Gamete Brokers and the Backfire Effect.

By admin on September 15, 2021
There's a well-documented phenomenon in psychology called the "backfire effect."  It’s the tendency of some people to resist accepting evidence that conflicts with their beliefs. The effect is demonstrated when people presented with conflicting data and information become even more convinced of their original beliefs rather than questioning them. This helps to explain why gamete brokers often struggle with changing their minds in light of new evidence presented to them about donor families.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do this instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens those misconceptions instead. Over time, the backfire effect makes you less skeptical of those things that allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper. So, the more people are confronted with facts at odds with their opinions, the stronger they cling to those opinions.

This phenomenon is what I come up against all the time when dialoguing with people in the reproductive medicine industry.  All too often the Donor Sibling Registry’s decades of anecdotal data from more than 75,000 people, and research studies with 26 published papers in peer-reviewed academic journals are dismissed, negated, or challenged. Instead of listening, the evidence is ignored or explained as somehow biased or wrong. I get it.

If the industry acknowledged the new information and data, they would then need to honestly address their own policies and make changes that would negatively affect their businesses in a financial manner:

1. Keeping and updating records costs money.  Reporting births is voluntary, so sperm banks do not have accurate records of the children born from any one donor and they lose track of donors. One mom says,  "If the sperm bank [CCB] can't find the donor 3 years down the road when my sons were speech delayed or 6 years down the road when my son had cancer, why do they claim they can find him after 18 years??”
2. Keeping promises of updating and sharing medical information is costly and might also result in costly lawsuits. 
3. Keeping promises of limits on numbers of offspring would be costly as selling fewer vials of a single donor would also affect their net profit.
4. Properly educating and counseling all prospective parents and donors would also be costly. Also, if donors knew that they could end up with 100-200 kids, many would never donate.

This is the false narrative and only argument that comes my way from the industry (eg., from the American Society of Reproduction's spokesperson Sean Tipton and from the sperm banks) when proposing some oversight or regulation: 

Any oversight or regulation of the gamete donation industry will threaten the “reproductive rights” of parents. Parents are told, If there is regulation or oversight in our industry, you won’t be able to have the baby you so desperately desire!  In reality, the oversight and accountability that we propose is not about challenging anyone's "reproductive rights".  This is a different conversation about running a more ethical and responsible gamete selling industry by mandating accurate record-keeping to know which families have children from any one donor, keeping accurate records on all medical issues reported, mandating comprehensive medical and genetic testing of donors, mandating the updating and sharing of medical information amongst families and donors, limiting the number of kids born to any single donor, and listening to the experiences and recommendations of donor-conceived people.

Many in the industry know that the information I present is accurate as they too hear from the families, but consciously choose to ignore or dispute it. But, I have talked with some people in the industry who are so invested in "helping families" that it's hard or even impossible for them to consider that their policies might actually be hurting people. I get it. 

But the only ethical and responsible way forward for the industry that is helping to create human life is by honestly listening to and considering the parents', donors', and most importantly the donor-conceived peoples' experiences in the years and the decades after the gametes are sold and purchased when setting policy.