The Spectacle Blog

Does Donating Sperm Make You a Father?

By on 5.5.14 | 3:24PM

There is a fascinating story developing in the New York Times that centers on actor Jason Patric. Patric, who gained fame for various roles he played in the 90s and early 00s, agreed to become a sperm donor for an on-again, off-again girlfriend in 2009. Somewhat predictably, the relationship and arrangement went south, and now the mother is denying Patric's paternity claims:

For the last two years, Jason Patric and Danielle Schreiber have been waging what has become one of the highest-profile custody fights in the country — one that scrambles a gender stereotype, raises the question of who should be considered a legal parent and challenges state laws that try to bring order to the Wild West of nonanonymous sperm donations...

Is this a case about a desperate dad who is being maliciously prevented from seeing his son, as Mr. Patric insists? Or is it about a woman’s right to choose to be a single mother and have that choice protected from interference, as Ms. Schreiber’s lawyers assert? Is it both?...

[Ms. Schreiber] had long wanted to be a mother, according to a family member. But pregnancy attempts with Mr. Patric did not go well. “I even had a surgery to increase our chances,” he said in an interview last week.

They decided in 2009 (at a time when they were not romantically involved but still friendly) to pursue artificial insemination. Ms. Schreiber, who declined an interview request for this article, was keenly familiar with fertility options: Her mother, Linda, had become a bit of a celebrity in her own right in the 1970s after a regimen of the pregnancy drug Pergonal resulted in quadruplets. (Ms. Schreiber is one of them.)...

Then, in June 2012, the couple broke up for good. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Patric filed a paternity suit for shared custody. According to both sides, there was legal mediation, during which time Gus continued to see Mr. Patric.

But then, according to court filings, Ms. Schreiber abruptly started to withhold visits....

California, like many states, according to Professor Cahn, has conflicting statutes. One provides that any man can establish parentage if he “receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his natural child.” But another statute holds that a man who provides his sperm to a doctor for the purpose of inseminating an unmarried friend is “treated as if he were not the natural father” — unless there is a specific written agreement ahead of conception.

Mr. Patric and Ms. Schreiber had no such agreement. And her lawyers say there was nothing cavalier or last minute about it: “Danielle knew about the law before she chose to proceed with a known sperm donation,” Mr. Heather said. “She made a carefully considered judgment.”

The legal argument is so complicated that I could not begin to make a judgment. However, from a cultural perspective, isn't this an inevitable consequence of separating child-rearing from marriage or at the very least a committed monogamous relationship? Without marriage, there is no solid, legal recourse for Patric to pursue. High divorce rates and other tragic circumstances such as being widowed necessitate legal rights for single parents. But what about scenarios in which two consenting adults agree to have a child? Is not marriage the exact legal relationship needed? Perhaps Mr. Patric should have thought twice about fathering a child outside of wedlock. At the very least, he can console himself that he isn't being forced to pay child support to a lesbian couple he donated sperm to years ago.

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