SALT LAKE CITY (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – An aspiring mother calls the sperm bank she has arranged to work with for insemination. “We can ship sperm across state lines,” she is told – until the clinic learns she has a wife and reverses its policy.

This is just one of many experiences faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals on the road to parenthood, Sarah R. Holley, PhD , in the psychology department bat San Francisco (Calif.) State University, said at the annual meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

Too often, LGBT clients are denied insurance payments for assisted reproductive technology (ART) services, must cross out incorrect, gender-specific pronouns on forms, or repeatedly remind providers that a partner is not an “egg donor” or “the other mother.”

Such experiences harm LGBT persons seeking ART and convince them that clinics only care about their money, according to Dr. Holley. So how to do better? “In order to combat heteronormative bias, we first need to get out of problem-solving mode and offer emotional understanding,” she said. For example, providers should never assume that the uteri and eggs of two female partners are interchangeable, or that a woman who is infertile should not grieve, simply because her wife can conceive.

Providers also should be ready to discuss the downsides of tandem pregnancy with lesbian couples, said Angela K. Lawson, PhD , a psychologist at Northwestern University in Chicago. While few studies have examined specific outcomes, “Each woman has a different chance of a successful pregnancy,” she said. “What if one or both women have complications, or a medically challenged child, or they don’t get pregnant at same time?” By taking turns at IVF, couples can better cope with these potential outcomes, she suggested.

Increasingly, lesbian couples are pursuing “reciprocal in vitro fertilization,” in which one woman contributes her ovum for embryo formation, and her partner undergoes implantation. The correct terms here are “genetic mother” and “gestational mother,” not “egg donor” and “gestational carrier,” which have completely different emotional and legal implications, Dr. Lawson emphasized.

That difference makes it imperative for ART clinics to use properly worded consent forms, said Colleen M. Quinn, JD , of the Adoption and Surrogacy Law Center at Locke & Quinn in Richmond, Va. The U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage did not clarify legal parental status; birth certificates do not grant legal parental status or rescind the rights of sperm donors, she said. As a result, lesbian couples who separated have won or lost custody battles based on the wording of ART consent forms, she added. Clinics are ethically obligated to advise their LGBT clients to seek legal counsel and create their own agreements about intended parenthood, she emphasized.

For their own protection, clinics also should insist that couples create a legal property disposition agreement between themselves before creating or storing embryos on their behalf, Ms. Quinn said. “An informed consent document is not sufficient,” she added. “Neither is a disposition agreement with the clinic.”

Prospective transgender parents also merit empathic consideration, said Dr. Lawson. Self-identified women who are biologically male may face “profound sadness” because they cannot carry a pregnancy. Conversely, transgender men who become pregnant in order to fulfill dreams of children may nonetheless experience intense gender dysphoria. In at least one case, a transgender male secluded himself at home throughout his pregnancy to avoid public scrutiny, Dr. Lawson said. In all cases, it helps to identify local sources of support and information and refer patients appropriately, Dr. Holley noted.

The experts also briefly covered prospective gay male fathers, who may pay upward of $100,000 to work with a gestational carrier from an agency, they said. Couples who cannot afford to do so may work with a female friend or seek a gestational carrier in another country, each of which raises questions about parental involvement and legal rights. When same-sex male partners are both donating sperm for embryo formation, “One of the biggest controversies is what to do if only one embryo implants,” Dr. Lawson said. “Will the fathers pursue DNA testing of that child? This gets us into issues of intentional unknowing and secrecy, and we know that secrecy can destroy families, whereas privacy typically doesn’t. It’s in the best interest of children to know the story of their parentage.”

None of the experts acknowledged funding sources. Ms. Quinn had no disclosures.


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