We're all used to the classic Maury Povich stereotypes of men desperately trying to prove through DNA testing that they have no moral responsibility to help raise a child ("You are not the father!"), but a new California case is flipping that cliché on its head. Actor Jason Patric is in the middle of a custody dispute with his former girlfriend Danielle Schreiber after the two were able to conceive a child through the process of in-vitro fertilization in 2009. Yet Patric was never formally attributed as the father of their son Gus. Schreiber claims that Patric acted as nothing more than a sperm donor, essentially abandoning the child after the two broke up, while Patric asserts that he deserves to be a part of Gus's life and has spent intimate time with his son. Influenced by the case itself, California state senator Jerry Hill has proposed a bill that would allow courts to determine whether a sperm donor should be granted parental rights based on the relationship between the child and the donor.
Under current California law, a sperm donor has absolutely no parental rights except under two conditions: he is married to the mother of the child or there is a specific written agreement establishing the man as the father of the child. From an unbiased perspective, this seems like an accurately fair regulation considering that a random individual (who receives a decent compensation for his donation) should not be able to claim joint custody over a child with whom he had no intention of supporting. Then, the argument starts to move towards a woman's right to sole parenting; when a woman goes to a sperm bank, she expects to receive a child out of the process, not a child and a man who expects the same custody. If a woman doesn't want her son or daughter to have a father, isn't she entitled to?
Many planned parenthood, LGBT, and women's organizations have already taken issue over the proposed bill. Patricia Bellasalma, president of the California National Organization for Women, probably put it best when she argued, "These families need to be able to use known donors without fearing that every time the donor comes into the child's home, they're in jeopardy of creating evidence in a custody battle." California Cryobank, the largest sperm bank in the country, has even strongly opposed the bill, with spokeswoman Alice Crisci saying, "We support a man's right to co-parent his offspring; however, current law expects an unmarried man who provides his sperm to a physician or sperm bank to establish a co-parenting agreement prior to the conception of the child. Invalidating the legal requirement of that agreement would create an uncertain environment for donor conceived conception and reverse legal protections for California families."
At the end of the day, though, how much of this bill is just case-specific to the Lost Boys actor Patric? It is certainly unfortunate that Patric might not win custody over what should be considered his rightful son, but if he did donate his sperm after the two had broken up as Schreiber claims, it's extremely difficult to argue for Patric's rights. Yet this whole situation is incredibly contentious, because how can you judge a man's right to be a father or not based on merit and evidence alone? The debate is extremely moral and controversial, meaning that new legislation could just further complicate the dilemma. So it might be best to just let it play out for now without taking any strict action.