In human artificial insemination (AI), sperm is placed through nonsexual means into a woman's reproductive system to impregnate her. Once envisioned as a tool of eugenics and coercive population control, in 2011 AI is largely considered one possible way to voluntarily build a family. Before undertaking AI, carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages, which often are specific to your own family situation.
Procedure Risks and Benefits
AI procedures vary according to the condition of the sperm--fresh or frozen, treated and concentrated or not--and the site where it is placed in the woman's reproductive tract. Insemination can occur high in the woman's vagina or within her cervix, uterus or Fallopian tubes. She might take medications so she ovulates more than one egg. Discuss the risks and benefits of each procedure with your fertility specialist. You can guard against many risks by selecting a doctor, fertility clinic or sperm bank that complies with professional and legal standards, such as taking detailed medical histories of sperm donors and screening them for HIV and other infectious diseases.
People undertake AI to conceive, bear and raise children they cannot or choose not to by other means, whether they are infertile heterosexual couples, female same-sex couples or single women. Some single men or same-sex male couples also seek fatherhood through AI, often with their own sperm, of a surrogate mother. Families created or expanded by AI still face the stigma that they are somehow "abnormal" or "unnatural." At the same time, AI opens up reproductive choices that many people did not have before.
Prospective parents need to honestly weigh for themselves the probable long-term pros and cons of each donor scenario. The donor can be known, such as the prospective mother's husband or a friend. He might be an anonymous or "willing to be known" donor to a sperm bank. Many prospective parents work with sperm banks because the donors generally cannot seek legal parental rights, such as visitation. Others are comfortable with, for example, a donor who plays an uncle-like role in the child's life. Whatever boundaries the parents and/or the law draw, however much or little contact he has with the child, the donor will be a lifelong presence within any AI-created family. Even when happy about their upbringings, most AI-conceived people are curious about their biological fathers.
Other Social and Legal Issues
Aside from donor issues, the AI-created family may face an uncertain status, even before conception. In the U.S. and elsewhere, health plans, public or private, may not cover infertility treatments or the reproductive plans of LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered) people. Some physicians, sperm banks and fertility clinics still discourage anyone but infertile male-female married couples from AI. In many jurisdictions, the parental rights of any nonbiological parent may be unclear or tenuous, especially if legal adoption is not possible. Consultation with a knowledgeable family lawyer may be in order. At the same time, families built through "alternative" means such as AI can be loving and resilient as any other.