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Gay Parents and Sperm Donors: Storks and Science Revisited

Posted on June 15 2010 3:00 pm

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Last week, TIME reported on a study of children conceived by artificial insemination raised by lesbian parents.  It was billed as the first longitudinal study of its kind, charting the development of 78 children from conception to the age of 17.  The “conclusions” were surprising.  According to TIME:

[…] they were surprised to discover that children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.

Some have called this a victory for same-sex parents against nay-saying traditionalists.  But are these conclusions the vindication they consider them to be?  Can a parental questionnaire and data collected at ages 10 and 17 from only 78 children constitute an accurate longitudinal test? Is the sample large enough and perimeter wide enough to conclude strong correlation considering the unpredictability of human behavior?  What about the issue of artificial insemination and biological heritage?

Slate magazine recently published a parallel study of children conceived via sperm donation which raised numerous questions about the procedure itself and the long term implications for offspring. Researchers Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt reported:

Our study, released by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future last week, focused on how young-adult donor offspring—and comparison samples of young adults who were raised by adoptive or biological parents—make sense of their identities and family experiences, how they approach reproductive technologies more generally, and how they are faring on key outcomes. The study of 18- to 45-year-olds includes 485 who were conceived via sperm donation, 562 adopted as infants, and 563 raised by their biological parents.

The findings were both enlightening and heartbreaking.  Contrasted with peers of biological parents, donor offspring ranging in age from 18-45 are:

…twice as likely as those raised by biological parents to report problems with the law before age 25. They are more than twice as likely to report having struggled with substance abuse. And they are about 1.5 times as likely to report depression or other mental health problems.

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