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Nonfiction in Brief

LETHAL SECRETS by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor (Warner Books: $19.95; 187 pp.)

June 25, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

The authors who argued for open adoption files in "The Adoption Triangle" now do the same for birth by artificial insemination, proposing the establishment of a new term, donor insemination, or DI. The old term was AID, artificial insemination by donor; among other objections, they argue, the use of "artificial" is derogatory and misleading.

Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor point out that although donor insemination has been practiced on people for at least a century--and even longer for the purpose of breeding livestock--the practice has largely been kept secret because of our squeamishness. "It is interesting to note," the authors write, "that genealogical and medical data for bulls are carefully kept and highly valued as contrasted to human sperm, where records are often destroyed and information denied." The authors bypass the myriad legal and medical issues raised by alternative birth methods and focus instead on the psychological consequences. The method they choose is to present case histories of people involved in donor insemination: parents, donors and offspring.

Their thesis is that the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding donor insemination is psychologically damaging to all involved: families who keep the secret as well as the children resulting from donor insemination. The problem uncovered in the many interviews is the discrepancy between traditional policies of secretiveness and new societal values. The prevalent reason for wanting donor sperm has been male infertility, a subject of considerable shame. The recent emphasis in the media on infertility and the desire to have children has largely removed the stigma from infertility and increased access to alternative methods of producing or acquiring children. But Baran and Pannor argue that there are other reasons people choose donor insemination that also need to "come out of the closet." A number of the people interviewed for the book represent a population of lesbian couples or single women who are increasingly demanding the right to have children without the participation of men in a traditional family structure.

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