Artificial Insemination (AI) is he placing of semen inside a women’s vagina, or directly into the uterus by means other than sexual intercourse. The semen is collected by masturbation and insemination is timed to coincide with the women’s ovulation. The semen used for AI may be fresh (used within one hour of collection), or previously frozen and thawed just before use.
There are two forms of AI. Artificial Insemination by Husband (AIH) is used when the husband is not completely sterile. For example, pregnancy might be achieved by concentrating the sperm from a number of specimens of the husband’s semen and inserting it directly into the wife’s uterus. AIH may also be considered when the husband is severely disabled, either partially or completely paralyzed or when he is about to undergo radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other treatments known to cause sterility. A man about to have a vasectomy, for example may wish to have his semen collected and stored for later use.
A common procedure
Artificial Insemination by Donor (AID) is used when the husband is sterile and the couple wish to have a child that is at least biologically the wife’s. It can also be used if the husband has a hereditary genetic condition which he does not want transmitted to a child.
AI is not a complicated medical procedure: indeed, there are many feminist-oriented “women’s health” books available today which describe how a woman can easily inseminate herself using a “turkey-baster.”
With over 250 000 AID births in the US alone since the 1960s, AI can no longer be viewed as an experimental procedure. In 1981, the Canadian Department of Health and Welfare documented more than 1500 Canadian AI babies. To date, however there are no regulations to control the quality of sperm gathered; no limitations as to how many children a donor may ultimately father; nor any legislation covering the legal status of the child and the donor.
Male sperm can carry veneral disease, genetic disorders as well as disease such as hepatitis and diabetes. Unless careful records are being kept, the possibility of genetic incest exists. While freezing sperm for later use allows time for clinical testing to screen out unhealthy sperm, frozen sperm is less fertile, storage facilities are expensive and there is a worry that, as the British Warnock Committee noted, “ the process of freezing could induce damage in the gametes…in a way in which might lead to the birth of a child with an abnormality.”
The legal status of the AID child and donor is far from clear. The Yukon is the only Canadian Jurisdiction which has legislation giving donors immunity from child support. Elsewhere, common law regards any child born during a marriage as legitimate. However, the Ontario Supreme Court (in Orford vs Orford, 1921) ruled that a husband could successfully sue his wife for divorce on grounds of adultery, since she conceived through AID without her husband’s consent. The Court also held that the husband was not responsible for child support.
Sperm donors are usually anonymous, to protect the donor from any responsibility for the child and the AID couple. Clearly, accurate records should be kept so that the child can trace his genetic background if necessary. AID is seen as a great boon to infertile couples, no attention is being paid to the emotional consequences of this kind of conception to the child. In the future, will we see legal cases brought by and AID child, unhappy in his family situation, against his biological father?
Across Canada, single parenthood is becoming more socially acceptable, and physicians are reporting an increase in the number of single women requesting AID.
Dr. Judith Cracknell, single parenthood is becoming more socially acceptable and physicians are reporting an increase in the number of single women requesting AID.
Dr. Judith Cracknell, a doctor at Winnipeg’s Health Clinic, told a Canadian Press reporter last December that single women are seeking artificial insemination “because they don’t want the emotional involvement of having intercourse with someone they don’t plan to marry.” (Toronto Star, December 14 1984)
The same report notes that, “So far, only a few single women have been successfully inseminated with sperm from anonymous donors in Manitoba but there are no roadblocks to prevent more from applying and being accepted.”