ISTANBUL - Actress Güner Özkul chose to apply to a sperm bank because her boyfriend already has children and does not want another one, leading to a public debate on ethics. If she wants respect for her decision to have a baby, she should respect to her boyfriend’s to not have one, she says. Getting pregnant by a sperm donor is not legal or common in Turkey
Pregnancy by sperm donor is a controversial topic and the recent decision by the daughter of a prestigious actor and actress to take this path to motherhood has flared the debate in Turkey.
Although she is not the first woman in Turkey to use this method, her story has drawn reaction from many people and her decision is being debated on many points, from ethics to religion and from law to psychology.
Güner Özkul, the 43-year-old daughter of actor Münir Özkul and actress Suna Selen, is also an actress and used to be a model. In her interview with daily Milliyet on May 10, she said she started to worry about not having a baby as she became older. Before she was 41, her doctor told her that there was nothing to worry about in regards to getting pregnant, as she had a biologically young age. But two years ago, her doctor told her that her ovular reserves were running out so she had limited time if she wanted to have a baby.
She said in the interview that she has become obsessed with the idea of having a baby and this brought a burden onto her recent relationships. She even went as far as avoiding friends with children. "I became an asocial, nervous, obsessed person." She said she was delaying acting role offers, only with the idea that she may become pregnant during that time.
"Having a baby became more important than my relationships. I realized that this was my real problem."
Özkul was aware that she was obsessed with the idea of having children. One of the reasons for that was in her past, she said. "I grew up in a crowded family. We were five siblings, and my childhood passed with my peers in the boarding schools," she said. As a healthy person, she is trying hard to live longer as a lifestyle; however, she said it becomes meaningless to live longer when one will not have a child.
Regretted, if never tried
The meaning of life is desperately tied to having a child, for Özkul. She said she would regret it if she did not try to have a baby by sperm from a donor. She has become pregnant on her first try in the clinic and she will have a baby girl. "Doctors said it is a miracle baby and told me to look after it carefully," Özkul said. If her first try fails she said she would take lessons from it too. However, she said she would not give up until she had tried all methods.
Getting pregnant by a sperm donor is not legal or common in Turkey. Özkul said in the minds of urban people there is always a choice like this, adding that she used to think, "At least I can apply to a sperm bank." One day, her Plan B suddenly became her Plan A.
Denmark sperm vs boyfriend
Özkul already has a boyfriend but she did not have children from him. She chose to apply to a sperm bank because her boyfriend already had children and did not want another one. She used a donor’s sperm from Denmark instead of her boyfriend’s. She said in her relationships, none of her boyfriends wanted children or more children than they already had.
"If I want to see respect in my decision to have children, then I should respect my partner’s decision to not have children," she said. This is when she stopped expecting her partner to be her baby’s father. Then she said she understood that she had to deal with this problem by herself.
"If I could produce sperm with my body, I would do that and use them to have a baby." She said she learned that this will one day be possible through stem cell technology but not at the moment.
Legally and from a psychological perspective, the ethics of having and raising a baby without a father figure is under debate. Özkul said until the recent past it was debated whether organ donation was legal or ethical. "It was debated for a long time in Turkey until the day when those who claimed that organ donation was wrong suddenly needed one. Maybe this [getting pregnant through donor insemination] will be seen as normal one day," she said.
Özkul is aware that one day her child may start questioning her about whether she had any right to have a child without a father. She is also aware that there may be some legal problems too. "But, giving birth to a baby is something egoistic, even when you have a partner. Making children totally happy is never possible. A child could ask her mother and father the same question of why they gave birth to him or her," she said. Now, Özkul said she is at a point where she does not ask any questions that will bring doubts. Donor insemination is legally allowed in only some countries such as Greece, England, Cyprus and some parts of the United States. Özkul said she chose a center in Cyprus that was experienced in donor insemination as well as tube baby pregnancies. The cost of this donor insemination pregnancy was around 5,000 euros.
Most of the donors at the center in Cyprus are from northern European countries, said Özkul. "In fact, they told me that Turks prefer blond donors since they want blond babies. But I preferred a rather fair colored donor to make my baby look more like me," she said.
AHMET HAKAN : Danish sperm quality debatable, Hakan says
Daily Hürriyet writer Ahmet Hakan addressed Güner Özkul in his May 12 column in letter format, reminding her of the challenges she might experience in the future: "You became 43 years old, and you wanted to have a child. Instead of making the effort to find a ’father candidate,’ you found another way, which is, ’Well, I won’t bother to waste my time with them.’" Though Hakan said he knew it was not his business to nose into her life, he advised Güner that if she is not "that egotistical" she should know that "every children has right to know who his or her father is."
"Imagine when your baby grows and asks you where her father is. What will you say?" Hakan asked Özkul in his column, adding even if she were able to overcome this problem, she would be faced with another one. Noting that Özkul got pregnant with the sperm of a donor from Denmark, Hakan said she should not expect to have a child like the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. "Do not forget that even though your donor is from Denmark, that does not mean he reflects the ’Danish quality’ that you hope to find," he wrote.
ÇİĞDEM ANAD: Mother and father together spin the cocoon of love
Women who have children without a fatherÉ They of course guess the difficulties to raise a child without a father. They know that a child needs a father as well as a mother. Güner Özkul with all her sincerity says making a child by visiting a sperm bank is a selfish decision. What if there is no father candidate, can the mother refrain from her most fundamental instinct? How can she refrain? Men cannot understand this fundamental instinct.
It is not difficult to understand men who do not want children, but it is impossible not to acknowledge them to be right. I believe, however, the measure of loving a woman in a way that you cannot live without her is to have a child with her even though you do not want one.
I do not question Özkul’s relationship with her boyfriend. Moreover, I believe that it is a sign of their mutual respect, love and friendship for each other that their relationship goes on even though Özkul got pregnant by a donor.
If I go to buy sperm alone, I would leave the man I love. Because I am not a child who grew up with a mother and father. My self-confidence is not as high as Ozkul’s. I need a man who loves me that much that he cannot live without me.
AYŞE ARMAN: ’Don’t look back,’ Arman advises
As a response to fellow columnist Ahmet Hakan, Ayşe Arman wrote in an article in the same newspaper on May 13, under the headline, "Güner, walk and don’t look back."
"Your column about Özkul is totally populist and far from sensitive," Arman said, noting that Hakan is not the parent of a child, and that if he were, he would not write so harshly about Özkul. The pregnancy of women like Güner Özkul is more important than writing on any kind of issue, Arman said, adding that there are many women who cannot get pregnant by the man they love and that sperm banks offer a solution for them, too.
"Whether you like it or not, you have no right to question the quality of that sperm. As you have the right to write anything you want, Güner, Özkul has the right to get pregnant with anyone’s sperm through any kind of method she wants," Arman wrote in her column. Since giving birth and raising a child bring serious responsibilities, especially when a woman attempts to do so by herself, Arman said people should support Özkul instead of challenging her.
MURAT KINIKOĞLU: An evolutionary approach to sperm-bank issue
In his May 18 column in daily Akşam, Murat Kınıkoğlu said that the number of babies born through artificial insemination is increasing in Turkey as well. Criticisms are usually made from a religious perspective in the country, blaming the single mothers who get pregnant through sperm banks, said Kınıkoğlu, adding, "However, some religion ethnologists are approaching with more sensitivity to the issue, such as Prof. Beyza Bilgin who said, ’If Allah would not allow that, then it will not be possible to do so, it is like kidney transplants.’"
Kınıkoğlu also looked at the issue from an evolutionary perspective, saying that for some types of chimpanzees, knowing the father is important for the continuation of the genes and the family, but for some others, it is not. He said for Homo sapiens, knowing the baby’s father was important in order to maintain resources to aid the development of the child.
"Today, do we need a father who will protect our children from the enemy tribes and wild animals? Maybe in Afghanistan. However, it is probably not that necessary in modern Turkey," he said.
However, sperm banks may cause unpredictable problems in the near future, he added.
AYÇA ŞEN: ’Perfect’ families may not actually be that way
There is no perfect family, said Ayça Şen, participating in the ongoing "sperm bank" debate in her May 14 column in daily Radikal. Şen said that some were writing very didactic things, similar to a teacher using a chiding voice, as they emphasized psychological and sociological perspectives on the issue, saying it would have a cost for both mother and child.
"My one side thinks that homosexuals have the right to have a child, but my other side [that has grown up with a father] says it is not right. When I think that everyone has the right to have a child, then my other side thinks how happy Memo [her son] is when he rides his bicycle with his father," wrote Şen. Saying she was confused about what she thought was right and wrong in the sperm-bank debate, Şen ended with the idea that the person who attempted to get pregnant using a sperm donor should be the one to decide. She added that raising a child without a father was better than raising a child with a father who abuses the child, who does not support his family or who is involved in criminal acts.