Friday, February 10, 2012

Anonymous Father's Day: A Must See

On Sunday, January 29th at 7pm, several dozen donor-conceived adults, loved ones, journalists, students, adoptees, and even a former donor, packed the modest quarters of the SoHo Digital Arts Gallery in New York City, mingling together for an evening of stories, education, and awareness on the infertility industry's dirty little secret...that babies conceived through anonymous sperm donors grow up, and many are angry, very angry, that their biological father is as much of a mystery to them as the whereabouts of Amelia Earhart.  And they are going to astounding lengths to locate their biological fathers and change a system meant to protect the financial interests of a multi-billion dollar industry at the expense of everyone involved - the donors, the parents, and of course, the offspring.

After hors d'oeuvres, wine and mingling with some of the cast and crew, attendees made their way downstairs to the showing, with nearly every seat filled and several guests standing in the back of the room.

Anonymous Father's Day was produced by Jennifer Lahl and Matthew Eppinette.  According to Lahl, rather than marching on Capital Hill, the best way to make the point and to instigate change was to let the offspring speak for themselves, let their stories speak for themselves.

The film features the narrative interviews of three donor-conceived adults:

It also features interviews with several pundits in the donor conception world:

  • Elizabeth Marquardt, Director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute of American Values (Family Scholars) and the leading author of the breakthrough study My Daddy's Name Is Donor.
  • Diane Allen, Canadian mother of a son conceived through IVF and founder of the Infertility Network.

There were also cameo appearances from several other donor-conceived adults:

  • Olivia Pratten, Canadian journalist, and plaintiff in the current lawsuit which halted the destruction of medical records related to donor conception and is attempting to dissolve anonymous gamete donations in British Columbia [Pratten vs British Columbia (A.G) and College of Physicians will be heard in the BC Court of Appeals in Vancouver on February 14-15] .
  • Kathleen LaBounty, a Houston native who sent over 600 letters to Baylor College of Medicine grads and went through 16 DNA tests with former donors trying to identify her biological father, she blogs her story at Child of a Stranger.
  • Damian Adams, Australian donor-conceived adult and author of the blog Donated Generation.
  • And me!!  Yes, Cryokid and I had four appearances and mentions in the film....including one notable story relayed by Alana S, regarding a very nasty comment posted here on this blog several months ago.

Alana, Lindsay, Olivia, Jennifer, Karen, Stephanie, Kathleen
Overall I felt the film was fantastic, and I feel that anyone contemplating donating sperm (or eggs) or using a donor should watch this film and understand how WRONG anonymity is, for everyone involved.

I think that potential donors need to understand not only what they are doing and "man-up" to their responsibilities or at least being known to the children they create and provide updated medical history to their offspring, but also the much needed sense of identity that many donor-conceived adults find missing.

But more as in inference, the fact that these potential donors need to understand that their abilities in the future to remain anonymous are dwindling by the minute.  As DNA databases like FTDNA and 23andMe grow and connect genetic relatives, as social networking sites like Facebook provide more and more personal information...the actual concept of anonymity is quickly diminishing.  Sometimes all it takes is a donor profile with some non-identifying information and some ingenuity and research skills.

My only concern with the film, and it is only because I already have heard the concerns/complaints, is that the stories were all very one-sided.  Nearly every interview came to the same conclusion.  That anonymity is unethical, inhumane, and inherently wrong and must be ended.  And while I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, I also see this as a point that can be used against those of us who are trying to legislate against this practice.

Yet, many nay-sayers will claim that everyone involved in the film is opposed to entire practice of donor conception.  But even in the film Alana S states that she thinks that the ideal system is one like Sweden, where there is a central registry and all donor-conceived children can make contact with their biological father when they come of age if they wish, and they can also make contact with all of their half-siblings.  There is also a strict limit on the number of children any donor can create, and medical histories must be routinely updated even after they finish their donating.

This was a philosophy that was echoed after the premier, during a Q&A session featuring myself, Alana, Stephanie, Kathleen, and Olivia.  When asked if we were given a magic wand and could make the system however we wanted, every single one of us had the same answer.

Our idealistic wish would be that sperm and egg donation would be eliminated entirely.  But we all acknowledged that this is never going to happen.

So our realistic wish would be change that will make the system more child-centric and foster positive development, identities, and health for children and adults created through assisted reproductive technologies.  We were all pretty much in agreement that a system like Sweden has in place would be the most beneficial in addressing the concerns related to identity, health, and family.

Dinner Reception with cast and crew at The Smith
And while I didn't want to get into this during my review post, I will update soon on the entire AFD premier weekend's festivities and get-togethers in the city!!


Jennifer Lahl said...

Lindsay, thank you for your kind and generous review. We hope that this film (and eggsploitation) and our next film project will further advance these important conversations and policy changes. Was great fun to see so many of you meeting for the very first time. To your point on the one-sidedness, we feel the industry, media, policies, and even Hollywood, are so very one-sided, that we intentionally present the "other" side. Most people get that, once we make that point. As it is true.

Sue said...

Great review Lindsay.
Anonymous Fathers Day was refreshingly honest, informative and succinct.
I believe that it was actually about time that we saw a film based on "one side". My reasons for feeling this is because the scales usually fall to the majority and the loudest which is usually the sadness surrounding infertility, families and heartbreak and not to mention the lucrative business involved.
This time, we hear from dc people. The people we are supposed to care mostly about. The people we cherish. Its a truthful and caring thought provoking film providing a voice for the donated generation, and it needs to be heard.
"As it is true" (quote)

damianhadams said...

Thanks for the report Lindsay. I understand what you say about having a balanced view, but I can also see what Sue is saying. Whenever their are stories about infertility and the desire to have children, they are typically one-sided too. It would appear as though it will be impossible to please everyone. No matter what we do and how we present ourselves, there will always be those who are negative about it. Congrats to Jennifer and Matthew. It is also fantastic to see a photo of all you guys together. One day I'll make it across the pond to hopefully meet you all.

Beatriz said...

Hi Lindsay,

I haven't had a chance to see the documentary yet but I agree with you in that it's better to represent all views and not only the one opposed to the entire practice of donor conception.

My reasons are practical, in my opinion abolishing donors anonymity should be the main priority. I believe most people once confronted with the subject would empathise with people conceived in that way and agree that donors anonymity is wrong and that governments across the world should not back such a practice.

Presenting a radical solution, i.e. abolishing donor conception, as the only alternative to anonymous donors can make the general public unsympathetic to the plea of anonymous DC people and allow their detractors to present them as "unreasonable" and discredit them.

In my opinion,ending government backed policies for donor anonymity should be the main priority. Educating the public and specially people planning to use donors should also be a priority, but one sided, non-compromising positions can easily backfire.