“I am a product bought at the supermarket, whose label has been cut off”: this is how Stephanie Raeymaekers, a 36-year-old Belgian woman who has never lived in peace, introduces herself in an interview granted to the Italian periodical Tempi. She is one of the first “test tube babies”, conceived with the semen of a so-called “donor” – a seller, to be more precise – which had been purchased from a bank of “biological material.” She tells the story of her unhappy and unsatisfactory quest for her natural father who cannot know, according to a national law that violates a fundamental principle of human rights recognized as universal by the international charters and conventions on children: the right to certain identity.
Stephanie’s case is not an isolated one. Alana Stewart Newman, who was conceived the same way, called heterologous fertilization “the violent act of buying and selling a child.” It deprived her not only of her natural father, but of the whole paternal family, grandparents, uncles and aunts. After a childhood spent “fantasizing about her biological father” – she explains – she was abandoned also by her social father, as a result of his divorce from her mother. “I have suffered debilitating problems of identity, distrust and hatred towards the opposite sex. I only exist like a toy, like a scientific experiment” she says. Then she adds: “If law is capable of taking away such a valuable thing as a mother or a father, how can we expect that the next generation of ‘orphans’ can become interested and fight for democracy, clean air, or public water? The State and the test tube business force one into a rootless existence”. According to Alana, one cannot ask a child “not to make questions” about the unknown parent, and those who chose to give birth to a child this way “was simply an egoist.” Alana has even created a site, anonymousus.org, to offer assistance to those who live a similar dramatic condition of denied identity and rights.
In short, most of these ordered lives are stories of pain. A slap of truth in the face of those who are hiding behind the false and superficial triumph of life rhetoric to support heterologous fertilization, or surrogacy, which is even worse, since it treats both mother and son as a commodity on the lucrative market of artificial procreation.
Gracie Crane is a young Englishwoman. She told the British newspaper Daily Mail the tragedy of a life lived as a stranger. She was an embryo floating in liquid nitrogen and waiting for her fate to be decided. She was waiting for someone to choose whether she was going to continue her life, or was going to be thrown away like a piece of waste or used as a biological material for creams and perfume products. Her “adoptive” parents saved her from being recycled or disposed of. “But love is not enough,” she says. “I do not know who I am nor where I come from.” She adds: “If I cannot have children, I will never resort to IVF. I do not want to make anyone go through what I have been through.” Then she adds from her heart: “Human beings are not commercial products.” Lindsey Greenawalt writes on her blog: “If I could have chosen between a half-life such as mine and non-life, I would have chosen the latter.”
Audrey Kermalvezen, a 33-year-old Frenchwoman, shifts the spotlight from social conscience to another ethical, legal, and psychological issue of children produced “in laboratories”. Only after having married a man born from heterologous fertilization, in 2009, she found out that she was conceived in a test tube. And, along with the torment of not knowing who she is, what genes and experiences she inherited, she lives also with the fear of being guilty of involuntary incest. Her husband might be her brother. “We cannot know whether we have the same parents,” she says. Audrey is one of the biggest opponents of heterologous fertilization, and especially of the anonymity of the so-called “donors.” Together with her husband. In France, her story became a best seller in 2014, under the title Mes origines, une affaire d’Etat (“My Origins, a State Affair”). But there is no price nor “remedy” for all of her suffering, she ensures.
Back in the eighties, the psychologist Leonardo Ancona, Father Agostino Gemelli’s favorite pupil, innovator of psychiatry and psycho-analysis, wrote in a scientific paper: “A child born from heterologous insemination faces a number of difficulties; these range from the establishment of the ‘stepfather complex’ towards himself to the experience of rejection in the case of postpartum depression of the mother or to over-protection that rewards the child when his recovery is attempted unnaturally…” Science explains that the formation of a person and of their personality starts from the very first moment of fertilization. Awareness of their origins can produce severe damage to the test tube baby – Ancona declares -. “Later, as a teenager they may develop psychopathological traits with identification difficulties, inability to build adequate inter-subjective relationships, which can be articulated with already experienced familiar circuit resulting in irreversible scenarios of collective unease”.
The alarm concerning the risks of heterologous fertilization has been rang by its own supporters. In 2002, for example, one of the greatest champions of assisted procreation, Carlo Flamigni, wrote that “references to the possible negative resonances of gamete donation both for the father and for the couple”. Often, it causes quarrels and separations between the spouses. The partner who does not have “partaken” in biological parenthood most of the times feels excluded or at least secondary in the relationship with the child. The psychiatrist and sexologist Willy Pasini said that “the majority of men perceive the donor as a rival towards whom may be unleashed feelings of inferiority, jealousy, and even persecution mania.”
When the one to be replaced in procreation is the mother, there is no less damage. Then there is the problem, which is not marginal, of psycho-somatic foreignness of lack of recognition between the social parents and test tube babies. Whereas scientific literature warns that, “despite the best will, it seems impossible for the donor to stay away from the child born of that little piece of herself that was moved elsewhere to grow” (Carlo Flamigni). It is true also for the mother who is ‘replaced’ in the inhuman and uncivilized practice of ‘”surrogacy”, according to Elisa Anna Gomez’s article In Terris published under the title of “Women are not a factory.”
There is nothing romantic or wonderful, in fact, in these “split” and “black and white” lives of “toy” children who were produced in labs to satisfy selfish desire for parenthood. There is only a lot of sadness, anxiety, and insecurity.