3 min

More than turkey basters

Dykes need access to new baby technologies

Credit: Mia Hansen

Over the last year, I have found myself gazing longingly at babies and engaging in long conversations with my girlfriend about what it would be like if we had a child together.

However, there is one obvious hitch: We’re dykes. But I’ve always hoped that in an age of reproductive and genetic technologies, anything was scientifically possible. And that one day, I could be stroking my swollen belly while my sweetie made a run to the store for my latest strange craving.

Although I feel something more than mild irritation that my girlfriend and I can’t conceive as cheaply and as easily as many heterosexual couples do, I’m at the same time suspicious of the emphasis that all these new technologies are placing on biological relations. As a dyke who grew up never having met my birth father, but rather calling my adoptive father “dad,” the notion that “blood is thicker than water” simply doesn’t wash with me. Furthermore, being working class, I’ve always been troubled by the fact that most reproductive technologies aren’t covered by OHIP, so they don’t come cheap.

So when the federal Health Minister Anne McLellan introduced Bill C-56, “An Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction,” I considered the debates surrounding it from these three somewhat contradictory perspectives. I was filled with hope that the bill would make it easier for me, as a dyke, to get knocked up. However, I worried that the bill would serve as one more reminder to adopted kids and their parents that biology is destiny.

Also, even though the bill makes these reproductive technologies accessible in theory, I wondered whether I would be able to actually afford them.

One of the important technologies addressed by the bill is sperm donation. The bill takes away the ability of donors to be paid for their sperm. Though I won’t discount sperm donors’ altruism, I fear that without the financial incentive, there will be a far smaller supply of sperm to go around. Interestingly, though the bill explicitly prohibits the payment of donors for ova and sperm, as well reimbursement for surrogate mothers, it does not appear to restrict the fees that a clinic can charge its clients. In a supply-demand market economy, this could mean that sperm may become more expensive, as the supply of sperm becomes more rare but the cost to the consumer remains unregulated.

The prospect of sperm becoming more expensive is troubling. Through casual conversations with acquaintances trying to conceive using donor insemination, I know that donations already don’t come cheap. I’ve heard figures like US$500. for just one shot of the stuff (pardon the pun). As dykes, we are likely to rely on new reproductive technologies to have children. As these options become more costly, I have to wonder how, or if, working class dykes can afford to have kids. I can’t help but feel disadvantaged in relation to my fertile heterosexual friends.

At the same time, the bill allows sperm donors to remain anonymous to their recipients and later to their offspring. I was relieved that the bill upheld donor anonymity for fear that donors would be deterred from going down to the sperm bank at all. However, some adoption activists criticized this aspect of the bill, arguing that donors’ identities must be available so that their offspring would have the chance to “find out where they came from.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that those of us who have never known one or both of our birth parents should have the choice to do so. But I am critical of some of the bio-determinist assumptions that inform our need for this information.

In some respects, the bill is intentionally ambiguous. While it sets out to control “altering, manipulating or treating any human reproductive material for the purpose of creating an embryo,” it leaves the definition of these terms to be determined by regulations, which will be passed at a later date. The bill gives the provinces the power to “pass their own legislation and regulations related to assisted human reproduction.”

However, in Chicago, scientists have managed to produce artificial sperm and infusing it with DNA from one parental partner, in order to fertilize the egg of the other. Because Bill C-56 doesn’t define what will be a considered a “controlled activity,” nor do I know what the province will deem available, so that as dykes, we don’t know if we’ll have access to this kind of technology. This is troubling, because I know the technology now exists to do previously unimagined things.

What I would like to see is explicit information from the feds about what reproductive procedures may become available, and some indication of what kinds of costs clinics will be charging for these procedures. Bill C-56 has to be just the starting point.

More than that, I would like a commitment from Ontario that OHIP will be covering the “controlled” procedures so that dykes like me don’t have to sell all our worldly possessions just to conceive.

For the time being I’ll have to be satisfied with playing with the babies of my straight friends, and babbling endlessly about the cute thing the toddler in the park did.