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  • “. . . an issue of discrimination”?

    Posted by Jonathan on May 6th, 2005 (All posts by )

    Some of the people quoted in this article are concerned that new FDA guidelines will discourage homosexual men from donating sperm for purposes of artificial insemination. Putting aside concerns about AIDS transmission, which do not seem to me to be as far-fetched as the gay-sperm-donation advocates suggest, a bigger issue is being skirted here: given the possibility that homosexuality has an inherited component, why would a couple, even a homosexual couple, want to increase the odds of having homosexual kids by using gay-donated sperm?

    Sure, if you have a homosexual child you shouldn’t value him less than you would any other child of yours. But homosexuality is a handicap and may remain one as long as it is infrequent in the population. Prospective sperm recipients might think: Why take the risk? I wouldn’t blame them.

    The article seems to focus on sperm banks that are run for the benefit of homosexual couples, but I think the same considerations apply to such couples as to anyone else. Do they want to increase the risk of having handicapped kids? Perhaps, since the magnitude of the risk is unknown, they are reasonably unconcerned. Or maybe they think it’s fine if their kids turn out gay, or indeed prefer them to. In that case they are following the pattern of other parents, notably some deaf ones, who want their children to share the handicap that defines their particular subculture. If that’s the case I think it’s unfortunate, because some of the kids might not share their parents’ political and cultural preferences. That’s not such a big deal if your parents want you to be a doctor and you want to be an artist, or if you want to marry outside of your ethnic or religious group. You can still do those things even if they displease your parents. But if you are gay or deaf because your parents wanted you to be, and you don’t share their differently-abled enthusiasm, you’re stuck.

    People have kids for all kinds of reasons. Some conventional couples conceive children knowing that their offspring will face above-normal risks of severe health problems, so these issues aren’t unique to gays or deaf people. But to seek donor sperm that may increase the risk your kids will have a particular handicap, when other donor sperm is available, strikes me as being not in the children’s best interests.

    Dr. Deborah Cohan, an obstetrics and gynecology instructor at the University of California, San Francisco, said some lesbians prefer to receive sperm from a gay donor because they feel such a man would be more receptive to the concept of a family headed by a same-sex couple.

    “This [new FDA] rule will make things legally more difficult for them,” she said. “I can’t think of a scientifically valid reason – it has to be an issue of discrimination.”

    It sounds like minimizing discrimination trumps minimizing AIDS transmission and parental self-actualization trumps the best interests of the child. Am I being selectively harsh on these people or are they merely being clear about what matters to them?

     

    54 Responses to ““. . . an issue of discrimination”?”

    1. M. Simon Says:

      Long term PTSD is definitely genetic in origin (the trauma component is required too). It is a big handicap. It is thought that the genes governing PTSD (whether by presence or absence is unknown at this point) affects 20% of the population.

      Why aren’t we screening for it?

      The need is more urgent and more prevalent.

      You might also ask under the same criteria why Jews should be allowed to adopt. In many places Jewishness is a handicap and in some places it can get you killed.

      Informed consent is the only way to go.

      BTW I have learned a lot from my PTSD (the depressions are really wicked though). So I’m not sure it hasn’t helped me more than hurt me.

    2. lindenen Says:

      There was an article on salon.com about a mother who wanted her son to be gay. I was disgusted to put it mildly, but so were the people who wrote in with letters. I swear I also read recently that Moby wants a gay kid as well. Nutters.

      Can you imagine parents specifically designing their children to be mentally ill?

    3. incognito Says:

      They can just lie… which brings up another problem, i.e. if the prospective parents don’t know that the donated sperm is from a gay donor, and don’t want gay kids.

    4. Kevin Fleming Says:

      Similar efforts have existed in the deaf community. For example, a deaf lesbian couple sought out a sperm donor with congenital deafness in order to have a child they hoped would be deaf. From the 2002 WaPo article, As Sharon puts it: “A hearing baby would be a blessing. A deaf baby would be a special blessing.”

      Special blessing or no, it is one thing to select a donor for factors such as height, beauty, or skin color. It is another to select for genes that impart a handicap. It is still another to deny those seeking information about the genetic status of a donor.

      This slippery slope of genetic engineering occurs here precisely because reproduction is now easier without bothering to have a relationship between a male and a female. This leads to the hideous ethic of consumerist procreation, an outcome perhaps even more awful than terrible history of eugenics in the 20th century.

      From another perspective, if deafness and homosexuality are indeed “special” traits to be sought out and fostered, why attempt to hide their presence except to those actively seeking to propogate them?

    5. Ken Says:

      Being tempermentally suited for one community rather than another isn’t really a handicap in the same sense as having missing or dysfunctional organs would be.

      Without working ears, you’re at a disadvantage everywhere, in society or out. By comparison, homosexuality is a minor eccentricity.

    6. Ken Says:

      So intentionally inflicting an actual handicap on a kid seems worse to me than making him gay. Although, you’re more likely to get grandchildren by doing the former.

      (On the other hand, maybe not. Genetic manipulation is only going to get cheaper, and this stuff will be more common over time…)

    7. Ken Says:

      “This leads to the hideous ethic of consumerist procreation, an outcome perhaps even more awful than terrible history of eugenics in the 20th century.”

      More awful than mass murder? That would be quite a trick.

      I think most people will stick to the old fashioned way for quite a while, though; it’s a hell of a lot more fun.

    8. Ginny Says:

      Part of our desire to have children arises from our desire to see our genes live on. Nonetheless, this kind of thing seems to arise from narcissism. And that does not bode well. A parent who wants a “mini me” is not likely to cherish and encourage the different abilities and aspirations of the child.

    9. Kevin Fleming Says:

      Re: “More awful than mass murder? That would be quite a trick.”

      Yes; just as the theory of eugenics made mass murder and slavery permissible, the modern eugenics of selecting desirable traits carries the same risk.

      And it may be worse. While the brutal oppression of communism (as predicted by Orwell) is now easily recognized and rejected, the softer oppression described by Aldous Huxley has become more likely. In it, the oppression is unrecognized and even desired. Raising a child to be deaf by design suggests the acceptance of a method that permits and may lead to the creation of a servant class, anencephalic drones grown to perform manual labor, or growing children or clones of oneself to serve as mere organ donors.

      And yes, that kind of future might be worse than mass murder because it would be harder to stop.

    10. Shannon Love Says:

      I think the opponents of this rule are being hysterical. I think its the same sort of thinking that caused activist to argue in the early days of the AIDS epidemic(successfully for a time) that it was discriminatory for emergency medical workers to wear gloves to avoid contact with bodily fluids.

      They do have some facts wrong:

      “There’s a steadily increasing trend of heterosexual transmission of HIV, and yet the FDA still has this notion that you protect people by putting gay men out of the pool.”

      The rate of heterosexual infection in the developed world is very nearly flat and always has been. Female-to-male transmission is so rare as to almost not exist. The odds of straight male having AIDS contracted from heterosexual sex is vanishingly small beinghundreds or even thousands of times less than a gay mans.

      The activist wish to make a distinction between recklessly promiscuous homosexuals and responsible ones. While this distinction does exist and is very important for the physical and mental health of the individual, it is not something that can be reliably screened for.

      The FDA must approach this problem from a statistical point of view and from a statistical point of view, simply being gay increasing the odds of HIV infection enormously. It dishonest to portray it otherwise.

      It sucks for responsible individuals who get stigmatized for actions of others but the cold realities exist nonetheless. I don’t think it worth the risk to the lives of children and mothers just to spare some peoples feelings.

    11. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      It’s well known that black people are more at risk for HIV than whites. This is nothing against individual black people–I’m sure many of them are responsible. But we can’t screen for the responsible ones, and statistically, blacks are still more likely to have HIV. So I think black sperm donors should be eliminated automatically too.

      Surely we must approach this from a statistical point of view, no? If we look at things statistically, it’s not really being prejudiced. You just never can be too careful. Plus blacks are easier to screen for than gays. And let’s not forget that being black or mixed-race can be a serious handicap in our society, too–arguably far more a handicap than the very slightly increased chance that one will be born homosexual because one’s father was gay. When you’re born to a black father, you’re sure to be mixed-race at least, and possibly worse. The odds of homosexuality are remote whether you have a gay father or not.

      [End hypothetical argument.]

      Now, once I see people accepting this proposal, then the automatic elimination of celibate, HIV- gay men will seem a lot more consistent. Until then, I think it’s mostly a matter of–dare I say it–prejudice.

    12. Running Scared Says:

      What shall we tell the children? Oh, never mind. There wont’ be any.

      Next, from the “we couldn’t make this up if we tried” files, the FDA is preparing to institute a rule saying that males who have engaged in homosexual activity in the last five years can…

    13. Kevin Fleming Says:

      Jason,

      By your definiton, then it is unwarranted “prejudice” for a white heterosexual female seeking artificial insemination to prefer to have a healthy non-HIV-infected white heterosexual child. Of course, by that definition, it is also prejudice for a black woman to want a black child, or a white gay lesbian to want a white gay lesbian child.

      That is idiocy, pure and simple.

    14. James Says:

      Re: Jason’s argument, I think that would have been an argument to more seriously worry about if it was say, 1965.
      I think, though, that classifying homosexuality as a handicap only makes sense if we’re saying it’s a genetic or mental deficiency.
      If we’re saying it gives a child some sort of societal disadvantage, that’s absolutely true, but then again, there are lots of societal situations that can’t be genetically screened for or anticipated..
      Also, is screening out sperm from homosexual men going to rule out the possibility of a gay child? If not, then such a move (unless done on the sounds-plausible goal of preventing AIDS transmissions) would only lead to a false sense of “security” for prospective parents.

    15. chel Says:

      Yeah, I’m going to piggyback on Ken’s earlier comments… Jonathan why are you saying that being homosexual is a handicap? That makes no sense to me.

    16. Shannon Love Says:

      Jason Kuznicki,

      Your rhetorical argument fails because it does not address the issue of scale.

      Lets say the risk of HIV infection in a heterosexual white male can be represented by the chance of serious injury in stepping down a single step on a stair case. Lets say the risk of HIV infection in a heterosexual black male can be represented by the chance of serious injury in stepping down two steps at once. In that case, the risk of HIV infection in a homosexual male would be represented by stepping off the roof.

      We are ask to trade off the feelings and social standing of a group of adult males against the very real threat of the lingering deaths of children. The FDA crunched the numbers and decided it just wasn’t worth the risk. That’s life.

      I would also point out that the ethnicity of a donor is already revealed to the recipient. People have long sought out sperm donors who match their own genetic characteristics down to hair and eye color. Is that a form of discrimination?

      Perhaps the best solution would be just to list homosexuality of the donor just like we list eye color along with information about the relative risk of infection and just let the parents decide if it is worth the risk or not.

    17. Scott D Says:

      I love how a couple of you can blithely refer to gay people as ‘handicapped’ or ‘mentally ill’ and then seem all surprised when they complain or hold a protest. It seems selectively harsh.

    18. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      By your definiton, then it is unwarranted “prejudice” for a white heterosexual female seeking artificial insemination to prefer to have a healthy non-HIV-infected white heterosexual child. Of course, by that definition, it is also prejudice for a black woman to want a black child, or a white gay lesbian to want a white gay lesbian child.

      No, not at all. It is just unwarranted prejudice for the government to treat one class of citizens differently from another. The recipients may choose whatever sperm they wish, or at least they should be allowed to. For the government to make this decision is wrong; for a private individual to make it… well, that’s what we do all the time in choosing our sex partners.

      My, that was an easy one. Next question?

    19. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Your rhetorical argument fails because it does not address the issue of scale.

      Ok, let’s talk about scale then. 44.5% of HIV+ men were black (figures from the CDC can be found here). Blacks represent the largest single racial group of HIV+ men, and if there is nothing discriminatory about a preemptive dismissal, then you should have no problem with throwing out black donors too.

      From the CDC website, we also read, “Rates among non-Hispanic black males were seven times higher than those among non-Hispanic white males and three times higher than those among Hispanic males.”

      Seven times higher? I think there’s some reason to be concerned. Here we are, knowingly exposing people to a risk that’s seven times higher, and you would do nothing? Shame on you!

      Note also that 44.5% is vastly disproportionate to black males’ incidence in the general population, and if screening gay men makes sense, then screening black men is at least plausible as well: Where the data for 32 states compiled in 2003 shows 55,431 HIV+ men who have sex with men (many of whom don’t identify as gay and will not admit as much), the table also shows 40,278 HIV+ black men. This isn’t so great a percentage difference in a population of tens of millions of potential donors spread across 32 states. If dismissing gays makes sense, then we should be dismissing blacks, too.

      Lastly, many gays are going to lie about their sexual past (hate to admit, but it’s true), while blacks can’t possibly lie about their race. From a purely statistical standpoint (and we know statistics are never biased), excluding blacks seems a safe and reliable way to screen out people with AIDS. You can never be too careful, right?

      (Of course, I do think that there is something wrong with dismissing donors by race, just as there is with dismissing donors by sexual orientation. A waiting period of six months for all sexually active donors, followed by a second HIV test, would solve the problem as much as it can be solved. False positives on two successive tests six months apart would be essentially unknown for all groups. A key part of this plan is obviously to inform the recipients of the anonymous donor’s sexual orientation, which is something I am sure any woman would want to consider when having a child, and which I do not find discriminatory, provided that the woman is the one making the decision. Why this isn’t the obvious choice is beyond me.

    20. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Err… I meant to write “false negatives on two successive tests six months apart would be essentially unknown for all groups.”

      False positives would be quite rare as well, but they are not what we are discussing.

    21. Kevin Fleming Says:

      Re Jason: “My, that was an easy one. Next question?”

      Easy certainly, but only if you find contradictions acceptable.

      Your statement that it is just unwarranted prejudice for the government to treat one class of citizens differently from another does not permit your second statement to be true (The recipients may choose whatever sperm they wish, or at least they should be allowed to.), unless identification of the donor is in fact allowed by law.

      It’s also easy, if you mistake the term “prejudice” to mean that governments, which can discriminate against classes, can also be guilty of “holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions” or having “irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion”. While people can create governmental rules and regulations enforcing prejudicial beliefs, a government can no more harbor suspicions, ideas or convictions than can a department store, church, or post office.

      I think you were just trying to tweak our moral conscience (since of course a government has no conscience to tweak).

    22. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Your statement that it is just unwarranted prejudice for the government to treat one class of citizens differently from another does not permit your second statement to be true (The recipients may choose whatever sperm they wish, or at least they should be allowed to.), unless identification of the donor is in fact allowed by law.

      Please. Anonymous sperm recipients always get thorough descriptions of the donors in advance, which include race, personality characteristics, income, education, and even information about the donor’s other children. Recipients choose on the basis of these characteristics exactly what qualities they want from the donor, and there is nothing at all wrong with this process.

      What is wrong is institutional prejudice, which is a different thing from private preferences or even private prejudices. The law should permit everyone to think what they want, and suffer groups like the KKK to exist. It should not mandate officially prejudiced policies on the part of the government.

      (And by the way, does it seem to anyone else that Kevin is splitting hairs? When I spoke of “governmental prejudice,” was it not obvious that I was talking about a policy that I thought was the result of prejudice?)

    23. Positive Liberty Says:

      FDA Rule Forbids Gay Sperm Donors

      Nope, we’re not anti-gay at all; it’s just a mistake that you were even born, and you should not be allowed to breed. But it’s nothing personal, honest…

    24. Kevin Fleming Says:

      “What is wrong is institutional prejudice…”

      Perhaps I am splitting hairs. Your first snarky post seemed to be making a moral complaint that we discussants were being prejudiced. Then you claimed to have meant the government was being prejudiced, “institutionally”.

      Sorry, but I have never adhered to that line of thinking, and don’t believe institutional prejudice even exists; it’s merely a postmodern foucauldian construct invoked whenever the left dislikes a policy. It’s a cheap and universal answer to all problems.

      Moreover, the “that’s not what I meant” defense to my taking umbrage at being called prejudiced is evasive, permitting you to insult and then pretend to have been misunderstood. If not, take more care when you write, for ideas are important.

    25. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Kevin,

      Don’t scold me that ideas have consequences. I agree with you on this, and I am sorry if you have simply failed to understand what I was saying.

      Your first snarky post seemed to be making a moral complaint that we discussants were being prejudiced.

      Wow, and I hear that gays are overly sensitive.

      Who do I think is being prejudiced here? I’ll tell ya: 1) The authors of this awful policy. 2) Anyone who thinks it is a good idea, even after they have read the arguments against it.

      If that includes you, then yes, I believe you are being prejudiced. If not, then no. Again, I think this would have been blindingly obvious to anyone else.

      [Re: Institutional prejudice.] I have never adhered to that line of thinking, and don’t believe institutional prejudice even exists; it’s merely a postmodern foucauldian construct invoked whenever the left dislikes a policy.

      Wow, so many mistakes…

      First, I’m not a leftist. I’m a libertarian. I disagree with the left just about as much as I disagree with the right.

      Second, let’s suppose that the government prohibited black people from holding certain jobs. By your logic, this is not prejudice, because institutions cannot be prejudiced. I disagree; institutions can be prejudiced in both their formal policies and in their unstated, informal ones. The government would be just as prejudiced if the law were never written down, and if blacks were systematically punished for taking these jobs anyway.

      Now, many liberals do throw about this allegation in a disturbingly casual way, but I can’t deny that it is at least conceivable.

      But I disagree that the measure at hand (prohibiting gay sperm donors) at all represents any sort of nebulous unstated prejudice. On the contrary, I find it a clear, open, unabashed prejudice, for all the reasons I’ve given above.

      Finally, as a graduate student in French intellectual history, I venture to say that I know more about Foucault than you. And I have no idea at all what his ideas might bring to this debate. (For the record, I disagree with him more often than I agree.)

    26. Kevin Fleming Says:

      Re: “I disagree; institutions can be prejudiced”

      We’ll have to disagree then. I prefer to reserve words denoting feelings, views and choice to people, not inanimate objects or organizations. When a government has laws and regulations enacted on the basis of prejudice, it is discriminatory. You can call it ‘prejudiced’ if you please, but I find it sloppy, leading to terms like “institutional racism” and correlative demands for proportionate representation in all things.

      If you’re objecting to government-enforced rejection of sperm donation by gay donors, the reasons you’ve cited point not to prejudice at all, but to the merits and demerits of the underlying science. You have offered no proof at all of prejudice being operative here.

      And if you’ve never run across the coupling of “postmodern” and “Foucault”, I’d ask your university for a refund.

    27. Jonathan Says:

      Homosexuality is a handicap because 1) many non-homosexuals find homosexuality repugnant, and this widespread belief makes life harder (sometimes much harder) for homosexuals and 2) male homosexuals who are sexually active have a high rate of infection by AIDS and other serious STDs. However tolerant most people in our society are, as a percentage of the general population there are so few homosexuals, and so many people who are repelled by homosexuality, that it’s going to be very difficult for homosexuality to be anything other than a burden for many homosexuals, particularly males. Obviously there are degrees of homosexuality, and I don’t know if the burden of homosexuality is worse than the burden of deafness, but it’s a burden just the same. If you asked couples, including gay couples, whether they preferred their future children to be heterosexual or homosexual, how many of them would say homosexual? I’m sure it’s some, but I think it’s likely to remain a small percentage, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to reduce the chance that you will have homosexual kids, given a choice.

      As for prejudice and discrimination, the notion that some kinds of personal choices are “choices” and therefore OK, while other kinds of personal choices are “discrimination” and therefore wrong, is confused. People make decisions. The more important question is how the decisions affect third parties. People have been selecting mates in discriminatory ways since the beginning of time. Discrimination means selection according to your preferences. Nobody cares if you prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla or vice versa — there are no consequences for anybody else — or if you marry someone who is shorter or taller than you are. Some people care if you marry someone whose skin color or ethnicity is different than yours, and there might even be negative consequences to such a decision if you live in an area where a lot of people hold racial or ethnic prejudices, though that would be an agument for living somewhere else rather than prohibiting inter-racial marriage, and I don’t think it’s the government’s business. But many people might care, with some reason, if you went out of your way to select as a mate someone who has an elevated chance of passing a handicap to your offspring, since the kids have no say in matter even though they will be affected.

      I don’t think that the government should necessarily prevent you from selecting a gay sperm donor, since this is another one of those personal choices that are usually best made by the people who are closest to the decision — the prospective parents. However, that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea for you to do so if a comparable heterosexual donor is available. (For that matter I wouldn’t blame someone who refused to marry a person of a different race. There’s a lot to be said for avoiding unnecessary complications in life, particularly when children are involved.) I do object to people like the OBGYN I quoted from the article, who in attempting to politicize personal decisions that involve complex tradeoffs suggest that other people’s personal prejudices are illegitimate. Sometimes there are good reasons behind people’s prejudices. I think that’s probably true in this case.

    28. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      And if you’ve never run across the coupling of “postmodern” and “Foucault”, I’d ask your university for a refund.

      Kevin, Foucault is of course a postmodernist, so spare me the cheap shot. He has done extensive work about institutions and the power structures within them, but I have never encountered the term “institutional prejudice” in his works.

      If you think that that’s what Foucault is about, I would suggest that you be the one thinking about a refund. That is, if you’ve bothered to read Foucault at all.

      Jonathan,

      Of course homosexuality is a burden. But there is a difference between a burden and a handicap. As Kevin likes to point out, ideas have consequences, and it is sloppy thinking to confuse your terms.

    29. Dove Says:

      When I go to give blood, as part of the AIDS screening, they ask you not to donate if:

      – you’re a man who has ever had sex with another man
      – you’ve ever engaged in sex in exchange for money or drugs
      – you’ve ever been an intravenous drug user
      – you’ve ever had sex with someone who has done any of the above

      There are different date restrictions on different categories, but by and large those are the factors they use. Though I’ve never been to a sperm bank, if they’re trying to statistically control for AIDS transmission, I’d be surprised if they didn’t have something similar in place.

      Interestingly, the chart Jason linked to breaks down transmission by category. Male-to-male sex accounts for 61% of AIDS transmission, high-risk heterosexual sex accounts for 17%, injection-drug use accounts for 15%, and overlap between those accounts for another 6%. Overall, these account for 98.9% of all transmissions of AIDS. Based on that, screening for those things statistically is quite sensible. Odds are good that that last provision (“has ever had sex with someone who did one of the above”) will knock out a good bit of the remaining 1.1% of transmissions.

      While blacks do have a much higher incidence of AIDS, when you want to raise the question of screening for race in addition to those things, you have to first determine statistically if it would make sense. Just because blacks are seven times more likely to have AIDS than members of other races doesn’t mean they will still be seven times more likely once the above factors have been removed. Even if they are, how much of the miniscule remaining number of transmissions are you removing, compared to the damage to your donor pool? Barring blacks from donating is barring a large percentage of the population from donating. Doubtful it actually helps enough (after those other factors have been screened for) to be worth that.

      If male-to-male sex is one of the biggest methods of AIDS transmission (and it does appear to be), it makes complete sense to screen for it. If being black had a lot to do with having AIDS, it would make sense to screen for that, too. But in general, you want to screen based on good criteria–that is, those that make your donating population both as safe and as large as possible. You could trivially reduce your AIDS transmission by only allowing virgins whose parents and friends sign a form saying they’re “good kids” to donate… but this is probably overkill, and gives you a pretty small population to work with.

      In general, I say it is not discrimination to screen for something that makes statistical sense. If you run a women-counselling-women service, it makes sense to hire mostly women. If you are casting for a movie set in 17th century Britain, it makes sense to hire mostly white guys. If you are trying to reduce the transmission of Crutzfeld-Jacobson Disease, in America it makes sense to screen for anyone who lived in Britian for a while.

      Discrimination is only morally inexcusible in circumstances where it is unfair–that is, in circumstances where it results in systematic opression.

    30. Dove Says:

      Gah, forgot to comment on the main topic:

      If, as Jonathan suggests, gay men ought to be prevented from donating sperm because being gay represents a social handicap, this does strike me as an area where there is the potential for hypocracy. After all, there are a number of things that have genetic components that are social handicaps. Obesity and alcoholism come to mind. If they are using Jonathan’s “handicap with a genetic component” reasoning and not screening for a long list of them, that is unfair.

      I myself consider homosexuality a perverse and morally repugnant behavior, but I know not everyone does. And though I would agree that it results in social handicap, not everyone would; some see it as an advantage. It doesn’t really make sense to reason that something is a decisive and undesirable disadvantage if not everyone sees it that way. It certainly doesn’t make sense to bar such people from reproducing if everyone involved is aware of the risk. One might as well encourage my children to sue me because I married a man with a genetic disorder.

    31. Jonathan Says:

      Dove,

      I appreciate your comments but I did not say that gay men ought to be pevented from donating sperm. This is a complex issue and I’m not sure if a policy answer is helpful. That’s why I wrote:

      I don’t think that the government should necessarily prevent you from selecting a gay sperm donor, since this is another one of those personal choices that are usually best made by the people who are closest to the decision — the prospective parents.

    32. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Dove,

      One problem: Barring gay people only excludes the honest ones, who will tell you upfront about their sex lives–and these are precisely the ones you would most want to be donating. It’s the liars who are more likely to have unsafe sex, and this policy ends up letting them right into the program.

      It’s very hard to screen for people who have had male-to-male sex–because it’s very easy to lie about it. But lying about race is more or less impossible. Again, I have to repeat my (admittedly snarky) initial challenge: If it’s okay to discriminate to prevent AIDS, then why not discriminate by race, which is certain to yield the right results?

      And yet again, why not simply test everyone twice, at six-month intervals? Virtually no one is going to test negative both times if they are really positive. This method would let everyone donate who wanted, whatever their color or sexual orientation. Then you could (and arguably should) include the sexual orientation of the donor in the information given to recipients. If they had any remaining doubts, then they personally could decline gay sperm donations, and the problem is solved.

      Or maybe the real purpose for all of this is to stigmatize gay people, in which case these suggestions make no sense, and I apologize for offering them.

    33. LotharBot Says:

      “If it’s okay to discriminate to prevent AIDS, then why not discriminate by race, which is certain to yield the right results?”

      As Dove pointed out, it’s a question of how much risk you’re able to remove (ie, how many HIV+ donors you can get not to donate) versus how much of the overall donation pool you have to remove in order to achieve that.

      If you say “blacks can’t donate”, you remove a very large percentage of the donor pool but you only make a small reduction in the risk. Removing a full 100% of blacks doesn’t reduce the risk by a whole ton, especially not after you’ve accounted for other factors (like drug use.)

      But if you say “men who’ve had sex with other men can’t donate”, you remove a fairly small percentage of the donor pool while reducing the risk by a large amount. Even if half of them lie, removing the other half makes a huge difference.

      As Dove pointed out, you could go to the extreme and only allow virgin non-drug-users with 3 letters attesting to their character to donate. You’d reduce the risk of infection to almost nothing, but you’d also have only a tiny donor pool. Or, you can go with the “2 AIDS tests at 6-month intervals” strategy, which I think will also shrink the donor pool substantially, simply because a lot of people would rather not have to pay for, or sit through, multiple tests (though, having never had an AIDS test, I don’t know how expensive, painful, or time-consuming they are, so I might be wrong here.)

      Let me repeat: there are two things you’re going for here — a large donor pool, and a small risk of infection. Anything you do to enlarge the donor pool will also increase the risk of infection, while anything you do to decrease the risk of infection will also shrink the donor pool. So, the very simple question is: how much are you willing to shrink the donor pool in order to reduce the risk of infection?

      Removing the promiscuous (gay or not) from the donor pool is an obvioius choice — it reduces the risk of infection substantially. Removing gays from the donor pool is also an obvious choice. Removing blacks from the donor pool is not such an obvious choice; it shrinks the donor pool by a lot more than it reduces the risk of infection.

    34. mariana Says:

      “Barring gay people only excludes the honest ones, who will tell you upfront about their sex lives–and these are precisely the ones you would most want to be donating. It’s the liars who are more likely to have unsafe sex, and this policy ends up letting them right into the program.”

      Not really. The ones who are willing to tell you upfront are probably the ones who feel no shame about high levels of promiscuity.

      What percentage of the gay population actually is HIV+? I’m willing to bet that the percentage of the population that is black and HIV+ is dwarfed by the percentage of the gay population that is +, even though there will be a small amount of overlap.

      Here’s a question: what about sperm donations from sub-saharan africa? Can anyone honestly deny that it would be wrong to accept donations from there given the current situation? It’s only rational to reject donations from communities that have a frighteningly high incidence of the disease.

      Also, here’s somethign not pc that I’ve often wondered about: I read somewhere that gay men, excluding AIDS, still have a lifespan that is two decades shorter than straight men. Is this true? And, if it is, perhaps homosexuality should be put next to heart disease and smoking on the list of things that needlessly kill you? Perhaps lifestyles in the gay community haven’t become healthy enough because not enough pressure has been brought to bear on homosexuals to alter their behavior. It’s simply not pc to mention a disturbing fact like this, assuming this is correct. There are so many “statistics” roaming about that people believe that turn out to be junk that I don’t know what to think really.

    35. Jonathan Says:

      mariana,

      I had the same “statistic” in mind, but a quick Google reveals this debunking of it by Walter Olson.

    36. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Lotharbot:

      The reason that I and others have recommended two tests at 6-month intervals, with no discrimination otherwise, is that HIV tests are completely painless these days. You put a cotton swab in your mouth, sit for about a minute, and then take it out. It’s really that easy.

    37. Lex Says:

      Jonathan’s main point is certainly correct. Even if a person thinks that it is wonderful for someone to be gay, if they can avoid it, they would probably prefer that their own child not be gay. Why? Because it is more difficult to raise a child that is going to be a minority and at odds with other children his age, who will suffer taunts and hassling beyond what is average, who will have worse than average emotional turmoil in adolescence, who will likely be drawn into a promiscuous lifestyle that has serious and sometimes lethal medical risks, and who will never give you grandchildren, at least in the ordinary course of business. Raising children is hard as it is. Avoiding all these additional hassles is going to be the normal response of any parent who is given the option of avoiding them. This will be true even if the parents do not have any problem with gay people as a general matter.

    38. El Habib Says:

      In the arab world being gay is literal hell. It is a handicap above all handicaps. A gay Palestinian man, though he hates jews with all his heart, would gladly flee to Israel for the freedom to be gay.

    39. James Says:

      Following up on Lex, if we’re talking about normal, “traditional” procreation, then these handicaps or whatever we’re calling them are just a normal course of life. You have to deal with them as they come.
      But if we’re essentially engineering babies — and using donated sperm is just a less precise form of that — then choices are being made all the time to work towards the “perfect” child desired by the parents. Now, if that “perfect” child for certain parents is a gay child, then they can work towards that option.
      But for most, that won’t be on the table, just as certain diseases/defects, and perhaps even certain color hair or eyes, aren’t on the table.
      Cutting them out of the sperm donation pool entirely just for that alone, though, I can’t see as being necessary. Then you start getting into the idea that government is going to tell you what the ideal child is with regards to sexuality (a la the cases where women are discouraged from having girls in certain countries or cultures).

    40. mariana Says:

      Jonathan G ewirtz, thank you for that link I feel much much better now. I read about how they came up with that number and it’s more than a little shocking. It’s active fraud. They knew they were doing that.

    41. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      There is a tremendous difference between being handicapped in the sense that one’s natural abilities are substantially below average–and being handicapped through the animosity of other humans. What are we to say to gays who get bashed, for instance? “Sorry, you’re just handicapped?”

    42. Jonathan Says:

      My response to anyone who gets bashed is sympathy and maybe a suggestion that self-defense skills can be useful.

      To respond to your main point, I don’t see why there’s any distinction between socially imposed and other handicaps. The effects are similar whatever the cause. From the handicapped individual’s perspective the most important question is “what can I do”, not “who can I blame.” At least that’s how I see it. I’m sure that some people disagree with me, but I don’t think they have their priorities straight.

    43. Ginny Says:

      Mr. Kuznicki,

      I can think of ways in which being gay is not only not a handicap but is an actual asset. In certain positions, it is likely to be advantageous (because of the culture of that workplace, for instance). More importantly, I suspect that if we ever get over our obsession with the “differentness” of factions and our equal obsession with calling any proof of real “differentness” bigotry, we will find that gay men and women have certain advantages over their straight peers. (Some of this may come from a certain androgyny.) Actually, my experience has shown that to be probably true.

      However, I’m not all that comfortable with the argument that this policy is one of “bigotry.” I remember when much of the campaign against AIDS was called bigotry; yes, some of it was. Perhaps a great deal of the harshest rhetoric came from those with little sympathy for the gay community. But those who put the “civil rights” of gays above the health risks (in that case, to gays) and those who valued the “rights” to the bathhouses above the need for relatively celibate infected others–and not just with dumb ideas. Frankly, this seemed one of the more dramatic cases where “rights” were “privileged” over “responsibilities” and the victims weren’t the bigots nor some of those (already infected) who preached hedonism but innocent gays who bought into that rhetoric.

      Frankly, I would prefer that my children not be gay for a couple of reasons that I feel are important though I acknowledge many may not. I would like them to have the pleasure of joining in a life long relationship with someone of the opposite sex because I feel that is a wonderful experience. (I’m sure you feel the same may be true of mating with the same sex and I do not doubt that is what you feel. You and I, of course, have different perspectives on that.) And I want for my children that remarkable experience of mating with someone and producing a child that is like them and yet unlike them, in whose face & choices they can see characteristics derived from both families. Yes, with advanced technology, that may be open to you, too. And you, too, may see in that life-long commitment elements of difference and elements of similarity. But don’t expect me not to want for my children what I have had. And don’t expect me to think that it is unimportant or that it can be so easily synthesized. I realize given the context in which this discussion began, the test tube approach might be seen as central or at least the norm; this is not, however, how most of us see it. It will take a while for biology – if it ever does – to catch up with our beliefs and our instincts. Most of us want for our children the easiest and most natural path to such ends.

      While I can understand that gay men, too, might like their genes passed on to the next generation and while I believe the government has no right, no business (except for health reasons) limiting who gives sperm, surely the sexual persuasion of the donor is one of the more important characteristics and should be known to prospective parents. (Given the number of gays who see this as their primary characteristic, it can hardly be argued as unimportant.) Surely parents should not be seen as prejudiced if they choose a donor whose life style more closely resembles their own.

      You have been taking affront at what has been said here and I can sympathize. Jonathan, the most tactful person I know, might have used a different word than “handicap.” He noted, however, it would be subjective: those who value certain aspects of life would see homosexuality as a handicap and those who consider those parts of little importance would not. That doesn’t make the former a bigot, though probably someone who sees (and values)the world differently than you.

    44. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      I would like them to have the pleasure of joining in a life long relationship with someone of the opposite sex because I feel that is a wonderful experience. (I’m sure you feel the same may be true of mating with the same sex and I do not doubt that is what you feel. You and I, of course, have different perspectives on that.)

      Actually, Ginny, this is the heart of the problem: I don’t think that “mating” with a same-sex partner is on par with a lifelong heterosexual relationship. I think it’s on par with a heterosexual one-night stand. I think that a lifelong same-sex relationship is rewarding in nearly all the same ways as a lifelong heterosexual one. The only way that a homosexual relationship is not quite the same is that it doesn’t so easily pass one’s genetic material to the next generation. But even the completely infertile (which gays certainly are not) don’t receive the sort of “handicapped” rhetoric to which gays are routinely subject. If I want a genetic descendant, I can easily create one, either through surrogacy or even through the old-fashioned way. I tend to find that sex without love is morally disturbing to me, however, so I think would personally have problems with that.

      I have also agreed more than once that the sexual orientation of the donor should be known to the recipient. I don’t see why you are arguing this to me once more, as if I did not agree. (I will say, however, that you don’t know very many gay people if you think that there is any significant number of gays who view homosexuality as their “primary characteristic.” Most of us find it important–just like your heterosexuality is to you–but we wish it weren’t such a big deal politically.)

    45. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      I don’t see why there’s any distinction between socially imposed and other handicaps.

      I’ve thought this over a bit, and I must say I find it a frank abdication of moral responsibility. In the Jim Crow South, was there no moral distinction between the difficulties faced by black people and those faced by the deaf or blind? This attitude tends powerfully to normalize prejudice, to make it seem like a mere fact of nature–rather than something that, as human beings, we are capable of overcoming.

    46. j.scott barnard Says:

      Homosexuality is certainly a burden for most, especially in their youth. But I don’t think it rises to the definition of “handicapped”, “deficient” or “mental illness”.

      I was more than a bit shocked to hear some of the regular contributors using those terms. Language is a powerful thing. Perhaps it’s hard to fathom unless you’re the one being targeted, but those really are offensive descriptions being casually tossed around.

    47. Jonathan Says:

      I don’t see why there’s any distinction between socially imposed and other handicaps.
      I’ve thought this over a bit, and I must say I find it a frank abdication of moral responsibility.

      It is not. The best that I can do is to try to treat people decently and to urge other people to do the same. However, I am not responsible for other people’s behaviors, and for me to recognize that some people behave badly is merely to acknowledge reality, not to condone the bad behavior. I am also not responsible for other people’s tastes. If someone does not like gays or blacks or Jews or whomever, I may disapprove of his preference but I don’t think the preference per se is immoral. People ought to be entitled to their own preferences and associations, even though in some cases that means that members of some groups will not be welcome in some places.

      Homosexuality is certainly a burden for most, especially in their youth. But I don’t think it rises to the definition of “handicapped”, “deficient” or “mental illness”.

      I used the term “handicap,” not the other terms, so I will not comment on them. Many personal conditions can be handicaps. To say that a condition is a handicap is not to condemn it. My central point is that homosexuality tends to be a handicap, and that prospective parents who wish to minimize the risk that their children will be homosexual are not behaving unreasonably or immorally.

    48. Ginny Says:

      Mr. Kuznicki,
      I am sorry if I chose words that could be misconstrued; I was not using “mating” as a euphemism for having sex. I was using it in terms of long-term biological pairing. Perhaps this emphasizes the physical over the emotional, but that wasn’t an emphasis I meant.

      And no, few of the grown up homosexuals I know do see that as their most important characteristic. Among the ideological, young and politicized, it does come in quite near the beginning of any conversation or as sometimes part of the introduction. Peggy Noonan wrote a column on that lately and I had noticed this more often popping up in small talk. But, of course, at that stage many of us did have different views of what was interesting small talk and what wasn’t, and probably thought others were a good deal more interested in our sex lives than they really were.

      And, I appreciate your sense of commitment bonded with sex – that is very attractive in anyone, gay or straight. And perhaps is more true of your generation than mine – and that is for the better.

      By the way, while J. Scott Barnard is making a civil and reasonable point (handicap would probably irritate me if it was applied), he appears to me to be overreaching. I certainly wouldn’t imply (and hope I didn’t appear to) that this is a matter of illness or deficiency. It is, as far as I can see, a quite common and quite biological characteristic. With it comes some advantages and some disadvantages – but that is true of about all biological characteristics. We don’t often enough see an appreciation of the advantages and we tend to see but not always discuss the disadvantages.

      I searched for those words and other than handicap and other than in his note & Jonathan’s answer they don’t appear on this string. Am I wrong?

    49. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      If someone does not like gays or blacks or Jews or whomever, I may disapprove of his preference but I don’t think the preference per se is immoral.

      This is where we disagree. I find that prejudice against a whole group of people is a form of collectivism, and as such it is antithetical to the very individualist tradition that this blog itself tries to appropriate by taking the Chicago school of free market economists as its icons. Racism is a form of collectivism just like Marxism, and both are wrong for essentially the same reasons.

      Now, what the government may do about personal prejudice is quite limited, again for reasons that the Chicago school would understand. But at the very least, I do think that individual moral suasion is appropriate in response to Marxism, racism, and indeed all forms of collectivism. This is why I distinguish between natural handicaps and those imposed by society: The former is answered by techonological advance, and may never be fully eradicated. The latter, though, can and should be answered by declaring them to be morally wrong.

      Am I reading you correctly that we disagree here, and that you find nothing morally wrong about racism? I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I would like to know… It’s one thing to say that the government can do little about the problem of racism; it is quite another to say that people can or should be judged by the color of their skin.

    50. Jonathan Says:

      I don’t think racial prejudice per se is necessarily immoral, any more than I think that particular thoughts are immoral. It is behavior that is either moral or immoral.

      I have known individuals who routinely used terms of racial abuse in private conversation but in practice treated people of all races well. Were they racists? I have also known people who were careful not to use racially-loaded or otherwise “insensitive” terms in speech but were abusive in their interactions with other individuals. Do they get a pass because they talk nicely?

      Prejudice is a matter of personal taste. If you think prejudice against people is a form of collectivism, what do you think about personal preferences against vanilla flavored ice cream or brown shoes?

      I assume that you don’t think a preference for chocolate ice cream is immoral, but that you would object to the theft of chocolate ice cream or to an attempt to force someone to eat it. I suggest that it is no different with people. One’s beliefs, however distasteful they might be to others, are not in themselves immoral; the use of force to impose one’s beliefs is immoral.

    51. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Jonathan, once again you are confusing what is proper for a government with what is proper for an individual. It’s a mistake you have made systematically througout this discussion, and I really don’t think it is worth discussing it with you much further. Since it is clear you have your mind made up, at least for the moment, let me leave you with a couple of thoughts.

      If prejudiced thoughts against a group of people are moral, then why is it immoral to act on them?

      Can you think of a single good moral system that encourages racism?

      If not, then by what standard do you argue that racism is good?

      The cases you cite, in which a racist may sometimes be polite, or in which a nonracist may sometimes use insensitive language, prove nothing more than the obvious fact that many situations require humility in our judgments. They do not prove that it is morally good in the abstract to hold racist views.

      I have argued to you that racism is wrong for exactly the same reason that Marxism is wrong: The one suggests that people are superior or inferior based on their social class; the other suggests that people are superior or inferior based on the color of their skin. I think it is the content of one’s character that makes a person superior or inferior. You, however, think that skin color is a determinant of goodness–or at any rate, you are afraid to judge people who think this way. Your moral default here is really shocking to me, to be frank. How can you intellectually condemn socialism (which you do), while giving racism a free pass?

      Further, your questions about taste in clothing and food are perfectly beside the point. I think you are the one, not me, who has to justify himself here. Why would it be moral for me to think all blacks are lazy and criminal? Why would it be moral for me to think all Jews are dirty and greedy? Isn’t this obviously a moral defect, since it purports to judge character by things that have nothing to do with character? (And what on earth does ice cream have to do with it?)

      Now of course thoughts must never be made criminal; I believe that hate crimes laws are wrong, and I have said so quite often in public. But while thoughts cannot be criminalized, this does not make all thoughts good or proper or justified on the individual level. And if you can’t grasp this difference, then you are even more of a collectivist than the average garden-variety racist. Despite your libertarian trappings, you would let government policies dictate your standards of morality: If a government shouldn’t forbid it, then it’s morally okay by me. I for one find that unconscionable.

    52. Jonathan Says:

      I try to evaluate people based on their behavior. I don’t know what their thoughts are. If they say one thing and do another, I give more weight to what they do than to what they say. You seem to miss these points, in your characterization of someone who talks badly in private but behaves well in public as “racist” and vice versa. The moral problems with socialism do not lie in the thinking about it, but rather in the enactment of the ideas. If you think that my making of this argument indicates that I favor socialism or racism then you are missing the point again.

    53. Jason Kuznicki Says:

      Jonathan, you are the one who wrote, “I don’t think racial prejudice per se is necessarily immoral.” All I am doing is holding you to the consequences of your statement. If you don’t like them, then perhaps you should reconsider what you said. Ideas always have consequences.

      You want me never to judge ideas? But all of philosophy, all of intelligent life is a judgment of ideas! I am amazed–shocked, really–to find you such a moral relativist at heart.

    54. j.scott barnard Says:

      I guess one could hold a prejudice and yet not act on it, ever, but that would be a superhuman feat. Just because someone knows how to act in mixed company, well, they’re still an ass if they use language in private. And that language is usually the symptom of a larger problem. I don’t pretend to be a philosopher. But my real time observations have been that those who speak in private about their racial prejudice don’t exclusively leave their prejudice at home when it comes to decision-making in the workplace and put some folks at a disadvantage as far as networking. It’s not quite they lynching of yesteryear, but I’d tend to think it immoral.