Denise J. Hunnell, MD

Opinion

The sperm donor industry: lucrative, unregulated…and wrong

Denise J. Hunnell, MD

November 23, 2011 (HLIWorldWatch.org) - We medical students were for the most part broke. I was an economic vegetarian – I couldn’t afford to buy meat. The medical school faculty knew that there were always student subjects available to participate in their research studies as long as they offered money or free food. My arms still bear the needle marks of multiple vials of blood proffered for about ten dollars a pop. For $100, my roommate agreed to undergo bronchoscopy, which entailed inserting a tube through her nose all the way into her lungs so that the technician could collect cells from her deepest airways. Afterwards, she said it wasn’t worth it.

The male medical students, on the other hand, had it made. They were very desirable sperm donors: lots of women want to be able to say their child’s father was a doctor, even if they have never met him. I always wondered if in the future one of these men would look at every child who shared his physical features and wonder if this boy could be his son or that girl could be his daughter.

So what are the chances that a future doctor might someday run into his own child, fathered by artificial insemination? The odds are still slim, but they are probably higher than either the donor or the recipient of the sperm anticipated. Unlike Britain, France, and Sweden, The United States places no limits on how many children a sperm donor can father. In addition, no accurate records are kept of how many children are actually conceived by artificial insemination. Mothers are asked to report a child’s birth to the sperm bank from which the donor sperm were obtained, but this is a voluntary notification. According to Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, only 20 to 40 percent of mothers actually follow through with the report.  The New York Times highlights a case where over 150 children can be traced to a single sperm donor. Internet groups are cropping up to connect half-siblings fathered by the same donor. While groups as large 150 are rare, collections of 50 children with the same sperm donor father are becoming more common.

Sperm banks and fertility centers are running a mostly unregulated 2-billion dollar industry annually and are churning out mass produced children the way the auto industry produces cars. In fact, there is more concern about the health and safety consequences of a minivan than there is about the health and safety consequences of children conceived with donor sperm.

Just ask Tyler Blackwell. He discovered by chance that his sperm donor father had Marfan’s syndrome, a genetic disease of the connective tissue. Tyler had inherited this defect and required surgery to repair an aorta that was at risk for rupture. Neither the sperm bank nor the fertility clinic had informed Tyler or the donor’s 23 other children of the possibility of this potentially fatal disease. There was no legal requirement for them to seek out this information or to report it if found.  Similarly, in 2006, a single sperm donor was discovered to have passed on a rare genetic disease, severe congenital neutropenia, to five children in Michigan. The natural occurrence of this disease is one in 5 million live births.

Clearly, unfettered artificial insemination risks the widespread dissemination of genetic diseases. In addition, it poses the threat of accidental incest as children who are conceived by the same donor often live in the same geographic area.

Taking procreation out of the marital embrace and putting it in the laboratory or clinic treats the children so conceived into commercial products. Parents become consumers: Children are no longer considered gifts to a marriage, but goods that are purchased for the benefit of one or both parents.

The wisdom of the Catholic Church has always rejected any technology or treatment that seeks to replace the marital act rather than merely assist it. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document Dignitas Personae states:

With regard to the treatment of infertility, new medical techniques must respect three fundamental goods: a) the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death; b) the unity of marriage, which means reciprocal respect for the right within marriage to become a father or mother only together with the other spouse;[19] c) the specifically human values of sexuality which require “that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses”.[20]  Techniques which assist procreation “are not to be rejected on the grounds that they are artificial. As such, they bear witness to the possibilities of the art of medicine. But they must be given a moral evaluation in reference to the dignity of the human person, who is called to realize his vocation from God to the gift of love and the gift of life”.[21]

In light of this principle, all techniques of heterologous artificial fertilization,[22] as well as those techniques of homologous artificial fertilization[23] which substitute for the conjugal act, are to be excluded. On the other hand, techniques which act as an aid to the conjugal act and its fertility are permitted. (Dignitas Personae No. 12)

Doesn’t this make perfect sense; that is, to optimize the health of the parents and the natural conditions for creating children via the sexual act, as opposed to treating human beings as things that can be demanded and made artificially?

God has given us a great privilege to participate in the creation of new life. We risk both our physical and spiritual well-being when we abuse this privilege and separate procreation from the conjugal act within marriage.

Reprinted with permission from HLIWorldWatch.org

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