How to keep blog post titles from sounding like crazy tabloids? Impossible. Today’s New York Times Science section features a report, “From One Sperm Donor; 150 Children,” about a particularly troubling aspect of America’s unregulated fertility industry: Anonymous sperm donors fathering countless children.
The report calls to mind the scandal in Washington twenty years ago when fertility-clinic doctor Cecil Jacobson promised his patients babies through anonymous donated sperm but used his own instead and fathered as many as 75 children. What was scandal then has become all too common today.
The Times report interviews Cynthia Daily, who hoped her son, conceived through donated sperm, would someday get to know his half siblings. What she discovered was that he actually has 150 half brothers and sisters, all fathered by one donor. “It’s wild when we see them all together — they all look alike,” said Ms. Daily, 48, a social worker in the Washington area who sometimes vacations with other families in her son’s group.
Parents have established networks based around donors to try to work through the thorny issues, not the least of which is the risk that children will accidentally marry their half siblings. One mother has instructed her child to memorize the donor number of her father so that she can compare notes with possible future mates.
Other mothers are not quite so sanguine as Ms. Daily, nor are their donor fathers. The report includes an anonymous quote from one who was promised low numbers only to learn he is the father of 70 children.
It is telling that the only constituency not interviewed was the most important, the children themselves. The Times piece relegates to the very last paragraph the only mention of the impact this Brave New World might have on the tender psyche of a little child. As one angry mother asks: “Experts are not certain what it means to a child to discover that he or she is but one of 50 children. . . . What does family mean to these children?”
— Cathy Ruse, J.D., is senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council.