral high ground. Adoption is a wonderful and amazing thing to be part of, but it’s not right to use this high ground to attack others who have taken a different path. After all many families who can reproduce ‘normally’ choose to do so, as well as adopt.

Who Has the Moral High Ground?

While I don’t see the condemnation or lack of support as much as the emailer does, I do think at times that some folks who adopt feel slightly superior to those who choose to use donor sperm, donor egg, donor embryo, or surrogacy. I see this more often with foster care adoption or international adoption than with domestic infant adoption. Their reasoning seems to be that they took in kids who “truly needed” families, rather than create kids from scratch.

woman hanging off horse saddle while horse is galloping

Get off your high horse, missy!

Reasons to Choose Third Party Reproduction

There are lots of reasons someone would choose donor sperm, egg, embryo, or surrogacy over adoption:

  • Wanting to experience pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Wanting one parent to have a genetic connection to the child.
  • Control over the prenatal environment.
  • Cost (especially when using donor embryo).
  • Time involved.
  • Third party reproduction feels more comfortable because it is treated as the next step up the infertility escalator.

Let’s Get Off Our High Horse

Growing up, if I started getting a bit smug, my mom would be quick to tell me, “Get off your high horse, missy!”

The way each of us chooses to create our family is intensely personal. This is especially the case for those who have struggled with infertility. What is best for one person is not necessarily best for someone else. What one person can afford is different from someone else. The uncertainty and unknowns that you can live with are different than what I can tolerate. What I grieve the most is uniquely personal and will undoubtedly differ from what you grieve.

In the end, most of us just want to be parents and are looking for the easiest/fastest/most comfortable/best way to do it.

Being on top means someone else has to be on the bottom, so let’s stop the competition for the moral high ground. The high ground ain’t all is cracked up to be.

Why did you choose your way of creating your family, be it donor sperm, egg, embryo, or surrogacy?

Image credit: Peter Thoeny ; Ben and Rachel Apps

12/06/2019 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Is Adoption Morally Superior to 3rd Party Reproduction?

  1. Avatar marilynn says:

    Legally her dad is the maternal grandfather of the person she’s raising but it’s not it is not true because she’s not maternally related to that person not because they never spent time together. You can be someone’s grandfather and never meet them! You can become a grandfather after your dead if the person born is your decendent. You can become an adoptive grand parent after your dead if your child or adopted child adopts; you don’t need to be alive and performing kinship rolls to apply kinship titles – the titles are afforded based on position in relation to another person and have nothing to do with performance of duties.

    For instance the person she’s raising likely has 10 or 20 or more maternal siblings, not to mention maternal grandparents, aunt’s, uncles, cousins and a mother in the maternally related sense and none of those people need to ever meet the person she’s raising for those people to be afforded those kinship titles because its simply the truth based on degrees of relatedness and decadency.

    The first response was not preachy the second one kind of was and their point was lost because they used words like weird and unnatural,.

  2. Avatar Deb says:

    Just sad this article even exists, however you create a family, or don’t, should be personal and private. There are so many ways that people look down, or up, at people and it’s just crazy. I adopted an infant internationally and got a few of the “oh you’re an angel sent from heaven to take a child from another country” comments, but also the “why didn’t you adopt a child from the US” or “why not adopt an older child who won’t get adopted” comments. You really can’t win so all you can do is follow your heart and what is personally right for you and try to ignore the comments. I even had one comment that “at least my child will win all the spelling bees and be really smart” because she’s Asian!

  3. Avatar Anon AP says:

    Oh, for crying out loud. Really?

    Adoption isn’t exactly a clean ethical world. From living in a society that hinders some people raising their children and, as a side effect, gives other people the chance to take those children and be happy parents to evidence of coercion of expectant parents to prevention of adoptees having access to records and so on, there is plenty for people to judge adoptive families on. That doesn’t even include attitudes of entitlement and superiority (“I’m ‘better’ than the people they would have been raised by”) and savior complexes (“Just think of the life s/he could have had if not for me”) that can be found in our community.

    Donor egg systems also have the potential for exploitation, but really? C’mon, as a friend would say, “Do better, people!” Push for ethics, push for transparency, push for supporting families of all types and varieties. Move the moralizing to the dustbin where it belongs.

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