Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Wanting the Best for your Children

A story has been in the news about a couple who had a child through insemination with donor sperm. The company that provided the sperm had profiles on donors and allowed the couple to choose the donor. A mix up with a digit ended up meaning that they got sperm from donor 380 instead of 330. The couple is suing the company over the mistake.

That story makes a lot of sense and seems entirely uncontroversial. You wouldn't think it would even hit the news. If that company had a history of making such mistakes I could imagine it, especially if these mistakes were all-too-common in the industry. That's news. But one company making a mistake that results in one couple's child having different DNA than they had hoped and the resulting lawsuit seems pretty run-of-the-mill to be a story with international interest.

But the couple is white, and they live in a neighborhood that is entirely or almost entirely populated with white people, and the donor sperm they were mistakenly given was from a black man.

This is a pretty dramatic way to discover that you were impregnated with the wrong sperm, I'll admit. I'm sure this is not the first time that a delivery room has been shocked by the skin color of the baby, but in most cases the mother would at least have an inkling that it was possible. I can understand feeling extremely angry and even violated and a law suit is predictable.

But of course to have a lawsuit against a company, generally they have to have harmed you in some way. If a company made a mistake that broke your arm you could quantify the harm in a dollar figure - you might have missed work or incurred expenses as a result, you could even place a value on lost leisure. What is the harm in having a black child instead of a white one?

Well, in America I think those harms can be quantified to some degree. Trayvon Martin's family probably has something to say about the harm that comes from having your child be black in America, as could the families of the many other black men who've been killed because someone thought they looked dangerous or like "thugs." And that's just addressing the most obvious and shocking of the problems that visible minorities have. The harm of being discriminated against goes from being murdered to being less likely to be promoted all the way down to getting a dirty look from a stranger.

It's simultaneously offensive and undeniable. There is a tiny bit of irony in it as well. The couple in question is a same sex couple - how many parents have thought, "Being gay is fine, but I wouldn't want my kid to be gay because other people are prejudiced." Rarely has that phrase been uttered replacing "black" with "gay" but the logic is the same.

In a way I'll be very interested to see the outcome of this case. Imagine a court actually rules about how much money someone is owed for the harm of having a black child. Imagine someone analyzed in monetary terms the amount by which America undervalues the lives of its black citizens.

If that happens and we know exactly how many dollars a couple "loses" by having a black child instead of a white one, I wonder, who will America's black citizens sue?

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