Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ethical Complications of Sperm Donation in the Movie "The Kids Are All Right"

Family scene of "The kids are all right" with sperm donor and biological father

The American comedy-drama, or dramedy, The Kids Are All Right, is about a lesbian couple raising a teenage boy and girl. One day, driven by curiosity, the kids decide to meet their biological father, their sperm donor. When the family comes face to face with him, the complications arise, as he, an aimless, lonely and moderately successful entrepreneur wants to live his dream of becoming a family man.

There has been a string of Hollywood movies recently on the once taboo topic of sperm donation. For some reason, Hollywood considers this issue both modern and funny. I must admit that I have not seen other “sperm” movies, such as The Back-up Plan and The Switch. But strangely enough this particular movie is, despite all its twists and turns (lesbian moms, sperm donation, gay sex), an All-American movie reaffirming general family values.

Yet, most importantly, the movie takes a realistic look at sperm donation and its effects on the family. The issues are not trivialized and there are no cheap laughs. Although certain entanglements may be reminiscent of sitcoms, the acting and script elevate the movie above and beyond television shows.

The movie speculates about a complicated issue that arises out of sperm donation: Should it remain an anonymous procedure or should the parties involved have the opportunity - at their request and with permission - to contact each other?

First, from the sperm donor's point of view, it must be certainly bizarre. In the movie, the character Paul (played by Mark Ruffalo) “donated” in his youth and did it simply for money without fully considering its ethical consequences. It is more fun than donating blood, he chuckles about his decision to his biological son! Now that's funny.

The movie also muses ironically on the question about who in their "right mind" would actually donate sperm and that sperm donors must be ipso facto “weird.” Not a comforting thought for people who might be seriously considering this option.

If I had “donated” myself in the past, I would be paranoid and constantly on the look-out. Any kid who even remotely resembled me and my features would give me the creeps. What if I was facing my son or daughter right there on the street without knowing it?

There would be a strange appealing aspect to it though. I would take comfort in the idea that somehow or other my genes were "preserved" and continued in the world “out there.” It was having a kid without needing to raise them, something that Paul, the male character in the movie must have cherished too: A ready-made packaged family without having to spend years of turmoil and hardship – not to mention money - to raise them.

On the other hand, it must be an odd situation on the “receiving end,” in particular the kids that are involved. It is a natural curiosity to want to meet one's biological father. Who is he and how is he and what do we have in common? It goes back to the mythical questions of where we come from. The result may be shocking in some cases, just ask Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader of Star Wars!

The parents, whether hetero- or homosexual, must also feel strange and uncomfortable about it, something the movie explores to a certain extent. There you are, face to face with the “father” of your children. There are undoubtedly similarities both physically and mentally between them. There are even gestures of your children that are reflected on this stranger's face. It raises the intricate and complex question about who this man is and how a “handful” of sperm can weave and connect the lives of so many people. 


John Myste said...

When I was single and in full control of life choices, I was willing to donate my sperm to a good many people, so long as I knew they would not use it for the immoral purpose of procreation.

Please accept my apologies in advance if I have offended anyone with my candor.

Anonymous said...

This topic was all over the news around oct/nov 2010...not sure if that influenced your post but I was covering the story for a show I worked on..getting in touch with people from charities and sperm banks in the process. Overwhelming amount of arguments from both sides...but ultimately the policies !in place are Europe are far, far superior than those in N.American and ESPECIALLY Canada at the moment!

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