Accepted Paper:

Gift denial: the monetizing of donated semen  


Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Historical and contemporary donor insemination services are characterised by the prohibition of gift relationships. Donated semen is often treated as a commodity which circulates covertly and anonymously. Research reveals the long term effects of this on donors, donor offspring and their families.

Paper long abstract:

Historical and contemporary donor insemination services (DI) are characterised by the prohibition or discouragement of gift relationships. Until recently most states made non-anonymous donation unlawful, ensuring that the donor's identity remained unknown to any donor-conceived children and their parents. Anonymous donation establishes no new social relations and does not reinforce existing ones.There is no return between giver and receiver. The payment of donors by clinics emphasises the lack of a continuing relationship between donors and the 'broker' clinics. The global reach of the infertility treatment industry has intensified this alienation of social relations, with frozen semen and would-be parents crossing state boundaries within the framework of a borderless, minimally regulated, economic market. The monetization of reproductive goods (human ova and embryos as well as semen), has worked to prevent the setting up of gift relationships and of circulations of reciprocity. Any possibility of rituals of gifting has been avoided, for example by clinics refusing to pass on letters of thanks to donors from recipients or as an extreme, the refusal of infertile couples to meet surrogate mothers who have borne children for them.

This paper describes how two recent phenomena have challenged the absence of gifting in DI: the birth of babies later discovered to have inherited genetic problems from the donor, leading to possible compensation claims, and adult donor offspring demanding to learn the identity of their donor. It is a particular kind of gift whose return is a reminder that the original donation was a commercial transaction.

Panel P48
Gifts and their circulation in a market-based economy