According to an article posted yesterday on The New York Times, the Donor Sibling Registry has identified 150 half siblings from one anonymous sperm donor. The article notes:
As more women choose to have babies on their own, and the number of children born through artificial insemination increases, outsize groups of donor siblings are starting to appear. While Ms. Daily’s group is among the largest, many others comprising 50 or more half siblings are cropping up on Web sites and in chat groups, where sperm donors are tagged with unique identifying numbers.
I addressed the issue of egg and sperm donation as an ethical dilemma in January, but this issue continues to creep back into the picture. While the article to which I responded in the winter celebrated the idea of donation, this current article paints a much darker picture. The author states:
Now, there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.
The interesting thing is that there are few regulations in the United States governing the donation of reproductive material. Donors remain anonymous and are simply assigned a unique identification number. Men can donate a seemingly unlimited number of times. Potential mothers typically request a specific donor’s sperm with no idea of how many other children have been conceived with his genetic material. Behind all of it, donor banks make a fortune from the sperm of popular donors.
Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, states, “Just as it’s happened in many other countries around the world, we need to publicly ask the questions ‘What is in the best interests of the child to be born?’ and ‘Is it fair to bring a child into the world who will have no access to knowing about one half of their genetics, medical history and ancestry?” These questions are legitimate questions to ask the government and the industry behind this growing problem.
In Great Britain, regulations have been in place since the early 1980’s to limit the number of offspring a single donor could father (10 per donor). While most donors in the U.S. are promised a small number of potential offspring, many have found that they now have dozens of children. The article states:
Ms. Kramer, the registry’s founder, said that one sperm donor on her site learned that he had 70 children. He now keeps track of them all on an Excel spreadsheet. “Every once in a while he gets a new kid or twins,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, and not what he signed up for. He was promised low numbers of children.”
So what are we to make of this? As I noted in January, the biblical model of procreation is intended to take place within the confines of marriage (Gen 1:28; 4:1; Heb 13:4). The introduction of donors (sperm and/or eggs) creates an unusual moral dilemma that raises the question of adultery. Have these reproductive technologies created a new category of adultery—reproductive adultery? While difficult to say for certain, we certainly need to raise that question.
In addition, the article describes another set of problems that often go unnoticed—those related to the children.
Experts are not certain what it means to a child to discover that he or she is but one of 50 children—or even more. “Experts don’t talk about this when they counsel people dealing with infertility,” Ms. Kramer said. “How do you make connections with so many siblings? What does family mean to these children?”
How will children deal with the fact that they have dozens, or even hundreds, of siblings? While many parents typically want to keep it a secret from their children that they were conceived with the help of donors, can they afford to do so with the possibility of incest?
Technology is a great thing, but too often we accept the benefits of technological advances without considering the long-term ramifications. This is one example of something that has the potential to cause great problems in the future—and the future is now.
Jacqueline Mroz, “One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring,” The New York Times, September 5, 2011.
The Donor Sibling Registry, https://www.donorsiblingregistry.com/.
Evan Lenow, “Who’s the Mother?: The Tangled Web of New Reproductive Technologies,” January 11, 2011.