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The Parents Via Egg Donation Organization: April 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Being Roman Catholic and ART by: Marna Gatlin, Founder, Parents Via Egg Donation

Emily Herx, former Indiana  high school teacher of literature was fired from her position at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana undergoing infertility treatment -namely IVF.
Emil was told her contract would not be renewed because of “improprieties related to church teachings or law.” Herx says the school's priest called her a "grave, immoral sinner" and told her she should have kept mum about her fertility treatments because some things are "better left between the individual and God," the complaint said.
What did Emily do?  She filed a lawsuit stating she didn't think she was doing anything wrong, and that she has never had any complaints about herself as a teacher.
The diocese responded, saying it "views the core issue raised in this lawsuit as a challenge to the diocese's right, as a religious employer, to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis."

In its statement, diocese officials said that "the church promotes treatment of infertility through means that respect the right to life, the unity of marriage, and procreation brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act. There are other infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally licit according to Catholic teaching."

I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church and was a practicing Roman Catholic for most of my life. I always thought I was going to be a mother; the thought never crossed my mind that I would not become a mother or could not become a mother.
As a child the following bible verse ran through my head:
Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.”
This isn’t always easy if you have fertility issues, and it’s incredibly difficult if you are a Roman Catholic and find yourself needing assistance from an infertility clinic.  Because of the Church’s stance on ART and their beliefs and clear opposition with respect to ART, (especially third party reproduction) those individuals who must resort to third party reproduction to have a child are faced with a huge moral dilemma – either go against the Church and their faith or not have the opportunity to attempt pregnancy. What is very sad and painful about all of this is that these individuals do not have a choice.  It’s been taken away from them if they are to remain faithful Catholics and follow the teachings of the Church. 
When the time came for me to resort to Assisted Reproductive Technology and third party assistance I was shocked to learn about the Church’s stance regarding ART. After much struggling and soul searching I chose to walk away from the Church because I didn’t believe that the God I loved in and believed would regard me as evil or wicked because I wanted to become a mother via egg donation.
It’s sad but sometimes infertile Catholics resort to IVF in order to conceive a child. The Roman Catholic Church is very clear regarding IVF and their position and opposition to Assisted Reproductive Technology. Not only does the Church staunchly oppose IVF they also do not support, and are incredibly clear about third party reproduction which includes egg donation or gestational surrogacy.
The Catholic Church has taken a position that a human being begins the moment of fertilization when an egg (oocyte) is fertilized by a sperm.  The Catholic church teaches that a human being must be respected as a person from the very first instant of his existence as a human being, and therefore, from that same moment, his rights as a person must be recognized among which in the first place, is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. The Church also teaches that from the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-à-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage.”  (John B. Shea, MD, The Moral Status of in vitro fertilization (IVF) Biology and method)
The Church also holds the position that IVF violates the rights of the child: Depriving him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personality. It objectively deprives conjugal fruitfulness of its unity and integrity; it brings about and manifests a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood, and responsibility for upbringing. This threat to the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder, and injustice in the whole of social life.  (John B. Shea, MD,  The Moral Status of in vitro fertilization (IVF) Biology and method)
Directly from Catechism of the Catholic Church (2378): A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."
For me, the desire to be pregnant and to mother was so compelling that it overshadowed the strong beliefs ingrained in me since infancy.  That need was stronger than all of my commitment to a church that had raised me; the need to become pregnant and become a mother was more intense than my devotion to the Roman Catholic Church.
I am grateful that the church's prohibitions did not shake my belief in God, only the belief that human beings could create doctrine that would prohibit me from achieving my desire to become my son’s mother.
For me, the answer was to find a way to conceive and birth my son, even though my "church" did not approve.
Your answer might be different.  It's a powerful dilemma with no easy answer.
So the troubling question remains – What do devout Roman Catholics do who want nothing more than follow their dreams, hopes and desires to become parents?  Do they remain steadfast and faithful to their belief system? Or do they risk what the Catholic Church condemns as a gravely evil act?
There is no easy answer. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Defending My Donor Egg & Donor Sperm Family – Part I

I suppose it goes without saying that disputes between us and them, the haves and have-nots, the Hatfields and McCoys date back to Biblical times, probably even prehistoric times.  Such disputes range in topics as trivial as fashion sense to topics as monumental as human rights.  These conflicts define eras, elicit wars, inspire movements, infiltrate our consciousness, shape our perceptions, and even serve as lessons in children’s literature.  But despite Dr. Suess’ prophetic warning through the tale of the Sneeches, it seems humans are destined to create polarizing conflict.

As parents of donor gamete children, my husband and I worry that our kids may someday become the target of sneers, ridicule, or ostracizing that often accompany an unwillingness to accept anything unfamiliar.  Although we are thoroughly comfortable with our family planning choices, we are also keenly aware that they are controversial enough to take our family from us status to them status, a polarity indeed.  Thus, as parents who made these choices for our family, for our children, it is our obligation to ensure they are raised with a prideful sense of self and family inclusion regardless of genetic history. 

To assist us with this effort and prepare us for potential obstacles, we sought professional counseling prior to our dual donor in vitro conception.  Of course, we are aware that it is going to require thoughtful disclosure with repetitive explanation and reassurance to shape our children’s esteem.   And yes, we realize that we will, at times, need to educate others around us to establish an accepting environment in which our children can thrive.  But we certainly didn’t expect that we’d have to advocate for patient and family rights, which the law already guarantees us, or defend against people and organizations who openly and directly threaten our children’s emotional and psychological well-being.  And yet, here we are: them within the debate of third party assisted reproduction.
A recent article featured in the TribLocal Newspaper of Naperville, IL revealed opposition on the part of one councilman and 16 local residents to the building of a fertility clinic, citing moral concerns as the foundation of their objection.  (http://triblocal.com/naperville/2012/03/21/residents-raise-moral-objections-to-proposed-fertility-clinic/)  One opponent, Mary Kizior, asserts that in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures involving third party assistance are treated as human tissue commodities and as such, create the opportunity to exploit her female peers.  I will gladly address both aspects of that objection.

Two of my children were conceived using both donor eggs and donor sperm.  The donors are completely unknown to us and to one another.  Yet, they are the providers of the most precious gifts anyone could ever bestow upon us.  And no, we did not pay them for these gifts as if they were a commodity.  We covered the costs of their medical expenses and reimbursed them for their time, effort, health risks, and possible physical discomfort endured while donating.   I assume Ms. Kizior did her research before making her accusatory assertion, therefore she should already be aware that it is illegal to use human tissue of any type for commerce.

Along a similar vein, Mike Brummond refers to children like mine as “manufactured”.  Does this mean that organ donor recipients are manufactured as well; that they are simply human wastelands of recycled parts?  In both cases, third party assisted reproduction and organ donation, an amazing gift is given; the gift of life.  Such a gift is made possible by the exclusively human trait of blind compassion, as donors and donor families will likely never know their beneficiaries.  In the case of gamete donation, the donors go on to live full, productive lives.  They can donate again and even have children of their own.  However, in the case of organ donation, the donor must be deceased.  Furthermore, the donor must be young enough, healthy enough, and deceased.  If we are to remove the emotional component of human-to-human donation by using basic utilitarian language such as “manufactured”, does that make organ donor recipients nothing more than “vultures” preying on the prime subjects of society as Mr. Brummond’s “manufactured” comment infers?  I certainly think not.

This brings me back to Ms. Kisior’s comment about “preying on the financial vulnerability of [her] female peers”.  The only tissue I have ever donated is blood; a minimally inconvenient, painless donation for which my efforts, not my actual tissue, were compensated with a cookie and the comforting knowledge that my actions truly helped someone in need.   I have no firsthand experience as a gamete donor.  Therefore, I will make my case on behalf of my donors rather than myself.  Obviously, human anatomy and physiology tells us that sperm donation is even easier than blood donation.  However, many of the legal hoops through which a prospective donor must jump are similar to that of an egg donor.  But since it is only the “female peers” that Ms. Kizior is concerned about, and it is egg donation that is significantly more medically complicated, it is the egg donor’s integrity that I will focus on defending.

Egg donors are a supremely exclusive group.  In addition to the fact that only a small portion of the female population is interested in egg donation, those who do opt to donate are screened extensively and are subject to very strict inclusion criteria.  Typically, the donor needs to be between the ages of 21 and 30.  She needs to be educated and/or pursuing higher education, physically healthy, abstain from smoking during all phases of the donation process (preferably a non-smoker in general), abstain from alcohol and illicit drug usage during all phases of the donation process, and be free of tattoos.  She will endure extensive psychological evaluation, must provide a detailed family medical history, and will be tested for any genetic anomalies for which she may be an unknown carrier.  If she passes the screening thus far, she must then sign legal contracts and documents declaring the truthfulness of her medical claims, ensuring the privacy of her recipients, relinquishing any rights to children conceived with her donation, and acknowledging and accepting health risks such as infection, infertility, and even death due to hyper-stimulated ovaries.  If she is still interested in moving forward, she will begin 3-4 weeks of hormonal therapy that includes giving herself daily injections to sync her reproductive cycle with that of her recipient.  Additional hormone therapy will stimulate egg production, a process that is very delicate and requires monitoring every other day via ultrasound examination.  This entire process from application to donation takes several weeks (approximately 60 hours of actual contact time with medical professionals) and the donor retains the right to withdraw from the process at any point.  The final phase is retrieval, an outpatient procedure known as transvaginal ultrasound aspiration (http://www.stanford.edu/class/siw198q/websites/eggdonor/procedures.html). 

As one can clearly see, egg donation is neither simple nor the product of an impulsive decision.  Additionally, there are ample opportunities to reverse the decision throughout the multi-week process.  Women who are eligible to donate are also legally eligible to drive, marry, consume alcohol, purchase firearms (for which there is only a seven day waiting period and no psychological evaluation required), vote, and even run for public office.  Yet, Ms. Kizior believes egg donors are being exploited in some manner, that they are too naive or ignorant to know better.  That’s a pretty offensive characterization of her “female peers”.  And yes, of course reimbursement plays a role.  But if, as Ms. Kizior implies, egg donors are hapless, unknowing individuals who donate solely as a result of financial manipulation, I do not want them to retain any of the aforementioned rights either.  Maybe their motivations aren’t 100% altruistic, but it is myopic to assert that are acting solely upon personal vulnerabilities.  Is it possible that egg donors have educated minds and compassionate hearts?  I certainly think so.  

And so, as National Infertility Awareness Week draws to a close, I would like to reiterate that I emphatically reject the comments of those who oppose families like mine.  Mr. Brummond’s claim that my children’s conception, and thus their being, is undignified is beyond offensive.  I am proud, damn proud, to be a them within the third party reproduction debate.   And with Mothers’ Day right around the corner, I would also like to share a sentiment of gratitude to all those who have assisted as a third party reproduction donor.  In the spirit of Dr. Suess:  Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the Star Bellied Sneeches who shared the star-starters from within thars, to allow stars to grow within ours!  And shame on those of you who strive to tarnish our stars---believe it or not, they are just as valid as yars. 

                                                                    Kelley Wendel, RN, BSN, & most importantly MOM
Kelley Wendel is the author of Birds of a Different Feather, a children’s book designed to instill a prideful sense of self and celebrate family inclusion regardless of genetic history.  To learn more about the author and the book, visit:  www.kelleywendel.tateauthor.com  Follow me on Twitter and Facebook; links available through the website.  

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Let’s talk about privacy: Does your egg donor have a right to privacy?

Here is a very typical and common scenario that causes me to grit my teeth every time I hear about it:
The IP (usually an intended mother) contracts with an egg donor agency and selects an egg donor.  Program fees have been paid, psych evaluations have been conducted, medical testing is in the works, and the ball is clearly rolling, especially if this is a repeat donor.  The egg donor while maybe not wanting to meet a set of intended parents is comfortable with an email or even a telephone call.  The profile might say where this egg donor is currently attending school, or where she lives, or where she’s worked.  It might even give her first name and last initial. 
That information right there is enough for most Internet savvy people to begin an Internet search on their donor.   
What happens next is the intended parent (we will go with the intended mother) will begin her search.  She will begin perhaps with the college last attended.  If she discovers a first and last name she might Google the egg donor.  Finally she hits gold and sees the Facebook page, or maybe even a Twitter account.  And the stalking begins.
Did I just say stalking?
Yes, I just said stalking, because I think that’s what it is.
The intended mother while perusing the egg donors Facebook account may or may not have access to see the egg donor’s wall, or photos.  Many times the egg donor doesn’t have her privacy settings implemented upon her Facebook and her photos and wall comments are open for the public to see. So the intended mother now see’s these photos, and reads these wall comments and doesn’t like what she sees.  She may discover that this egg donor has a Twitter account, or has some other web presence and learn more things about her egg donor that she doesn’t like.
The idea of the fantasy egg donor in her head has gone right out the window.  The intended mother then calls and tells the agency “I don’t want this egg donor any longer, she’s undesirable…”
So this begs the question –“Does your egg donor have a right to privacy?”
Do you as an intended parent have the right (regardless of the compensation you are paying for your egg donor) do Google search on your egg donor?  Stalk her Facebook pages, Twitter account, or any other social networking site on the Internet for her? 
Without her permission?  Especially if the egg donor has stated she doesn’t want a completely open egg donor cycle?
Or is everything fair in donor selection because after all there is no privacy on the Internet?
How would you feel as an intended parent if your donor somehow found out your name and Googled you?  Searched you out on social network sites and right before you began your egg donor cycle said to the agency "You know what?  I learned this about my intended parents and they are undesirable.  I don't want them to have my genetics.  So I am going to cancel the cycle."

I know what my thoughts are – however, I am asking you what are yours?

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