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The Headline Reads: 'Egg Donor Seeks Parental Rights'

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a blog by Amy Demma, Law Offices of Amy Demma, March 1, 2011

Should prospective or current parents of anonymous donor eggs be concerned about a pending lawsuit in Florida?

USA Today ran a story on a lesbian couple involved in a parentage dispute over a child who was conceived during their relationship. While the facts in this matter are both relatively unique and quite specific to that of the family building efforts of same-sex couples, my colleagues and I expressed worry about the seemingly broad implication of the headline. As is typical with media coverage of matters related to assisted family building, the headline: "Egg Donor Seeks Parental Rights" is both sensational and a gross over-simplification of the facts.

The Facts of the Egg Donation Case

The young girl at the center of the legal battle, now 6 or 7 years old, was conceived with the ovum of one of the female partners and the sperm of an anonymous donor. The child was carried and delivered by the other female partner. The women were co-habitating at the time of the birth and lived as a family for several years before their relationship ended. The partner who carried and delivered the baby is presumed to have maternity rights because she, in fact, gave birth. Her former partner is also claiming parental rights.

While not uncommon (lesbian couples often build a family in this manner, one woman’s eggs are fertilized with donor sperm, the other carries and delivers) the parental claim in this lawsuit is based on matters beyond simply the genetic connection of the estranged partner. The woman seeking parentage is referring to the respective intentions of both women, at the time the child was conceived, to co-parent. A physician at the fertility clinic has filed an affidavit stating that both women, at the time they sought fertility services, had represented their interest and intention that both would be acknowledged as parents.

Most Egg Donors Relinquish Rights to Resulting Children

Following this brief discussion of the facts of this Florida matter, it is my hope that prospective and even previous recipients of donor egg will recognize that, generally speaking, egg donors, particularly those who, in the terms of an egg donor agreement, not only relinquish rights to the eggs and any resulting embryos and children, but who also explicitly state their intention only to donate, are legally recognized as just that: egg donors. Arguments can be made, and I tend to agree that, in fact, the woman who is seeking parental rights in this Florida case never stood as an egg donor. She engaged the assistance of a fertility center to accomplish her goal of family building; egg donors do the exact opposite. Donors (sperm, egg or embryo) participate in assisted family building efforts to help others achieve their dream of parenting.

While it is unlikely that the media, when covering stories like this Florida lawsuit, will ever recognize or embrace the difference between a donor and a prospective parent, it is important for others who are relying on third-party reproduction to clearly see how the facts of this case actually have a pretty narrow application relative to most donor egg conceptions.

Best wishes, as always, to all who hope to parent through assisted reproductive technology (ART) and especially to those who rely on collaborative conception. Also, a warm mention to those who respond to the calling to assist others who, but for the altruism of a donor, would not be able to conceive their longed-for child.

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