Matt C. Abbott
The Jason Patric seminal saga: a deus ex machina?
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By Matt C. Abbott
May 10, 2014

From the May 2 edition of The New York Times:
    He is a movie star who shot to fame on a motorcycle in 'The Lost Boys.' She is a California massage therapist from a prominent East Coast family. Four years ago, with his sperm, her eggs and the wonder of in vitro fertilization, they produced a child.

    From there, the tale gets very, very messy.

    For the last two years, Jason Patric and Danielle Schreiber have been waging what has become one of the highest-profile custody fights in the country – one that scrambles a gender stereotype, raises the question of who should be considered a legal parent and challenges state laws that try to bring order to the Wild West of nonanonymous sperm donations....

    'The resonance here is enormous because of the increasing number of families being formed today outside of traditional marriage,' said Naomi R. Cahn, a family law professor at George Washington University and the author of Test Tube Families. 'Single heterosexual women, lesbian couples, men who donate sperm expecting to be part of a child's life – they had better be paying attention'.....
(Click here to read the NYT article in its entirety.)

I asked Father John Trigilio Jr., president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, to weigh in on this pseudo-familial controversy.

Father Trigilio wrote (slightly edited):
    One could say it is a true deus ex machina to describe the phenomenon of sperm donor dads seeking paternal rights. Similar to contraceptive sex, conception outside of marriage is injurious to both the man and woman (and the mother and father), for it violates the essential integrity of love (unitive) and life (procreative) as Pope Paul VI enunciated in Humanae Vitae.

    Sex is meant to be between husband and wife in the context of the sanctity of marriage, and it must be open to the possibility of life. Contraceptive sex divides what God intended to be one, and, likewise, surrogate or in vitro fertilization does the very same thing. Artificially preventing conception, or causing it, is immoral and sinful. Just because science can do something does not mean it is morally permissible to do it.

    The Hollywood star [Jason Patric] who was a sperm donor to his girlfriend is a biological father and has parental obligations, responsibilities and privileges. Fatherhood is more than a biological act. Just as a man is responsible for the offspring he sires when impregnating a woman, whether she is his wife, girlfriend, stranger or otherwise, similarly, a man who donates his sperm is fathering children.

    Adoption is morally acceptable when a child cannot be adequately cared for by his/her mother and father. Sperm donors do not have absolute or primary rights over their children any more than a parent who places his or her son or daughter up for adoption. Nevertheless, procreation is not merely a physical act; it is spiritual and moral as well as biological.

    Children deserve to be raised by the mother and father, who normally should be married to each other and living under the same roof, in love and harmony. Having children is not a choice whereby one can opt for motherhood or fatherhood without marriage merely because of personal preference. Like amputation, which is allowed only in absolute necessity to save the life of the person, removing one parent from the life of the child is not to be done casually – any more than removing a healthy limb.

    If the parent is abusive or negligent, the safety of the child requires protection and isolation from harm. Even then, however, moms and dads owe their sons and daughters basic support – food, clothing, shelter, education – which can be done by others vis-a-vis adoption or by making regular child support payments.

    The actor in question and his girlfriend immorally conceived outside of marriage and outside the natural conjugal act. That said, the child conceived makes them both parents. As a father and mother, they both have responsibilities to support their son and provide his necessities of life. Part of that is having a mother and father. Even if not husband and wife, fathers and mothers have the right, duty and obligation to be involved with their children's upbringing.

    Sperm and egg donations are not the same as the blood donors and organ donors who give biological material to help others. Sperm and egg particularly are the fundamental building block of human life; both are necessary for human life to be procreated, whereas other donations merely sustain life already created. That said, men who donate sperm are fathers and women who donate eggs are mothers whenever their 'donation' results in the procreation of another human being.

    Despite the immoral means engaged (in vitro fertilization), the child conceived is innocent and deserves the same basic necessities as all human beings. That a large number of conceptions can occur with a small amount of donated sperm does not vitiate or dilute the moral responsibilities of fatherhood. There is a moral and spiritual bond between father and child, just as there is between mother and child. More than just DNA, fathers and mothers pro-create, i.e., they assist in God's act of creation of a new human person. That assistance is a holy and sacred action not meant to done casually.

    Having children is not a right but a gift. Married couples must be open to the possibility of children, but they do not have an absolute right to have children in that they are not permitted to use immoral means to achieve a good end. In vitro fertilization (sometimes called test-tube babies) is not a moral option. NaProTechnology and natural family planning are moral means to seek conception or to plan family size. Evangelium Vitae, Donum Vitae and Caritas in Veritate make this all clear and succinct.

    Fertilized eggs are embryos and are de facto human beings. Human embryos are persons, as they have an immortal soul and a human body. It is human DNA in their cells, and the DNA is distinct from the mother and father. They are not clones but children.

    In vitro is immoral and sinful for two major reasons. First, it is conception outside the conjugal act of husband and wife. Second, it uses multiple embryos, most of which are destroyed, discarded or frozen in perpetude. Five embryos are 'created' and only two may be inserted into the uterus of the woman. The remaining children are treated like leftover scraps and not as human beings.

    Morally speaking, the means of conception is a different issue and matter from the ends or effect of conception. Just as rape or incest does not remove the dignity of human nature from a conceived embryo, neither does in vitro fertilization. Unless the mother and/or father poses reasonable harm and threat to the welfare of the child, fathers and mothers, even if not united in holy matrimony, should have some participation in the raising of their children, especially in helping provide for their needs.

    Childbirth outside of marriage is not a morally licit option or lifestyle choice, but the offspring born are still a gift from God and deserve to become children of God through baptism. They have a right to life and one that is reasonably provided by mom and dad. Single parenthood is something one should try to avoid, but when it happens, it can be done with dignity and grace. Purposely seeking single parenthood, however, is selfish for the parent and unjust to the child, who deserves at least the reasonable possibility of normal family life (mother and father married to each other and living under the same roof).

    Children deserve the love of mom and dad as well as siblings. The problem is that some celebrities like the publicity of having children by themselves but do not consider fully what their children deserve. All things being equal, it is better to have both parents married to each other and jointly raising the children. Divorce is devastating to children, but so is family discord and abuse.
© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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