Courtship in the United Kingdom could become awkward in future years, as thousands of children conceived with donor sperm may want to check their records to be sure their intended paramours aren’t genetic half-siblings.
According to new figures released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the 504 most prolific sperm donors have fathered more than 6,200 children between them. All 504 have fathered at least ten children apiece, and at least 15 of them have fathered more than 20 children each.
Up to 2,000 children are conceived using donor sperm each year in the UK. Sperm donors are allowed to father children in up to ten separate families, and there is no limit to how many children they are allowed to father within each family. While the HFEA refuses to disclose the highest number of children fathered by a single donor on privacy grounds, it is possible that some men may have dozens of biological children, all genetically related, yet unaware of the others’ existence.
Compounding the problem is the fact that until 2005, sperm donation was anonymous, with children conceived by donor sperm being entitled only to basic medical information about their biological fathers. Anonymous donation has since been banned, but donor children must still wait until age 18 to request the identity of their genetic father, leaving minors in the dark about their biological heritage. Furthermore, there is no law requiring parents who have conceived using donor sperm to disclose that information to their children, meaning many donor-conceived children may not even realize their true origins.
In January, former sperm donor Chris Whitman wrote about his feelings after he discovered, to his surprise, that his sperm donations had produced at least 34 children between 1992 and 2003 – 20 girls and 14 boys – with 16 of them having been born in a single year.
“Twenty girls and 14 boys: more than three football teams' worth running around with my genes,” Whitman wrote in the Guardian in January. “There is no template for how one is supposed to react when faced with something so extraordinary. Although I had a strong urge to share the news, I didn't feel ready to talk to anyone in my family and only spoke to a handful of friends.”
Whitman said he was easily able to work around the ten-family rule by moving on to a different fertility clinic after the first one informed him he’d hit his limit. “My younger self must have seen this rule as pettifogging bureaucracy gone mad,” Whitman wrote. “Oh, that and an impediment to the steady trickle of cash payments to which I had grown accustomed. I simply registered at one of the clinics in Harley Street (where, it would appear, no cross checking was done) and carried on donating.”
Although all of Whitman’s children were conceived prior to the ban on anonymous donation, he decided to go ahead and add a small amount of information to the registry in case any of his children want to find him – just an email address and the name of his town. He was shocked to learn that of the thousands of men who donated anonymously prior to the ban, he was one of just 126 who had come forward to give up their anonymity – “a disappointingly tiny fraction,” he wrote.
Ben Conroy of the Iona Institute in neighboring Ireland praised the UK’s ban on anonymous sperm donation, but said it didn’t go far enough.
“[The ban on anonymous donation is] very welcome for the reason that if children know their genetic heritage, they're less likely to get into a romantic relationship with one of their half-siblings by mistake,” Conroy wrote in a recent op-ed. “The danger of this has by no means been averted – I don't imagine people will introduce themselves at bars saying ‘I was conceived through sperm donation, here's a picture of my dad, hope he's not yours too.’”
Conroy recommended that Ireland and other nations “ban egg and sperm donation entirely.”
Conroy isn’t alone in his opinion. A growing number of donor-conceived children have begun speaking out against the practice.
LifeSiteNews recently interviewed Jessica Kern, a woman conceived with donor eggs and carried by a surrogate mother who was recently featured in the documentary Breeders. Kern has become increasingly outspoken against all forms of donor conception, arguing that it reduces human lives to consumer products.
“I think it’s wrong,” Kern said. “It really is the buying and selling of babies, and the commodification of women’s bodies.”
“There’s a huge difference between the adoption world and the donor-conceived world,” Kern added. “[The] institution [of adoption] was not … created for the parents, to give them a kid. It was created for the opposite, to put children in a home, because they’re here already and we’re responding to a catastrophe.”
On the contrary, Kern says, “Donor-conceived [children], we’re creating them with the intent of separating them from their biology, and you know … it’s vastly different.”
Kern also objects to the use of the term “donation” to describe the sale of genetic material. “It’s not donation if you get a huge check at the end,” she said. “It’s selling babies. … If you’re a sperm donor or an egg donor, you’re not selling your sperm, you’re not selling an egg, you’re selling your child.”
Jennifer Lahl of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, the bioethicist and filmmaker who produced the Breeders documentary, as well two others called Anonymous Father’s Day and Eggsploitation – about the sale of sperm and eggs, respectively – told LifeSiteNews that the more she interacts with donor children, the more she opposes the practice.
“What we know about human nature is that biology matters,” Lahl said. “People spend countless amounts of time and effort doing genealogy searches and understanding where they come from and who they belong to. Information about family, family history, genetic origins and medical history are important details to the wholeness and wellness of the individual.”
“As [documentary subject] Barry says in Anonymous Father's Day, ‘secrets are like landmines’ that can go off at any time,” Lahl said. “Much of what we are seeing today, in the growing outspokenness of those who are donor-conceived, is their rejection of the narrative that biology doesn't matter or who you come from is not important. And the evidence doesn't bear this out either. Secrets are not good for the well-being of those lied to. Biological information is important and relevant.”
If you are a donor or a donor-conceived child looking to connect with your biological family, visit the free DonorChildren online registry by clicking here.