The ethics of reproductive science: What do you tell the kids?
July 25, 1998
Web posted at: 6:13 p.m. EDT (1813 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- How Mary Spraker and Greg Studdard built their family may sound like a script from a made-for-TV movie.
First they adopted their son Henry, now 9 years old.
"We wanted to have a family, and I was unable to get pregnant because I was too old to have eggs that were mature," Spraker said. "So adoption was a good option."
It was an open adoption, so Henry could know his biological mother. One day, she called and offered her eggs to the couple so Henry could have a half sister or brother, and Mary could become pregnant.
"The husband's always the last one to come around to these things, and it took me a while to warm up to adopting and a while for the donor egg situation," Studdard said.
Through in-vitro fertilization technology, the eggs were combined with Studdard's sperm in a lab. The result was triplets, three half sisters for Henry.
Should the child know?
Just as Henry has always known he's adopted, Spraker and Studdard decided Louise, Lydia and Ellie would also know their biological origins.
"We strongly think that a child needs to know," Spraker said. "Probably the easiest way of doing that is having the child know right from the beginning so there isn't the trauma of a sudden discovery and the child feeling as if they've been deceived in the past."
But the decision to tell a child his biological beginning is not easy for everyone.
According to studies and experts in the field, most couples choose to keep this information a secret.
Elaine Gordan is a psychologist in reproductive medicine who happens to be the mother of an adopted daughter.
She believes every child has a right to know about his or her reproductive beginnings.
"I think they should be told. I don't think there's anything to keep from them," she said. "There's a trust issue that's broken."
Why some parents keep quiet
So why do some parents choose to keep the information secret?
"They're afraid the children won't love them," Gordan said. "They're afraid that they're not good enough; they don't feel entitled to be parents. There's a shame facter involved."
Professionals are divided on the need to tell offspring the truth about their genetic origins.
"There is certainly no right or wrong," said Dr. Arlene Moreles, an infertility specialist at Emory University. "There is certainly a lot of opinion, especially today when we know so much more about the importance of the genetic risk of most diseases."
Little study has been done on the long-term consequences of telling, or not telling, since the use of donor sperm is relatively new. Donor egg and embryo use is even newer.
How do you tell them
"When we're talking to the girls and telling them the story, what do we call Henry's birth mother?" Spraker said. "It's Henry's birth mother, but it's their genetic mother -- that seems a very complicated scientific term
"So Henry's birth mother actually suggested the term cells. She gave me some cells so that we could get the babies started."
Spraker doesn't think the children will be troubled by the explanation.
"As long as a child is loved, we think it will be a very smooth transition for them," she said.
"It didn't really make me feel any certain way," Henry said. "It just said I had, like, two mothers."
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