The following two articles come from Bill Cordray, who is a donor conceived adult in the U.S. who has spoken and written about donor insemination issues for years. He posted this letter some months back to the PCVAI (people conceived via artificial insemination) yahoo group, which can be found here. The first article is from The Medical World, and the second article is an excerpt from a paper that Bill wrote for a class in Reproductive Issues in the Philosophy Department at the University of Utah. I am posting these two articles here, with Bill’s permission.
I thought it was important to post this letter in its entirety.
The Medical World, April 1909 pp. 163-164: Letter to the Editor
Editor Medical World:
It has been twenty-five years since Professor Pancoast performed the first artificial impregnation of a woman, in the Sansom Street hospital of Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia. At that time the procedure was so novel, so peculiar in its human ethics, that the six young men of the senior class who witnest [witnessed?] the operation were pledged to absolute secrecy. The circumstances of the case were about as follows:
A wealthy merchant of Philadelphia consulted Professor Pancoast to learn why his home was childless. The man was forty-one years of age, of sound body as far as he knew, had a good family history, and had never suffered from any serious illness in his life, barring a slight attack of gonorrhea in his youth, while sowing the proverbial “wild oats.”
His wife was ten years his junior, a perfect picture of health, and a product one of the old Quaker families of wealth and distinction in Quakerville.
An appointment was made with the both for an examination at the Sansom Street hospital, and a section of the senior class, of which I was one, was called upon to assist the Professor. The supposition on the part of the Professor was that the woman was unable to conceive because of some impediment which possibly might be removed. Therefore, she was examined first. The examination was very complete, almost as perfect as an army examination, but not the slightest abnormal condition was discovered. As a matter of possible public interest, I will say that during this examination was discovered for the first time, as far as I know, the suction function of the uterus, which takes place during orgasm.
The man was then examined; and while no physical defect was discoverable, the spermatic fluid was shown by the microscopic examination to be absolutely void of spermatozoons. This, of course, cleared up the situation at once, and the man was informed that the fault was his, and probably due to results of the gonorrhea in his youth. Professor Pancoast at that time considered the trouble as easily remedied, and began a course of treatment which he thought proper.
But after two months’ careful attention, the man showed no change whatever, and the Professor then concluded that the primary seminal ducts were occluded by the former inflammation extending upward from the urethra. A joking remark by one the class, “the only solution of this problem is to call in the hired man,” was the probable incentive to the plan of action which followed. The woman was chloroformed, and with a hard rubber syringe some fresh semen from the best-looking member of the class was deposited in the uterus, and the cervix slightly plugged with gauze. Neither the man nor the woman knew the nature of what had been done at the time, but subsequently the Professor repented of his action, and explained the whole matter to the husband. Strange as it may seem, the man was delighted with the idea, and conspired with the Professor in keeping from the lady the actual way by which her impregnation was brought about. In due course of time the lady gave birth to a son, and he had characteristics features, not of the senior student, but of the willing but impossible father.
That boy is now a business man of the city of New York, and I have shaken his hands with him within the past year.
Since then there has been formed an association for the purpose of producing artificial impregnation of women who may for any reason give a written consent to such a proceeding. From a nature point of view the idea of artificial impregnation offers valuable advantages. The mating of human beings must, from the nature of things, be a matter of sentiment alone. Persons of the worst possible promise of good and healthy offspring are being lawfully united in marriage everyday. Marriage is a proposition which is not submitted to good judgment or even common sense, as a rule. No Burbank methods are possible, even tho they be ideal. Artificial impregnation by carefully selected seed, alone will solve the problem. It may at first shock the delicate sensibilities of the sentimental who consider that the source of the seed indicates the true father, but when the scientific fact becomes known that the origin of the spermatozoa which generates the ovum is of no more importance that the personality of the finger which pulls the trigger of a gun, then objections will lose their forcefulness, and artificial impregnation become recognized as a race-uplifting procedure.
It is gradually becoming well established that the mother is the complete builder of the child. It is her blood that gives it material for its body, and her nerve energy which is divided to supply its vital force. It is her mental ideals which go to influence, to some extent at least, the features, the tendencies, and the mental caliber of the child. “Many a man rocks another man’s child and thinks he is rocking his own,” for it looks like him. And often two children by the same parents have feature entirely dissimilar. It is the predominating mental ideals prevailing with the mother that shapes the destiny of the child. The man who thrusts his nose into a beautiful blossom to surfeit his sense of smell on the sweet perfume is merely breathing the lustful odor from the sexual organ of the plant; and if his nose displaces some of the pollen, he may be the father of the next flower. If a honey bee does the work, it might be called the father.
A scientific study of sex selection, without regard to marriage conditions, might result in giving some men children of wonderful endowments, in place of half-witted, evil-inclined, disease-disposed offspring which they are ashamed to call their own. The mechanical method of impregnation, whether it be the orthodox way, or the aseptic surgeon’s skillful fingers, counts but little, except sentiment, and sentiment is fast becoming a servant instead of a master in the affairs of the human race. Few are the children that are brought intentionally into this world. As a rule they are but the incidental result of a journey in search of selfish pleasure. They are seldom sought, and often unwelcome when they pout in their first appearance. The subsequent mother’s love is largely a matter of growth, for affection is but an attribute of selfishness.
The man who may think this idea shocking probably has millions of gonococci swarming in his seminal ducts, and probably his wife has had a laparotomy which nearly cost her life itself, as a result of his infecting her with the crop reaped from his last planting of “wild oats.” One man in every five in New York City was found to be free from the contamination of venereal disease to an extant that rendered him safe ["unsafe?"] around the house in which a woman lived.
Go ask the blind children whose eyes were saturated with the gonorrheal pus as they struggled thru the birth canal to merge into this world of darkness to endure a living death; ask them what is the not shocking thing in this whole world. Ask Helen Keller what is the most shocking thing in this sin-soaked ball of selfish pursuits. They will tell you it is the idea that man, wonderful man, is infecting 80 percent of all womankind with the satanic germs collected by him as his youthful steps wandered in the “bad lands.” A. D. Hard, M.D., Marshall, Minn. [I think his first name is Addison]
Bio of Professor Pancoast:
His son, William Henry, surgeon, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 16 October, 1835, was graduated at the Jefferson medical college in 1856, studied for three years in London, Paris, and Vienna, and on his return established himself in practice in Philadelphia, and acquired a high reputation as a bold, rapid, and skilful operative surgeon, conservative in treatment and seldom mistaken in diagnosis. During the civil war he served as a surgeon in the army. In 1874 he succeeded his father as professor in Jefferson medical college. In 1884 he secured the bodies of the Siamese twins, and proved that the band could not have been safely cut except in their childhood. He became professor of the Philadelphia medico-chirurgical college in 1886.
Why did anonymous fathers become an inherent ingredient in donor insemination, the oldest form of assisted reproductive technology? From the start, at least as far as we can tell from the first purported use of donor insemination in 1884 by Dr. William Pancoast (The Medical World, April 1909 pp. 163-164: Letter to the Editor), it appears that one of his unknown medical students, jokingly called the “Hired Hand,” was used in order to deceive the wife about the process and to encourage her to believe that her husband was the father. There was no informed consent and the husband was told only after the wife became pregnant. Professor Pancoast then set up an “association for the purpose of producing artificial impregnation of women who may for any reason give a written consent to such a proceeding.” [ibid. Medical World]. It is implied that the business of donor insemination then began and followed informed consent but nothing is said about anonymity. The inference from this article is that the “impregnator” is not significant since the mother is the “is the complete builder of the child.” The writer then goes on to add that “the origin of the spermatozoa,,, is of no more importance that the personality of the finger which pulls the trigger of a gun… (and therefore)… artificial impregnation [should] become recognized as a race-uplifting procedure.” [Cite Medical World]. From the attitude of the letter writer it seems clear that he advocates the use of artificial insemination using “carefully selected seed.” In other words, this first use of DI is touted as a way for society to become the “master in the affairs of the human race.” As reported in an article called “The Impregnators” in “Fertility and Sterility” (A. T. Gregoire, PhD and Robert C. Mayer, MD; F&S vol.16, no. 6, 1965, p. 130 – 134) the 1909 letter caused a debate between those who felt DI violated the laws of God, “ridiculously criminal,” “neither honest nor moral,” to those who support the eugenic idea that artificial impregnation “could improve the genetic stock of America.” The moral criticisms of the act were dismissed “since the question of morals belonged in the theological journal, not a scientific publication.” “Doctors have enough of the laws of God when they are young…” and “without disrespect to Nature and Nature’s God, they (doctors) modify creation and improve it with intelligence.” After this brief uproar the practice went underground so that we know very little about the early years of donor insemination. Discussion of artificial reproduction appeared in various journals and lectures as early as 1910 (Hermann Muller) and even in literature such as Buck Mulligan’s proposal for a “fertilising farm to be named Omphalos with an obelisk” erected (phallic pun intended by Joyce) in the “Oxen of the Sun” episode of Ulysses (1922; 14: lines 651 to 737) as well as in Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). Actual mention of DI as a current practice is rarely mentioned, although we can’t assume that it didn’t continue. If it was practiced, then it survived under a cloak of secrecy reinforced with instructions to recipients to refrain from telling their children.
Excerpts from various early guides for fertility often stress that the identity of the donors must obviously remain anonymous. For example, W. J. Finegold wrote (Artificial Insemination; Springfield Illinois, Charles C. Thomas; 1964) that “the donors should be veiled in absolute obscurity.” M. Glezerman (‘Two hundred and seventy cases of artificial donor insemination,’ Fertility and Sterility 1981:35:180-7) wrote “the donor semen should be regarded as ‘material from an anonymous testis’” and that the genetic father is actually a “non-person.” Although 1982 marked the first break from anonymous donors through The Sperm Bank of California, a nonprofit feminist clinic, Sherman Silber (How To Get Pregnant; Little, Brown and Company; 2005, p. 415) wrote that “the majority of physicians still oppose identity release donors, with the (unsubstantiated) claim that the vast majority of couples prefer anonymous sperm.”