Bioethics 22 (3):166–178 (2008)

Rivka Weinberg
Scripps College
Sperm donation is a widely accepted and increasingly common practice. In the standard case, a sperm donor sells sperm to an agency, waives his parental rights, and is absolved of parental responsibility. We tend to assume that this involves no problematic abandonment of parental responsibility. If we regard the donor as having parental responsibilities at all, we may think that his parental responsibilities are transferred to the sperm recipients. But, if a man creates a child accidentally, via contraception failure, we tend to assume that the man does indeed have parental responsibilities. Assessing these contrasting conclusions requires a theory of parental responsibility. I analyze prevalent theories of what makes someone parentally responsible and show that none of these theories can withstand scrutiny. I propose a new theory of parental responsibility, which, I argue, is more plausible than the alternatives. My theory of parental responsibility is based on our ownership and control over hazardous materials, namely, our gametes. I show that neither my theory, nor the theories I reject, can support our contrasting intuitions. I conclude that sperm donors are fathers, with parental responsibility. I argue that the alternative conclusion, that neither sperm donors nor accidental fathers are parentally responsible for their resulting offspring, is less plausible. I then consider whether parental responsibility can be transferred and argue that it is far from clear that it can. Finally, I address objections and consider some practical implications of these views.
Keywords children  sperm donation  procreation  sperm  parenthood  parental responsibility  gametes
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2007.00624.x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,163
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Unbearable Lightness of Bringing Into Being.David Benatar - 1999 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 16 (2):173–180.
Gamete Donation and Parental Responsibility.Tim Bayne - 2003 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 20 (1):77-87.

View all 8 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Parental Responsibilities and Moral Status.Bruce Philip Blackshaw & Daniel Rodger - 2020 - Journal of Medical Ethics 47 (3):187-188.
Defending the Distinction Between Pregnancy and Parenthood.Prabhpal Singh - 2021 - Journal of Medical Ethics 47 (3):189-191.
Does Reproductive Justice Demand Insurance Coverage for IVF? Reflections on the Work of Anne Donchin.Carolyn McLeod - 2017 - International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 10 (2):133-143.

View all 15 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
123 ( #95,046 of 2,506,916 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #170,105 of 2,506,916 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes