What’s The Ethical Response To Giving Birth To A Mixed-Race Child You Didn’t Bargain For? If Only Abe Lincoln Was The Lawyer…

What does Abe have to do with a sperm bank mix-up in 2014? Read on...

What does Abe have to do with a sperm bank mix-up in 2014? Read on…

I can certainly sympathize with the plight of Jennifer Cramblett, the birthing half of a loving, and white, same-sex couple who sought the assistance of a sperm bank to conceive a child, and who ended up giving birth to a mixed-race baby girl because of the kind of clerical error that sets up movie comedies starring Adam Sandler or Cedric the Entertainer. This is like what happened to Chevy Chase in “Vacation,” when he ordered one car and had a different one arrive at the dealer’s months later. Well, the car was a lot worse, because it was ugly, but it drove fine. Well, let me think about that: lots of babies, even babies sired the usual way by attractive parents without alien sperm, are ugly. This baby wasn’t ugly: Cramblett says she’s beautiful. Has all ten fingers and toes. No apparent deformities.


Maybe this situation is more like the cherry red Nova that got delivered as my first car, when I had ordered something else. I got a discount for going ahead and taking the Nova, and never regretted it: best, most reliable car I ever had, and I had it in the days when I was still having fun in cars.

Come to think of it, what’s Cramblett so upset about? She has a healthy, lovely child and a stable family. OK, that sperm bank owes her a refund, and maybe some “I’m sorry you got the wrong color” money. But would I not only sue the sperm bank for the lifetime of pain it had supposedly subjected me to by causing me to have a mixed race child, but also use the law suit to garner media fame? Of course not. There is no way to simultaneously claim that having a mixed-race daughter is a hardship worthy of substantial damages, and to argue that the race of her daughter doesn’t matter, because she is unconditionally loved.

The couple’s lawsuit against the sperm bank screams “Hey! This could be a jackpot for us!”  The couple’s lawsuit explains that Jennifer Cramblett was raised to accept stereotypical beliefs about blacks. It says she is culturally unprepared to raise a mixed-race child. It argues that their community is, in effect, bigoted, and that—get this—it’s hard to get their daughter’s curly hair cut. In other words, it’s just hell having a mixed-race daughter, but they love her very much and would never trade her for anything in the world.* Got that?

Don Lemon, of CNN, interviewing Cramblett—and why is she doing TV interviews? Why is she going out of her way to make dead certain that her daughter will know just how much of a tragic mistake her mother believed her existence to be?—quite properly asked**:

But I mean, you know, kids are born with all sorts of things that parents don’t expect to do and to learn about. And that’s just – that’s, kind of, part of parenting….I mean – and kids are picked on for a number of different things. And if she’s loved at home, why does it matter-you know, what other people say? And then, when she gets older, she may read about this, and how – how do you think she’s going to feel about this later?

You can read Cramblett’s disingenuous answer if you like at the link above, but the answer to the question is, “She’s going to feel she was a mistake that her mother regretted, and that her parents regarded having to raise her as a hardship rather than a privilege.”

Maybe Jennifer Cramblett will get her jackpot, and will think that it justifies establishing a public and eternal record that 1) she didn’t want the child she got, 2) she regarded raising her such a hardship that she sued for damages, 3) she lives in a racist community, which is sure to improve her neighbor’s treatment of her family, I’m sure.  Maybe she thinks her child would rather have a bigger inheritance than the full confidence that she was wanted, and accepted, exactly as she is.

If she really thinks that, she is wrong.

I blame the lawyer here. A lawyer has an obligation to help a potential client understand the full consequences of any litigation, including the effects on loved ones. The lawsuit, and especially the decision to make it a pop culture, blogosphere, cable news phenomenon, seems instead to be the result of awful, and greedy, legal advice. The suit is taking place in Illinois, and another Illinois lawyer might have steered Cramblett and her partner away from this destructive course. That lawyer would be Abraham Lincoln.

In his notes for a lecture to young lawyers before he became a politician, Lincoln wrote,

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.

That Illinois lawyer would have met quietly with the Downer’s Grove sperm bank, explained that it would be in the interests of all parties to come to a quiet, confidential resolution of the matter, and negotiated one. That Illinois lawyer would have persuaded mother and mother, if they were really as loving as they say they are, that the self-esteem of the little girl in their care was worth more than any jury-ordered windfall.

Unfortunately, that Illinois lawyer is dead. And maybe that kind of lawyering is dead too.


* I couldn’t find a place for this issue in the main post, but isn’t it strange that a woman who is parenting a child in an open same-sex relationship is so freaked out because she wasn’t raised to understand how to raise a mixed race child? I’m pretty sure she wasn’t raised to raise a child with two mommies, either. I’m pretty sure that any community that is as hostile to a mixed race child as her law suit claims is likely to be equally hostile to a same sex couple and their offspring. Maybe the lawyer can persuade the little girl, down the road, to sue her parents on the same theory that her parents are suing the sperm bank on now. After all, in Baby Heaven, I bet she believed she would have a mother and a father. How dare her same-sex parents subject her to the horrors of being “different”?

** It’s been fixed now, but for quite a while the Newsbusters’s post on this incident began…“Wednesday’s CNN Tonight spotlighted the lawsuit of a homosexual woman, who mistakenly received sperm from an African-American woman…”


Sources: Newsbusters, Chicago TribuneCNN


28 thoughts on “What’s The Ethical Response To Giving Birth To A Mixed-Race Child You Didn’t Bargain For? If Only Abe Lincoln Was The Lawyer…

  1. When these sorts of collisions happen and we are asking ourselves the question:

    “Should she have gotten what she asked for?” and the answer “Yes” is the fair answer, but leads us then to think “Wait… but she shouldn’t be pissed! That little baby had no say in this and is deserving of unconditional love, screw the parent’s feelings”

    But that still leads us to “she was promised what she asked for.” When we keep hitting this circular digression of disgust, we ought to take this problem earlier into the process.

    Is it ethical to demand specific sperm?

    Well, in a natural marriage, in which a man CHOOSES his mate and woman CHOOSES her mate, they are technically getting to select the specific genetics of their offspring. So, by extension, the woman seeking the sperm bank does get to select the specific genetic contributions available.

    I think the question of ethics becomes this: What are the criteria used when selecting our mates?

    If one picks their mate based on racial qualifications, then I’d say that is unethical. So for the sperm donor – is this a radical idea – don’t disclose race. Race is dumb theory anyway right? Yes. But appearances still matter to us and we do tend to gravitate towards affinities.

    So, yes, the woman gets to pick what race the sperm donor is…

    Yes she gets to be annoyed the bank made a mistake, but she is compelled to get over that annoyance as well as never allow her conduct and attitudes towards the INNOCENT child to be clouded by that annoyance. I’d say the sperm bank owes her a refund for failing to provide the specific request…but that’s the only compensation she gets.

    • I guess I could word it: we get to pick the appearance of our mates* which to a large extent governs the appearance of our offspring, but we still don’t get to pick the appearance of our offspring regardless of having a probabilistically reasonable expectation of certain appearances.

      *except in the case of rape. Which I wonder if anyone will make this out like it’s a sperm donor version of rape?

      Perhaps instead of a refund, the sperm bank would just offer a free 2nd child? Gads this is just weird.

  2. Abe? Is that you?
    I think you are right, and that this is the only ethical way to align priorities. And what if the woman paid to have the sperm of a Nobel prizewinner, and got the sperm of, say, Joe Biden instead? Same result?

  3. If one — lesbian or whatever — desperately wants a child, there are numerous options available to one. If your lesbianism shuts you out from more traditional options and you go another way. so be it! LUCKY YOU, YOU BITCH, THAT YOU ENDED UP WITH A HEALTHY, “HIGH YELLOW” CHILD! MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF WOMEN WOULD KILL TO BE IN YOUR “UNENVIABLE” POSITION! You have a baby to love. DO IT. Be a mother. If you can’t do that (you’re the sicky), find kind parents for the baby, and do NOT PRANCE THE KID AROUND AS A MISTAKE! Do NOT ruin your child’s life by going public — and public — and public — about your disappointment. You’ll just kill the kid’s psyche. Hard enough to have two Moms? How about “hard enough to have to Moms who don’t want you?”

    Selfish. Narcisstic. Sickening. Give the baby up; Give her a chance for a happy life. You owe her. Otherwise, put her through her paces as an unwanted child, and we’ll see her in 15 years on “Criminal Minds.” LIKE THAT CONCEPT? ASSHOLES…..

  4. I think we would have to determine what is or isn’t ethical when you are essentially ordering a child. Is going to a sperm bank like adopting a child where you can pick and choose based on outward appearances? Or is it more like conceiving and delivering a child on your own and ending up with whatever your combined family genetics produce, even if the baby is deformed, disabled, chronically ill or turns out to resemble that black ancestor your grandfather never bothered to tell you about? Do you sue Grandpa? Do you sue the adoption agency if the child you adopted turns out to be learning disabled or develops a chronic illness later? Is this situation any different from putting a child back on a plane to Russia because raising him turned out to be harder than you thought? I don’t know if I know the answer to that.

    But I do agree that these particular parents are not considering the impact on the child. While sick one day, I caught one of those TV court shows where a TV judge presides over people willing to air their dirty laundry unabashedly for all the world to see.

    The case involved a man suing because he denied paternity of a child. The paternity came back pretty conclusively that he was the father. The judge lectured him about how, someday, someone’s going to come up to this child when he’s older and tell him how his father went on TV to deny he was the father, probably with the video of the show to boot. (Of course, the show was still recorded and aired, despite the judge’s concern about the child’s future potential trauma.)

    Is this not still using children as a means to an end (whether the end is financial compensation or publicity or just to be on TV?)?

  5. Nevermind the hardships the kid might face later on, how about the hardships faced by the entire family now? I mean, is there anyone she didn’t throw directly under the bus?

    Her family, who raised her ill equipped to deal with a “mixed-race” child. Her neighborhood, who are apparently racist. The black community, who won’t accept them. I mean…. The entire thing reads horribly, it’s designed to piss off everyone at least once.

  6. The thing that I gravitate towards the most here is having your confidence destroyed in the trust from the bank and their ability to properly collect family history, known medical issues so that one can brace for those possibilities. If they can’t properly document race, what chance does one have that they properly documented any medical risk factors? I think that would be the only focus of a suit I would bring: Track down the correct donor and re-do a proper medical history.

    • I was under the impression that they had a complete medical history, and they had properly documented race, but they mixed up the donor numbers. The African American donor was #330 and the donor they had actually chosen was #380, but because all the records were handwritten, and doctors write in chicken scratch, 380 looked like 330 to the person processing.

  7. I assumed that the real reason they are suing is because this mistake destroyed their ability to have the family they were planning. If their plan was to have both partners be ‘mommy’ to the child, that plan is now gone. The child will soon reach an age that they realize that only one of their ‘mommies’ is really their mommy and this may make the type of relationship they both planned on having with the child impossible. It also will bring up uncomfortable questions sooner than they wanted to deal with them.

    • ‘If their plan was to have both partners be ‘mommy’ to the child, that plan is now gone’ What are you saying? That’s all they could ever be: Mommies! There never would be a dad in the picture. Not to worry, they’ll probably end up in divorce court anyway. Maybe the father will show up and claim his daughter. Stranger things have happened.

  8. Cars aren’t an 18 year minimum financial and emotional entanglement. If you get the wrong car and it runs well, its still the wrong car and can be easily replaced. Even if thats not the case and, for whatever reason, you cant replace it, it doesn’t carry much in the way of long term affects on your life. A baby… not so much. Car vs baby is a terrible and disingenuous comparison.

    Shes upset because she has every right to control the ethnicity of her child. The fact that the baby itself is healthy and cute does nothing to change that. Nor is the wrong ethnicity something that can be chalked up to or even put in the same league as natural genetic variability. Were not talking about random genetic forces outside our control. We’re talking about a negligent mistake that produced a baby well outside genetic possibility, and thus well outside a reasonable expectation of variation.

    Why she would want a child to match her ethnicity is irrelevant to that fact that its within her rights, its not an unethical thing to want, and that she clearly expressed and intended to do so. The sperm banks promised one ethnicity, delivered another, and left their client unable to fulfill her family (a life-long commitment) in the way she had every right and reason to expect. Thats a little more serious than “sorry” and a refund can cover.

    Addendum: Reducing the magnitude of the mistake to “Sorry you got the wrong color” is disingenuous too, and for much the same reasons as the cars. People aren’t products and ethnicity carries far more socio-cultural implications than just color. On a meta-note, I would have used PS but I’ve never seen it used without sounding sarcastic or snarky. Going forward Im just gonna preface with “addendum” and see how that works.

    • But this IS just the wrong color; if you use a sperm bank, you are just a consumer; putting a stranger’s DNA into your body is a crap shoot; and being within her rights, which the post never questions, doesn’t change the fact that acting on those rights to this extent, and this publicly, is certain to harm her child.

      • “Rights” is more to support my point than criticize yours and sperm banks are not a crap shoot. That would be going to a bar and grabbing the first guy you see. Sperm donors are subject to extensive background checks on everything from looks, medical history and education, all the way to average yearly income and religion. Sperm banks are used by clients precisely because of the safety, quality, and accommodation to personal preference that they offer. The sperm bank in question royally screwed the pooch.

        • So to speak.
          But all children are crap shoots. DNA is a crap shoot When you haven’t actually met the one the genetic material comes from, it is more of a crap shoot.

          And that’s half the fun…

      • I don’t think that’s true Jack, although that’s most of what the complaint involves. They haven’t released info, but I’d be willing to bet donor 330 and 380 have different family medical histories, education, and any number of other things that could have also been gotten wrong. Moreover, statistically speaking, there are certain things that correlate with skin color, although the salient things I can think of should have been caught by medical screening (sickle cell anemia for instance). The hair is a minor legitimate point I think. Moreover, in the world as it currently exists rather than the world we wished exists, social consequences for a mixed race child exist. I think she has a valid complaint that their screw up caused those hardships.

        It should still be handled quietly and settled, in the interests of the child, but I don’t think “…just the wrong color” is accurate.

        • I don’t understand. Different is not inferior. If it is a reputable sperm bank, they don’t have sperm donors with toxic genes. You think the hair argument is legitimate??????? But think of all they’ll save on sun block!

          It’s a ridiculous complaint.

          • Legitimate in that something they did is directly related to a material increased hardship she needs to cope with. It’s penny ante shit… but it’s still real.

            I didn’t say toxic, and noted up front that the major possibilities would have been filtered out by the selection process. That being said, not every donor is identical, or there wouldn’t be a reason to have different donors, and not all the differences are purely cosmetic. I’d like to know what the packets of information given to recipients on the two donors actually are.

    • Of course, I don’t think anyone disagrees with your assessments of the mother’s right to reasonable expectations. M
      The real question this opens is how much the calculus changes once an innocent baby is brought into the picture. I think it changes it a lot… Enough to tell the mother “sorry bout your rights and all, but you’ve got an obligation now even if you didn’t want it and it wasn’t your fault”

      Answering that question opens cans of worms in all sorts of ethics situations…

  9. Probably not the legal solution, but perhaps a simple refund of monies paid to horrible Cramblett and partner, a “do over”, and finding a loving home for the child. One that won’t make her feel as if she’s a mistake. Oh, any other jackpot money should go into a trust for this beautiful child as an apology for inflicting Cramblett on her.

  10. Let me see if I understand this. We have a same sex couple that want to be accepted unconditionally by society with full rights and privileges as gay parents but they are unwilling to accept a mixed race child because of their own prejudices?

    Wow. What a double standard.

  11. Reminds me of Angelitos Negros (Little Black Angels) one of my favorite movies of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.

    It’s melodramatic, scenery is chewed all over the place and the message has the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the jaw. Still the scene pointed to below never fails to make me cry. Some context: Famous artist meets pretty girl, courts her and marries her, along the way he learns she’s an unabashed racist, which makes things uncomfortable as he works with blacks and mulatos, and has a black ancestor. They have girl and she’s clearly mixed race due to the vagaries of genetics, then this happens.


    As the mother stops laughing what the father says is: “Your daughter wants to be white, so that her mommy will love her.”

    Go watch the full movie (available on Netflix, but not on streaming). Or better yet, make the mothers watch it, over and over, until it seeps in.

    PS – While researching this comment I learned the movie was inspired by a popular song of the same name, itself an adaptation of a poem by Venezuelan writer Andres Eloy Blanco. Go read it too.
    Original: http://www.poemaspoetas.com/andres-eloy-blanco/pintame-angelitos-negros

    Semi-butchered translation of the song (without the intro stanzas where we learn a mother just lost her child): http://lyricstranslate.com/en/angelitos-negros-black-little-angels.html

  12. My first thought was, if family members have ugly remarks to make, well challenge them on it, or cut ties…if your town is that racist who not go somewhere else? She’s saying that she’s powerless to stop her uncle from making racist remarks and that she’d be happy living in a racist town if it wasn’t for the sperm bank’s mistake.

  13. If I were the sperm bank, I would settle for an appropriate amount of money on the condition that I could punch these women in the face.

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