by Robin Fleischner, Attorney at Law
Are LGBT families different than heterosexual families? No, according to Jenna Slutsky Bass, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center and an expert on the issues surrounding donor-conceived individuals and families created by egg and sperm donation and surrogacy. She generously sat down with me to discuss her work.
You were involved in a recent study examining the impact on children of being raised in LGBT families. Could you describe your role and the research objective of the study?
Professor Susan Golombok, Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Lucy Blake, formerly of the University of Cambridge and currently a Lecturer at Edge Hill University, UK, and Professor Anke Ehrhardt, Director of the Division of Gender, Sexuality & Health at Columbia University, co-led a study on gay father-led families through surrogacy, the first results of which were published in January 2017. Golombok, S., Blake, L., Slutsky, J., Raffanello, E., Roman, G., & Ehrhardt, A. (2017). Parenting and the Adjustment of Children Born to Gay Fathers Through Surrogacy. Child Development, doi 10.1111/cdev.12728.
I was a project coordinator of this study, which examined whether there were differences in parental wellbeing in gay father families with children born through surrogacy compared to lesbian mother families with children born through donor insemination. The reason for focusing on dads was that there are few studies to date of gay father families, particularly through surrogacy. Lesbian mother families were chosen as a comparison group as there is a large body of existing research indicating that families led by lesbian mothers largely do not differ in functioning or outcomes, when compared to families led by heterosexual parents.
What were some similarities and differences found in the study for parents and children in families with gay fathers through surrogacy compared to lesbian mothers through gamete donation?
We found that in both groups, the children were psychologically well-adjusted and developing well and that there were positive parent-child relationships. There were few differences between groups, but we did find that fathers rated their children as having slightly lower rates of emotional difficulties than did the mothers. That said, in both groups, the children were developing well and were functioning well within the normal range.
Openness is a big issue in adoption today. Research shows that being honest with children about their adoptions from the youngest age is best. Does research show that it is the same for kids conceived through surrogacy and gamete donation, one way that LGBT families are formed?
Yes. The research literature suggests that the earlier children are told about their conception through donation or surrogacy, the better they do over time and the better the parent-child relationship. The United Kingdom and Australia have passed legislation requiring that the identity of donors be available to donor-conceived children at age 18. It is important for parents to understand that children’s curiosity about their origins is often just curiosity, and not cause for concern.