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‘Family structure’ said to trump ‘wanted’ as key to a child’s future

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In the eyes of children, is it paramount that they were "planned" and "wanted"? Or does the family structure of their home matter more?

These are two of the many thought-provoking questions about donor-conceived children and "diverse" family forms in a report released Thursday from the Commission on Parenthood's Future at the Institute of American Values (IAV).

Already, leaders in family law and family diversity are calling "intentional parenthood" a good thing because all these children "are planned and wanted," said Elizabeth Marquardt, principal investigator and author of "One Parent or Five: A Global Look at Today's New Intentional Families."

But what do children think about being created to live in a home that is intentionally missing a parent? Little research has been done on this, but many young adults who were conceived by anonymous sperm donation believe "it is wrong that they were intentionally denied knowledge of their father's identity," said Ms. Marquardt, who directs the Center for Marriage and Families at IAV.

"If we are concerned about child outcomes," she said, "I would suggest that it's not just being wanted - which I think is important - but it's also the family structure in which the child is born or raised that matters as well."

In many cases with egg, sperm or embryo donation, she added, people are setting out to "deny a child one or both of their parents, before they are even conceived. And that is painful for some of these children."

The IAV's groundbreaking report seeks to start a discussion about families where children have one, two, three, four and five parents. The report excludes families missing a parent because of unintended circumstances such as death of a parent, divorce, remarriage, adoption or accidental pregnancy.

But it includes polyamorous and polygamous families, where children are asked to accept multiple, unrelated adults as their parents. It also includes women and men who intend to be single parents; gay couples; and persons - gay or straight - who create a child to raise together but without a relationship with each other.

This latter arrangement, in which a child is expected to live a "split life" with two unrelated co-parents, is probably "handing a lot of head games to the child," Ms. Marquardt said.

Despite the slogan that "every child should be a wanted child," she said, it should not be assumed that "wantedness" is the most important factor for child well-being. Much more research, discussion and debate is needed about the impact of "intentional parenthood," family structure and other factors.

After all, she said, referring to children born of one woman's egg and another woman's womb, "how do these kids make sense of what 'mother' means? I would like to bring a tape recorder to those young people ... and just listen for two hours and write a book about it."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 percent of all infants born in the U.S. each year are conceived with artificial reproductive technology (ART). In 2009, this resulted in the live birth of 60,190 infants.

Use of ART is still "relatively rare as compared to the potential demand," but its use has doubled over the past decade, the agency said.

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