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The New Kinship

Constructing Donor-Conceived Families

Naomi R. Cahn

Publication Year: 2013

No federal law in the United States requires that egg or sperm donors or recipients exchange any information with the offspring that result from the donation. Donors typically enter into contracts with fertility clinics or sperm banks which promise them anonymity. The parents may know the donor’s hair color, height, IQ, college, and profession; they may even have heard the donor’s voice. But they don’t know the donor’s name, medical history, or other information that might play a key role in a child’s development. And, until recently, donor-conceived offspring typically didn’t know that one of their biological parents was a donor. But the secrecy surrounding the use of donor eggs and sperm is changing. And as it does, increasing numbers of parents and donorconceived offspring are searching for others who share the same biological heritage. When donors, recipients, and “donor kids” find each other, they create new forms of families that exist outside of the law. The New Kinship details how families are made and how bonds are created between families in the brave new world of reproductive technology. Naomi Cahn, a nationally-recognized expert on reproductive technology and the law, shows how these new kinship bonds dramatically exemplify the ongoing cultural change in how we think about family. The issues Cahn explores in this book will resonate with anyone— and everyone—who has struggled with questions of how to define themselves in connection with their own biological, legal, or social families.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

This book is about how families are made and how bonds are created in the brave new world of reproductive technology, and it dramatically reveals the ongoing cultural change in the way we think about family. Anyone—and everyone—who has...

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pp. 1-8

How do you know who is in your family? How do you define the group of people whom you label as family members? Do you consider them to be members of your family because you have chosen them or because you were born into a particular family with “your” parents and siblings? Imagine that you are not biologically related...


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1. Peopling the Donor World

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pp. 13-30

The donor-conceived world is filled with secrets. Unless they’re told otherwise, children don’t know that half—or in some cases, all—of their genetic heritage came from someone else. And even if they are aware of their genetic origins, they may never know who their donor is. Similarly, the donors who provided the egg or sperm...

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2. The Meaning of Family in a Changing World

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pp. 31-44

The goal of participating in the donor world is to have a child in order to create, complete, or expand one’s family. But changes in the structure of the American family over the past half-century are causing a cultural rethinking of what constitutes a family. The donor world helps show that the meaning of family in today’s world is...


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3. Creating Families

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pp. 49-60

When people enter the donor world, they are looking for children. And, almost always, they are hoping for children who will be genetically related to them or to their partner and for children who will have “good genes.” Indeed, as they create families, they do so in a cultural context where biogenetic relationships are central...

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4. Creating Communities across Families

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pp. 61-86

In a highly acclaimed 2008 book for tweens, My So-Called Family, the narrator, Leah, is a thirteen-year-old who feels that something is missing in her life.1 When she comes home from kindergarten one day after learning that her friend’s mother is pregnant...


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5. The Laws of the Donor World: Parents and Children

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pp. 91-106

Numerous areas of the law converge in the donor world. Family law provides legal definitions of parenthood, determining when a donor is, or is not, a parent. It considers biology, intent, and function to identify the parents. Law also establishes the rights of children, determining whether children have interests distinct...

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6. Law, Adoption, and Family Secrets: Disclosure and Incest

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pp. 107-122

The pervasiveness and visibility of families in which children and one (or more) parent(s) do not share a biological tie is comparatively recent. While adoption has been practiced throughout history, its contemporary form—in which the adoptive family serves as a legally complete substitute for the biological family—is less than...


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7. Reasons to Regulate

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pp. 125-136

The future of regulation for assisted reproduction technologies depends on societal interests as well as the voices of the donor-conceived community. The looming question is whether these families should be further regulated by the law. Past regulation has protected the integrity and profitability of the fertility business and has...

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8. Regulating for Connection

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pp. 137-150

Regardless of family type, most donor-conceived people are interested in learning more about the donor and any half-siblings who were conceived through use of the same donor. There are numerous issues—and potential approaches—to the question of how to promote these connections. This chapter discusses two...

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9. Regulating for Health and Safety: Setting Limits in the Gamete World

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pp. 151-162

Donors are helping to create new families, yet their gametes are subject to minimal testing requirements, they are not required to update their medical information, and there is no limit on the number of children born from their gametes. Applying a new paradigm means that the fertility industry, including clinics, sperm banks...

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10. Why Not to Regulate

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pp. 163-180

Making changes to the existing system will not be easy. No consensus exists on the basic principles of supplementing a commercial model with a family-based, nurturant model, nor of further government involvement in the fertility markets. There is even less agreement on specific policy proposals. The fertility industry is protective...

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Conclusion: Challenging and Creating Kinship

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pp. 181-184

As donor-conceived families come together, there is much uncharted territory on how to define their connections. While existing doctrine provides some useful analogies, they are incomplete models. This book has explored how we might begin to nurture relationships, foster emotional connection, promote children’s interests, and...


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pp. 185-230


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pp. 231-241

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About the Author

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pp. 242

Naomi Cahn is the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. Her areas of expertise include family law, reproductive technology, and adoption law. She has written numerous law review articles on family law...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814772041
E-ISBN-10: 081477203X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814772034
Print-ISBN-10: 081477203X

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013