MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Does a sperm donor have parental rights? Today in Kansas, the state's highest court will consider that question. Darryl Hendricks(ph) donated his sperm to Samantha Harrington(ph) two years ago when they were still friends. She conceived twins, a boy and a girl, who are now a year and a half old.
Darryl expected to be involved in the kids' upbringing. Samantha says she always intended to raise them by herself. They never put anything in writing as Kansas law requires, and now that law is being reviewed by the court.
Slate.com's deputy editor David Plotz is an expert on all things sperm. He wrote the book “The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank.”
DAVID PLOTZ: Hi, Madeleine.
BRAND: David, usually these cases are whether or not sperm donors have responsibilities to the children, i.e., whether or not they should pay child support. So how unusual is it to be the reverse, where the sperm donor actually wants to be a part of the child's life?
PLOTZ: It's very unusual. Because most sperm donors are anonymous sperm donors and they surrender their paternal rights when they become these anonymous sperm donors. And they generally don't want to know anything or have any involvement with their children later. Increasingly, we have these cases of what are called known sperm donors, as in this case with Mr. Hendricks, where he knows the women he's giving his sperm to. And in those cases, there are all kinds of weird complicated legal issues that arise. So, it's not really that surprising that we should get someone suing to have paternal rights.
BRAND: So in this case, if the court decides to overturn this law, then could it potentially affect anonymous sperm donors who perhaps have not - don't want the right and responsibilities?
PLOTZ: I don't think it will affect anonymous sperm donors. Because anonymous sperm donors write this very clear contract in which they give up their paternal rights. And I think the problem here is that it assumes that silence means you don't want to be a father. I don't think it has anything to do with what happens when you make this active affirmative effort, as anonymous sperm donors do, to say they don't want to be a father. So I don't think people who are going to be anonymous sperm donors need to worry about that they're now going to get sued for custody. I think it's pretty clear that they're okay.
BRAND: So what is the law in most other states?
PLOTZ: In most other states, the law is, if you go to a sperm bank and you make a very formal statement of surrendering your paternal rights to become a sperm donor, you don't have paternal obligations to support the child. And if there is a husband who is the father of the woman who bears the child, he assumes the paternal rights automatically, even though he's not the biological father of the child. And then when there are these cases of private agreements where a woman would go to a man to get him to be her sperm donor, that sperm donor is assumed to be the father unless he writes a contract with a lawyer in which he surrenders the paternal rights.
BRAND: David, have you ever heard of - you know, when you were doing research for your book, did you ever come across women who were concerned that there would be sperm donors coming out of the woodwork, saying, hey, you know what, I do want to be a part of this child's life?
PLOTZ: Oh, yeah, all the time. All the time I come across women who are afraid that the sperm donor would enter their lives. And in fact I actually came across women who experienced this, where their sperm donor, having found out who they were, tried to kind of meddle in their lives. In a particular case I'm thinking of it was quite ugly. It was very, very ugly.
You know, this is a fraught new territory we're entering. So I think we have the problem of families where women don't want the sperm donor playing a role, and then we also have families of sperm donors who don't want to be bothered by their children. And I think what's happening is there's a huge push for children to have the right to know who their genetic father is and to get certain kinds of medical information and genetic information about him. And I think in both cases the adults had better face up to the fact that they're going to be connected to these children, to these families, whether they like it or not, that these genetic demands in the kind of new legal environment are making it possible for everyone to get connected, even when they didn't want to be connected to begin with.
BRAND: David Plotz is the author of the book “The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank.” He is also the deputy editor of slate.com. Thanks, David.
PLOTZ: Thank you.
BRAND: And there's a lot more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.