By Nishtha Raval (NHS ’19)

February 4th, 2016 – The Kennedy Institute for Bioethics at Georgetown recently hosted its third installment of “Conversations in Bioethics”, a campus-wide initiative to openly discuss critical bioethics issues. This year, the event dove into the topic of making families, and it featured a moderated discussion of several esteemed panelists.

“Conversations in Bioethics” panel discussion on the topic of family. |Photo by Nishtha Raval

“Conversations in Bioethics” panel discussion on the topic of family. |Photo by Nishtha Raval

Dr. Maggie Little, a professor in the Philosophy Department at Georgetown University, moderated the discussions, which started with Hilit Jacobson and Breanna Spencer, two siblings by virtue of sperm donation, who shared their story in a recent docu-series on MTV. The half-siblings discussed their respective experiences of growing up knowing how they were conceived.

For Spencer, it was rather uncomfortable subject, especially given the fact that she attended very religious private schools that were consistently judgmental. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it,” Spencer stated.

Hilit “grew up in a tight-knit community in Atlanta” where there was not nearly as much scrutiny. For her, being a child of sperm donation with 15.5 half siblings was a cool fact that she could share during circle time. The two also spoke to their definition of family. “For me,” shared Jacobson, “it’s the people who support you and the people you support.”

Dr. Little, then, spoke to Mary Bonauto, a leading civil rights lawyer, who took the stage in front of the Supreme Court last June to successfully argue for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

One of the difficulties that she encountered in her battles was the formation of civil unions for same-sex couples, rather than solid recognitions of marriage. “It really felt like separate but equal,” Bonauto expressed, while clearly indicating that she was not looking for this distinction in front of the Supreme Court. “I was asked to argue less than a month before the argument,” she revealed, highlightingthe case’s rapidity.

Two other panelists, documentary filmmaker Barry Stevens and legal scholar Susan Crockin, also added meaningful insights to the discussion. Stevens mentioned why children of sperm donation might feel the need to search for their biological parents. “We like to have a story that begins someplace and ends some place,” Stevens remarked, “And for us, the first chapter is often missing.”

Overall, the event was to encourage the modernization of family and redefine its parameters. “Real” parents, Stevens asserted, should not be a term fretting over. “The whole idea of real isn’t binary,” he explained, “it’s a complex thing”.

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