Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Fertility Clinics Are Best When Looking For a Sperm Donor But Not A Father

And now for the latest news from the expanding frontiers of modern-day, technology-enabled parenthood: Mary Cheney, the 37-year-old lesbian daughter of Lynne and Vice President Dick Cheney, is expecting and will raise her child with Heather Poe, her partner of 15 years. Press reports have quoted the vice president’s spokeswoman as saying the elder Cheneys are “looking forward with eager anticipation” to the birth of their sixth grandchild, their first five being all by way of their heterosexual daughter, Elizabeth.


Missing from all of the stories was any word on how Mary got this way. She and Heather seem to be keeping deliberately mum on that, and I can’t blame them. After all it’s a private matter, none of the public’s business really.


But as a family lawyer, I can’t help wondering about how this came about because it can matter legally, not just for Mary, Heather and their child but for all such two-mommy families. Heather and Mary are well-educated professional women, so I’m guessing--and hoping--that they went into this with plenty of forethought and perhaps the advice of an attorney as well.


Their first step after that would have been deciding on a sperm donor. Like any other female couple, they would have had two choices. They could have enlisted the aid of a willing male friend, or they could have sought out the services of a fertility clinic.


Clinics, where donors and donees are kept apart from and anonymous to each other, seem to me to offer clear legal advantages over the alternative. I base that opinion on what I’ve learned from Allan Stewart, a Clayton-based family lawyer who has more experience than I do in legal issues arising from today’s reproductive technology.    


Typically, he says, fertility clinics require donors to sign contracts, agreeing to give up their parental rights to any resulting children, permit the clinic to use the donation as it sees fit and absolve it of legal liability. It’s also “generally the practice” for such clinics to require a medical history to be shared with children later and confirmation that the donor has no sexually transmitted diseases, Stewart says.


All of this impresses me as good practice. It provides the parents with protection against later claims by the donors on their children while providing their children with vital health information. One commentator clearly assumed that Mary and Heather went the clinic route, noting that the women live in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. where there are a number of fertility clinics.


If they chose the other way, using a friend as their donor, they could have exposed themselves and their child to unnecessary problems. From what I know and have read, it’s not uncommon for donors to go into these private, very personal deals promising total detachment from any resulting offspring only to decide later that they want to be involved fathers.


I defer here again to Stewart, who says he advises the partners to these “friendly” arrangements to put their expectations in writing at the outset, spelling out, for instance, what relationship, if any, the donor will have with any children. Any record of  “what people agree to at the time” is helpful, he says, even though it may not be enforceable in court.


Next time: When donors decide they want to be dads.