My Daddy's Name Is Donor

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Recent study follows children of sperm donors
Findings show troubled adults isolated from families

by Vicki Thorn

SAN FRANCISCO, June 11, 2010 -- Recently, a report was released entitled “My Daddy’s Name is Donor.” Researched by Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval Glenn and Karen Clark, this is the first time such a study has been undertaken, examining experiences of 500 donor children, 500 adoptees and 500 children conceived and raised in their family of origin. Those interviewed were between the ages of 18 and 45.
It is estimated that in the U.S., there may be as many as 30,000 to 60,000 children conceived each year using donor sperm. There is an exploding fertility business in this country estimated to bring in $3.3 billion annually. In Denmark, the largest sperm bank in the world, Cryos, ships three-quarters of its sperm overseas. It is estimated worldwide that hundreds of thousands if not millions of children came into the world as “genetic orphans.”
 Is it high-tech child abuse to rob children of their biological heritage?

In some quarters, this is a cause for celebration – it is now possible to have babies under circumstances that never would have yielded a child in the past. Yet beyond the t-shirts and bibs that proclaim “My Daddy’s name is donor,” as if this is something to celebrate, are haunting reflections from donor children themselves.

One such person told the recent study, “It was dehumanising and deeply upsetting to know that I was bred with plastic gloves, and without any thought or understanding of the long-term significance of my genetic kinship.”
There is a mindset that these children should be grateful to be here. But as people begin to listen, many questions came to the forefront. Indeed, they are genetic orphans, often unable to find their biological fathers because of non-disclosure agreements. They look at others, searching for physical resemblances. There are web sites devoted to these searches. Sometimes half-siblings are located but almost never the ever-elusive donor, and so the question of “Who am I?” continues to play out in the hearts and minds of donor offspring. And when they themselves become parents, that questioning is intensified.
Let me briefly summarize the study findings: Compared to adopted offspring or those raised in biological families, the donor-conceived adults were more confused and more isolated from the families they grew up in. They described themselves as hurting more than the other two groups. Nearly half of the group was disturbed that money was involved in their conception.
As one woman wrote , “My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships, but rather represented a verbal contract, a financial transaction and a cold, clinical harnessing of medical technology.”
For many of these individuals there were profound struggles with their origin and identity. Forty five percent agreed with the statement, “The circumstances of my conception bother me,” and reported tense family relationships. They said they worried that trying to find information about their donor may cause the people who raised them to be angry or hurt. Close to half worried that their mother may have lied to them about important matters. Over half said they depend more on friends than on family.
They worried that they may form intimate relationships with related individuals. They wanted the right to know about their origins. (Some countries have banned anonymous donation of sperm and eggs.) Overall, about half of these individuals expressed concerns or serious objections to donor conception.
In spite of this, three quarters of them said they support reproductive technologies in general, and they are far more likely to donate sperm or ova or become surrogates. Twenty percent had already been involved in donation or surrogacy, compared to zero percent of the adopted adults and 1% of those with biological parents.
Last winter, a Newsweek article examined the experience of a man named Kirk Maxey, who donated sperm twice a week from 1980 to 1994. Maxey estimates he could be the biological father of as many as 400 children.
Sperm donation was a quick way to earn money, and his combination of good looks – blond and blue-eyed – and great track record for making women pregnant had him in high demand. He acknowledges today that he had altruistic motives as well, as his donation helped childless couples achieve their dream. But now, over the years, his conscience has been at work. He is very active in developing regulation in the sperm donor trade and in helping those searching for their biological father to find ways to make the identification. 
The year Maxey began donating sperm, a headline in the Los Angeles Times read, “Sperm Bank Donors All Nobel Winners: Plan Seeks to Enrich Human Gene Pool.” The article was about California multimillionaire Robert Graham and his plan to found a sperm bank that, via selective donations, would save mankind from “retrograde humans” who were outnumbering the intelligent minority. The press named it the “Nobel Prize Sperm Bank.” As David Plotz, author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank wrote in Slate , Graham’s notions sparked a furor that “was considered at best elitist, at worst racist and genocidal.” Yet the donation center stayed open until 1999.
Graham’s example is extreme. Yet whether motivated by altruism toward childless couples or a belief that everyone has a “right” to offspring, science has enabled us to move to a Brave New World where sex and reproduction are often separated. The rapidly advancing world of assisted reproductive technology is producing babies as we produce commodities – but they are growing up, and they telling their stories.
We must listen with our hearts to what these individuals have experienced.
This article originally appeared in Headline Bistro and is reprinted here with the permission of Vicki Thorn, founder of the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and Project Rachel .

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