I saw the movie “Delivery Man” this past weekend. Vince Vaughn plays a meat delivery guy who, 20 years before, paid for his parents’ anniversary trip to Italy by donating sperm to a fertility clinic over 600 times. Due to an administrative error, the clinic overused his “donations” and, as a result, he is the biological father of 533 children who initiate legal action to discover his identity.
The movie was cute enough and did its best to be respectful (as least as respectful as a comedy could be) to a very complicated and painful situation. The movie discussed Vaughn’s character’s irresponsibility head-on. It showed the very real pain his biological children suffered and strongly hinted at the injustice and immorality of sperm donation and similar modes of assisted reproduction albeit in a comedic way. At one point, the attorney for Vaughn’s now young adult children noted that while sperm donation appeared to be a great deal for Vaughn’s character and for the parents accessing donor conception services, the people who were most affected by the process, the children themselves, never had a say in the morality or ethics of what was being done. It was a poignant moment.
The problem with the film had less to do with where it went than with where it lacked the courage to go. It implied (spoiler alert) that the deep emotional wounds many donor-conceived children report could be resolved just by meeting their biological father. It sugar coated the impossibility of being truly present to 533 estranged children whose pain was palpable throughout the movie but too-easily resolved in the way feel-good films do. Twenty years of angst resolved by a hug and a picnic montage? If only.
There’s no question that that movie deals with morally objectionable material but I think mature Catholics ought to see it. It gives us an opportunity to discuss a topic few people are aware of. Namely; the growing numbers of donor-conceived children who are speaking openly about the pain they experience every day because of the way they were conceived. This is exactly the pain Humanae Vitae sought to prevent.
Between showtimes I headed over to Starbucks and coincidentally sat next to a young couple who were planning on going to see the movie themselves. They were sitting with an older gentleman, the young woman’s father. The father had said that he read somewhere that it was scientifically impossible to father 500+ children through sperm donation. I introduced myself and mentioned that in fact it is not only possible, but I know people with over 500 half-siblings. He was shocked. They thanked me for the fliers and said they’d let me know what they thought about the movie.
My advice to you, dear reader, is to become informed on this film and this issue. This is a golden opportunity, serendipitously served up by Hollywood, to educate the public about why Catholics have it right when we talk about the immorality of donor-conception. The more we can use gift-wrapped cultural moments like this to help people understand what we’ve been talking about for 40+ years, the better.
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