A Couple of Recent Sperm Donor Articles

There are a couple of recent (well, really not so recent now) articles I’ve been meaning to comment on.  I didn’t just want to throw them out there because I’d like to consider them thoughtfully.   With travel and all, that’s been hard.  But here’s my attempt. 

First article is from Newsweek.   (I’m going to assume you will read it yourself.) It’s about a man who, in his youth, was many times over a sperm donor and the steps he is now taking to address concerns he has about the (potentially numerous) children created with his sperm.   

Second story is a more technical one from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and is actually referenced in the Newsweek story.   I’m only linking to the abstract–to get to the whole article you have to have a subscription, I think.)  But the abstract is enough to get the idea–it’s about a man who was a sperm donor.   Twenty-two children were created using his donor sperm.  (He also had two children with his wife.)   It turned out he has a genetic mutation that leaves a number of the children at risk for potentially severe heart troubles.  

I’ve written about issues around donor sperm a number of times in the past and those posts have attracted a very large number of comments.     I don’t want to revisit all the same issues here, but certainly many of the points made in those earlier posts and comments are pertinent.  It’s easy to look at these two new stories and make blanket statements about barring use of anonymous donors and things like that.    I want to try to approach them a bit more cautiously.  I see several things to consider. 

Kirk Maxey (the subject of the Newsweek article) estimates his sperm may have been used to create nearly 400 children.   There’s something startling about that, and surely it points up a potential problem with a system in which sperm donation is largely unregulated.   But what exactly is the problem?   Why is it bad that there are 400 kids who would be genetically 1/2 siblings?

I think the first thing people would raise is the possiblity of accidental incest–that two of the kids might reproduce, not realizing that they are genetically related, and that the child those children produced would be genetically flawed.   

I see two possible solutions to this problem, one of which is possible now, one of which might become possible in the future.   First, if donors were identified, then the kids would know they were related.    If they knew they were related, they could avoid the accidental incest problem in a number of ways.   They might choose to terminate (or not enter into) a romantic/sexual relationship, they might enter into such a relationship but not have children, or they might have children, but use donor gametes.

The second solution would be to do some sort of genetic screening of the people involved before they conceived a child.  Some of this happens today–people get screened for Tay-Sachs, I believe.   I suspect that it will become more common and more extensive in the future.    But this would only be a solution if it really did become a general practice. 

Apart from the accidental incest problem, what’s wrong with the 400 offspring?   Is it something we need to worry about?  I’m not sure.   It seems problematic, but I cannot articulate exactly why.   Comments on that (specific, preferably) would be welcome. 

The JAMA case suggests a second problem–that donors can unwittingly be providing flawed sperm.   Of course, this is true for all people having children, no matter how.   Notice that the donor had a couple of kids in the conventional way, and the same genetic defect was present for them.   So what does this tell us specifically about sperm donors?   

I can think of two points here, as well.  First of all, if the donor with the unknown genetic defect had been the donor who produced 400 kids, there would be a far more serious problem.   I suppose for a long time to come there will be unknown, undetectable genetic defects.  And so perhaps this, as much as anything, argues for regulating the number of children a donor’s sperm can be used to create.  That won’t eliminate the risk, but it can reduce the number of kids who face it.  (I don’t imagine we’d be regulating the number of children the donor might contribute to via intercourse, would we?) 

Second, you can do careful tracking and screening.   Tracking so that when a donor later learns of a defect the right people can be alerted.  Screening so that the risks are known in advance, to the extent that is possible.  

The main thing I draw from these stories is that there are good reasons for having donors tracable and identifiable.   But they don’t take me a whole lot further than that–at least for now. 

Must run, so I stop there.

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59 responses to “A Couple of Recent Sperm Donor Articles

  1. There’s an old story from the NYT about half siblings finding each other – many had the same biological father: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/national/20siblings.html
    -FYI

  2. That’s a very good question Julie, and it’s certainly worthwhile to discuss, but if you don’t understand what’s wrong with a person being deliberately denied a meaningful relationship with their biological father, then you’re not going to understand what’s wrong with having 400 half siblings.

    • Tom said “…if you don’t understand what’s wrong with a person being deliberately denied a meaningful relationship with their biological father….”

      Yes. That really is what it all boils down to.

    • Here’s the thing–I do feel that having 400 offspring is bad. I wanted to examine WHY it seems so to me–to see if there were rational reasons for this reponse and what they might be.

      It’s easy for me to understand that if you start from either the assumption that the donor must be a parent or the belief that the offspring must have a meaningful relationship with the donor that more children is worse. But, as you note, I don’t start from that assumption.

      And that’s what I wanted to get at–if you don’t start from that assumption, why does it seem like a problem to have so many offspring?

  3. Julie,

    The problem with a donor creating 400+ children is far beyond the idea of accidental incest. While having hundreds of half-siblings running around (possibly in a relatively small geographic area) increases the risks exponentially of two offspring entering a relationship together, incest, at least at the genetic level, is not as bad as it is cracked up to be. Our society has made incest “bad” because we feel that it is morally wrong for relatives to procreate. Two half-siblings creating a child together is usually harmless unless they both carry a recessively-inherited allele that would cause 1/2 of their children to be carriers and another 1/4 to express the condition.

    You also mention the JAMA article about the donor who passed along HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a condition that can cause cardiac arrest and death in young children, teens, and young adults). This donor had two children of his own and 22 artificially conceived children. Of those 24 children 9 children inherited the disorder, and three of them have expressed severe heart conditions (one died at the age of 2, the other two are at high risk of early death).

    Now, your point is that any two individuals that create a child potentially can pass along genetic defects. Yes, that’s true. However, considering in the US most couples have 1-3 children, that is not a very large chunk. And I would bet that a couple that learns of a genetic defect would not have any other children, use a donor, or us pre-implantation genetic screening.

    A donor can have dozens, if not hundreds of children. If it is a condition that is passed along to half of his offspring, and he has 400+ offspring, that means that over 200 children will now have to deal with this condition in their life. In many cases these might be rare diseases that are only present in a tiny percentage of the population. Now we could potentially have hundreds of children with a rare condition that may have no cure.

    Minus the Dugger family and Octomom, families don’t create dozens of children. Even the biggest pimps probably don’t have more than a dozen or so children running around out there.

    BUT THIS IS NOT THE REAL PROBLEM!!! We are creating children that are commodities, that are not individuals but one of a batch that have come off the assembly line of artificially created children. That is the issue. That is why we donor conceived adults are appalled at these numbers and why limits must be in place for these donors!!

    Lindsay

    • You’re right about the problem of genetic defects being multiplied and so perhaps I breezed by that too quickly. I do wonder a bit about what the future will hold–as it becomes more easy to read and understand DNA, perhaps even manipulate it, I wonder what will change.

      More generally, I see that if you think one donor conceived child is bad that you’d think 400 was far worse. But, as you likely know, I don’t think one is bad. Yet (as I wrote in an earlier comment) the 400 does seem like a problem. It’s harder for me to explain why since I cannot fall back on the “one is bad, more is worse” argument.

      Finally, I do not agree that we are creating children that are commodities. I happen to know a number of donor children who are beloved members of their families. Maybe they are curious about their genetic origins and that’s worth considering. But I think it’s entirely inaccurate to say that they are commodities.

      • I am not saying that donor children are NOT loved by their families that raise them. That is neither here nor there. My point is that knowing that you were created as one of hundreds of children makes a person feel as though they are a commodity. Not even taking into account the financial transactions that took place to create us, we are potentially one of hundreds.

        As Wendy said, many donors leave the registry or don’t even sign up when they realize they have that many offspring out there. I’ve even heard of donors telling one or two donor children that he would be in their lives, but ONLY IF they promised to lie to their other half-siblings about his existence in their life. Pitting young children and adolescent siblings against one another, vying for the spot to be the “loved one” is a horrible situation, yet I can understand these men that feel completely overwhelmed and compelled to bargain in such ways. Not only is this cruel to the other children, but it can potentially ruin any sort of future relationship between those siblings.

        Here’s some food for thought in regards to HOW there are donors with hundreds of offspring in the USA…..

        From my blog:
        Sperm bank regulations suggest that “In a population of 800,000 limiting a single donor to no more than 25 births would avoid an increased risk…” (Fertility and Sterility supplement, June 2002) With that being said, lets take the city of New York for example. With an estimated 2006 population of 19,306,183 (New York Quick Facts, US Census Bureau, 2008), that would mean a single donor could have 603 offspring just in the NYC city limits – not to mention across the country!!!!

  4. Why is it bad that there are 400 kids who would be genetically 1/2 siblings?

    Oh Julie- this is a huge problem for several reasons. We hear stories all the time from donor families that meet up accidentally, so the chances of meeting a half sibling are not as slim as the infertility industry would like us to believe. Read through the DSR posts- it happens on a regular basis- at school, at a party, at the park, etc.

    Secondly, we have countless families on the DSR with medical and genetic issues (we just presented at the British Fertility Society yesterday on this matter). When there are large groups of donor siblings with medical issues, and sperm banks are not updating and sharing information amongst families and continue to sell faulty sperm- it is of great concern. 86% of donors surveyed on the DSR were never contacted by the sperm banks to update their medical information, while 22% of them said that they did have medical/genetic issues that would be of interest to recipient families.

    Also, many donor offspring have a burning desire to know their genetic fathers. Because of the sheer numbers of offspring that many donors have, many of these people will never get the chance to connect. Many donors have pulled their information off of the DSR because they can handle connecting with 2, 5 or even 12 children, but then it becomes too overwhelming. So because of the large groups (many in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 60’s and even groups of over a hundred siblings) many of these children will never have the chance to know their biological fathers.

    • I,M WITH WENDY ABOUT WHATS WRONG WITH 400 1/2 SIBLINGS.MY DAUGHTER RIGHT NOW WOULD LOVE EVERY ONE OF THEM.THE ONLY PROBLEM WE HAVE IS THE DISHONESTY WE ARE TELLING OUR CHILDREN.I BELEIVE EVERY BIT OF THESE CAN BE DELT WITH IF EVERYTHING WAS JUST OUT IN THE OPEN,IT,S THE LIES THAT ARE CREATING PROBLEMS NOT THE NUMBERS.IF WE ALL STAY HONEST WITH OUR KIDS AND THE PUBLIC THEN NOBODY CAULD COME ACROSS A SIBLING THAT WE COULD MISTAKE FOR SOMEBODY ELSE,WE NEED AN OPEN DOOR POLICY TO THE DONORS AND THE CHILDREN,STOP THE LIES AND EVERYTHING ELSE COULD WORK FINE.

    • Your point about the need for medical information to be updated and shared seems to me to be important. I’ve not seen those statistics before, and they are certainly troubling. It’s worth thinking about various strategies for addressing that set of problems.

      It’s not clear to me that that particular set of problems is tied to the number of offspring a particular donor might have, however. Indeed, arguably fewer donors with each donor providing sperm for more children would be easier to track/update. (I’m not suggesting we do that.)

      I’m

  5. There are many psycho-social (sociological) aspects of personal identity and personal definitions of family that are intrinsically related to DNA but this seems to be something that the law can not easily support. Yet it is there and it is very important to many people – no matter how they were conceived. It is just as fundamental and legitimate as our desire to reproduce. It all ties together.

  6. Wanted to add:

    This goes so far and beyond “reproduction rights”. Mass producing, industrializing reproduction throws the fundamental human condition completely out of balance.

    • This is only a very small point. I agree that ART is an industry with its own set of interests, and I think there is much to be critical. But insemination with donor sperm is remarkably low tech and can be accomplished in a domestic (rather than industrial) setting.

      Further, to be fair, I think lots of the inseminations performed within the ART industrial setting are not well-described as mass production, even if sperm from the same donor is used for several women.

      • I disagree. This is a huge and important point but by no means the only point. Ultimately this is not a legal debate, it is a human nature/human condition fact. It is impossible to pick apart the arguments piece by piece. Just as with nature, it’s complex and balance is critical. As I posted at the end of the comments thread:

        “…if you don’t start from that assumption, why does it seem like a problem to have so many offspring?”

        And that is a good point in and of itself. If you don’t start from the assumption that biological mothers and fathers matter then ANYTHING goes really – nihilism is where this ultimately leads.

        I don’t think that this is where we as a society should ever go. We are all intrinsically connected to the realities of nature/earth and in THAT reality, there really is no such thing as a ‘donor’ – that is just a modern day legal term.

        • In the greater scheme of things I actually do think the ART industry stuff is important–but I thought it was a relatively small point here.

          I fundamentally disagree with you about the utility and the possiblity of picking arguments apart. Indeed, the vast majority of my posts on this blog are an effort to pick things apart. I like to try to understand why I think what I think and to examine the implications of what I think. Sometimes this actually leads me to change my mind or modify my views.

          And believe it or not, though I do not think biology defines a person as a parent, I do not think anything goes. I’ve just constructed a different set of rules than you have–one in which actual performance as a parent counts. That’s hardly anything goes.

          More narrowly, I don’t like the 400 offspring. But it isn’t because he doesn’t have a meaningful relationship with them. So I was thinking about why it was that I don’t like the 400 offspring.

          You can find more on this in some of the other replies I just wrote.

  7. Julie,
    There is something fundamentally flawed in your thinking if you can ask the question, ” Why is it bad that there are 400 kids who would be genetically 1/2 siblings?” On so many levels this is bad and if you have to ask then I don’t think anyone can give you an answer that you will choose to understand.

  8. The main problem with having several hundred half-siblings, may not so much be the actual risk of incest, but rather that the psychological problems it creates for the donor offspring. Identifying kin is important to humans (and to animals). If the usual kinship recognition system breaks down and you start to wonder if anybody you meet could be family, it can create serious psychological problems. This is a well known fact and it is exactly for this reason that the U.K limits the number of donor offspring to ten.

  9. Julie,

    I’m continually dismissed, even by the donor community, because I can’t prove without a doubt certain individuals are my daughter’s half-siblings (and these are only the ones that I’ve been made aware of by people who know my daughter and the individual personally, or the media – based upon how similar in looks and gestures they are to my adult daughter).
    I learned recently that a syndrome my daughter has can be inherited from the mother, father or both sides. The other females we know about all have significant physical attributes that make me suspicious that they and my daughter carry this gene from their paternal side (at least) but how can I prove it? I can’t show they’re related without DNA. Their families or the adult DCP deny the possibility, or don’t respond. We have no way of knowing if the DCP have gotten medical care or not since they’re all adults. Finally, the sperm bank dismisses it. Yet, each one, who might have this syndrome, could be leading a healthier, happier, longer life if they knew the truth one way or the other and got the proper medical attention.

    To me this is such a sad and preventable situation if we removed donor anonymity and required parents to disclose.

    Recipient mom of an adult DCP.

  10. Has anyone thought of intergenerational incest (since we are on the topic)?
    If donor sperm keeps indefinately when frozen then a donor’s first “Litter” of children born when he is a neophyte (newby) may also have their children marry their neices/nephews conceived from long term storage.
    Alternatively, in my case, my IVF donation was in 1978-79 so these “Gift Children” of mine may have children of their own who may marry with some of my new Rainbow Babies. However the statistical probability from actuarial studies rates the probability as zero or less.

    Nelly advances a good point that children may have problems relating to 400+ siblings should they become known. Several of my adult children refuse to have any contact with their infant siblings

  11. Julie, I’m stunned. Even though I’m used to hearing you re-iterate that you regard genetics as basically irrelevant to relationships, I cannot believe you could believe that ONE man producing FOUR HUNDRED is remotely acceptable. The previous commentators have already given significant reasons why any one man producing many offspring is a bad thing and i agree with them all – but the biggest reason in my view is that it debases the man himself when he is used as a factory to produce baby components on such a massive scale. It dehumanizes him AND the offspring he produces both artificially and via intercourse.

    • I’m afraid my initial post may not have been adequately clear. I actually do have a sense that it isn’t good to have one man producing four hundred kids.

      But as you know, I don’t have a problem with the donor producing 2/3/4 kids. Which leaves me wondering what it is that bothers me (as opposed to what bothers the people who don’t like the 2/3/4 kids.)

      I’m not sure I find the accidental incest argument entirely persuasive (although I am thinking about it.) Some of the comments have given me other things to think about. And I’ll add the dehumanization point to that list of things to consider.

  12. I’ve decided to not respond to the moral side of this issue as it as been well-addressed.

    In nature, under “normal” circumstances, most men would not create 400 children. I’m sure before the advent of birth control and safe sex practices, there were kings, pharaohs, and other highly promiscuous folks who may have reproduced offspring in numbers above what we consider normal. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, births of 12 to 18 children born to two parents were not unheard of, but the survival rate of those children was not as high as it is in today’s modern world. Nature, if left alone without human intervention, has a way of selectively controlling balance.

    In today’s modern world, through wonderful scientific advances, we have created the potential to upset that balance through gamete donation. I am the mother to a son whose conception was made possible via donor sperm in the late 1980’s. I had no idea how unregulated the fertility industry was at that time. Without regulation and effective record keeping, the balance will become skewered.

    And, I strongly feel that the children we have created should have the information (if they so desire) to know from whence they came.

  13. Fancy a jerk being seen as philanthropic! I think people who see gametes donation as an act of philanthropy are warped. And people who want a child by any old stranger are in relationships that are too dull to last without a third person in it to distract them from the boredom. That’s thier problem, not the prospective child’s. Get counselling, instead of treating your stranger’s child as a cure for the blues.

  14. Sandy, when I read your remark: he is used as a factory to produce baby components on such a massive scale. It dehumanizes him AND the offspring he produces I came to think of the first public reaction to donor insemination. It was in England in the nineteen-fifties. A newspaper denounced it with the headline: “Men are not cattle”

    It was a public reaction to the fact that the technology of insemination in the cattle industry had been extended to include humans ( we like to think of ourselves as to be above the level of livestock)

    Times have changed. We are starting to cut the tie between procreation and social responsibility. Besides the moral issue, I see a more immediate problem with a return to a mammalian state of procreation: it can’t be financed, particular not in view of ageing populations.

    • I do think about the tie between procreation and social responsibility (for the resulting children–is that what you meant?) It seems to me a sperm donor can be pretty confident that the person who uses the sperm wants to have a child. That’s more than men having sex casually generally know. So isn’t it more responsible?

      Perhaps this isn’t a fair question, because the answer might be that men shouldn’t have casual sex, risking procreation. But if a donor provides sperm with the proviso that the child can, at a specified age, contact him, is that really irresponsible?

  15. I recently listened to an ethicist here in Australia talking about research into the “yuk factor”. She said that those things in our society that for the majority of people produce a “yukky” feeling – a feeling that something is not quite right – are the same things that we all consider morally wrong. She said that for many people they may not be able to explain logically why something is wrong but they feel it inside.
    What this researcher was inferring is that our whole moral code is based on what makes us feel “yukky”.
    Well, I would think that the majority of people, upon hearing that someone was responsible for creating 400 children, would have an immediate feeling of “yuk!”
    Why do donor conceived people have to justify why they are horrified at the idea of having that many half siblings? If it feels that wrong then it most probably it is.

    • This reply isn’t really responsive to your comment, but I’ve actually used the yuk test in teaching some of my family law classes. I figure it’s sort of a taboo in operation.

      And here is an entirely unscientific and anecdotal observation. I ask my classes about two situations: 1) boy and girl, adopted from two different families, raised as brother and sister since infancy, engaged in sexual relationship and 2) boy and girl, born into same family, adopted out as infants (so they never knew each other at all) who meet as adults and engage in a sexual relationship.

      For whatever it is worth, the vast majority of the students (and I) found that 1 was definitely yucky. For most students, it wasn’t clear whether 2 was really yucky or not.

      And then there is this, which is also what I’d say to my class: It’s OK to say that something just strikes you (or me) as yucky. But I would like to be cautious doing that. A “yuck” reaction can be generated by prejudice, too. (As in “two people of different races kissing? Yuck.”) And “yuck” can be substituted for actually thinking about something rationally. So before I rely on the “yuck” I like to see if there are other things going on.

      • Julie,

        What you just described in your two situations is the idea of the Westermarck Effect, where two individuals who are raised together as “siblings” (whether or not biological) or in close quarters with one another (in the Israeli Kibbutz communal living arrangements for example). This imprinting causes an individual to develop a sexual aversion to other persons with which that person is raised with.

        On the other hand, the second example describes genetic sexual attraction, which is a real condition that has been primarily associated with adoption (but can also be found in children of divorce and donor conception) where two individuals who are blood relatives but not raised together (siblings or parent/child) meet and are unable to understand the intense emotions that go along with reunion and enter into intimate relationships with that family member. In many cases it’s been found with young men and their mothers, where the young man emotionally/psychologically returns to infancy and needs to bond with the mother.

        I don’t think this is a prejudical yuck, but rather something inherent in our collective conscious.

        I do think that anyone having 400+ children falls under the “yuck” factor. I believe that it does not matter WHY or WHAT a person’s rationale is to why they feel it is wrong, but moreso that the majority of people see it as wrong.

        It’s like a gut instinct. But by ignoring this gut instinct and creating this many children from a single man is not healthy for our society, both genetically, and psychologically.

        • I’m not saying we should ignore those gut reactions, but I do think they need to be examined. I’m quite confident there were people who said “yuk” to the prospect of an bi-racial couple having children. If you examined why, it might well be that the reaction was grounded in a rejection of race-mixing. I don’t think that’s a legitimate concern, so that’s an instance in which I would not respect the gut feeling.

          • “If you examined why, it might well be that the reaction was grounded in a rejection of race-mixing. I don’t think that’s a legitimate concern, so that’s an instance in which I would not respect the gut feeling.”

            The race issue is a VERY clear example of discrimination (in it’s PUREST form). No matter WHAT a person’s skin, eye, hair color, height, weight, sexual orientation etc. etc. – men/women = sperm/egg = procreation/responsibility = mothers/fathers/children/family etc.

            The “yuk” issue, I believe, stems from the seperation of the biological (shared natural reality) components of the reproduction/responsibility factors.

  16. “…if you don’t start from that assumption, why does it seem like a problem to have so many offspring?”

    And that is a good point in and of itself. If you don’t start from the assumption that biological mothers and fathers matter then ANYTHING goes really. There really is no such thing as a ‘donor’ – that is just a modern day legal term.

  17. FYI: Wanted to bring this article to your attention – “Battle over birthright: Case raises questions about role of sperm donors in children’s lives”

    Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=2422252

    Quote from article: “The lesson is clear: parents cannot sign away a child’s right to a father and mother.”

  18. Julie, based on your internal reaction to the idea of 400 siblings, perhaps you should reexamine your assumption that biology is irrelevant to identity and relationships. Perhaps on an emotional level you are not as secure in that assumption as you originally thought.

    Please remember, acknowledging the importance of biology, does NOT mean you must adopt the position of discounting actual parenting activities. You can still consistently maintain the position that they count, and even that they count more than genetics.

    • True enough. And, though you may not believe it, I do regularly examine that assumption. In fact, during the course of this blog, I think I’ve modified my thinking.

      I would not assert that biology does not count in any way. I do assert that biology ought not to make one a legal parent. It may very well make one an interesting and even an important person. It may mean that you have obligations vis-a-vis a child (and that might answer part of why 400 offspring is a bad idea). But, in my view, genetic connection ought not to bestow upon a donor the constellation of rights and obligations that are bundled into legal parentage.

  19. depends whose doing the counting!

  20. Julie, you say: It seems to me a sperm donor can be pretty confident that the person who uses the sperm wants to have a child. That’s more than men having sex casually generally know. So isn’t it more responsible?

    I am sure that he can be confident that the woman wants a child. So can a bull in a herd of cattle. But what about responsibilty? Procreation free of responsibility works fine for cattle, particular when humans feed them, but do you seriously believe that industrialized responsibility-free procreation would be sustainable for a human society?

    • No, I don’t believe in responsiblity free procreation. I actually think a lot of it happens–when people engage in intercourse with no thought to the possiblity of having kids.

      I think we can locate responsiblity in various places and have responsiblity mean various things. Thus, after the thoughtless intercourse, above, I might be prepared to impose some financial responsiblity on the man. But I’d like to think about whether it also makes sense to award him the ability to make decisions about the child’s life. If the man and woman involved have no relationship or have a profoundly dysfuntional one, it might make more sense to pick one of them the operate as the legal parent but to make both of them financially responsible. I don’t see that as responsiblity free.

      Ultimately, a number of people who will become parents (whether via ART or intercourse) will prove to be irresponsible. I’m not sure what to do about that. If we want to ensure that every child has responsible parents, we’d have to pre-screen all people planning to become parents, wouldn’t we?

      But you may be using “responsible” in a different and narrower sense?

  21. It is most likely that the recipient indeed wants a child. However, not everyone who wants a child is an appropriate parent. He has no way of knowing. How responsible is that?

  22. OK, So Julie feels bad about 400 siblings but why? There are two explanations – one is a completely biological one, which is the reduction of diversity. In a human population, genes compete against other genes. 400 copies of a set of specific 26k genes do have a strong reductive effect, particularly if it is not just one donor with 400 offspring but 400 donors with 400 offspring.
    There are also the inherently genetic risk of incest – some kids where parents share 50% of the genes ARE biologically healthy, but the preponderance of detrimental recessive defects is much higher. If the share rate is 25%, as in half siblings – the probability of detrimental defects is 4 times lower. Even if the share rate is 12.5%, as in first cousins siblings – the probability of detrimental defects is 16 times lower, but still quite sizeable.

    The second explanation has nothing to do with biology, but is about the perception of distributive justice. We simply don’t perceive that it is just for someone to have 400 children. Especially, with doing nothing to pay for them.

    It’s the same perception as with someone receiving tens of millions in bonuses. Many people will say it is not just, simply because it appears not just.

    This fairness or unfairness is a psychological response. For example, most people won’t say it is unfair to win millions in a lottery. Huge contracts in sports, or in entertainment are also considered fair. But huge payoffs for being the master trader, or the successful company directors are a definite no-no.

    Like many other psychological features, the perception changes if there is just a slight change in the setting. For example, if master traders or company directors are given a small and non-tradeable share in the company they manage, no-one would bat an eyelid, even though financially it is the same amount of money.

    The reason for the 400+ offspring is simply that many sperm banks are lazy to screen additional candidates. Particularly with success rates being just 10-15%. And then, once they have identified a highly fertile donor, the recipients would of course rather use that donor, than someone untried, where there is a bigger waste of money.

    Throw money at this problem – by society subsidizing screening in sperm banks, and by giving huge rebates for recipients trying out fertility untested donors – and the problem with 400+ offspring will disappear.

  23. In the end, isn’t it the case that the reports of donor conceived children show that the happiness of many of these children is compromised precisely by the WAY that they are conceived–that is, through the union of their mother’s egg with the sperm of an anonymous man? They are deprived of their genetic heritage, but also the connection with the man who is their biological father.
    That man masturbated into a cup for money–thus their own stories begin with a financial transaction. It is not surprising that they feel like products.

    We are often told that “love makes a family.” This statement always comes from the side of the parents of offspring–they wanted a family and convinced themselves that their love alone, with a little help from technology, can make a family. But no amount of love can take away the truth of the financial transaction.

    Ultimately, the question must be asked–whose happiness is paramount–that of the parents who want the child at all costs, or that of the child who is deliberately brought into the world with a deep sense of loss? I read the blogs of donor children. “I wish I had never been born” is a current theme.

    If we as a country are really going to deal with the issue, we have to face the fact that children are being brought into the world in an entirely new way, having to live with a permanent sense of loss ( a sense of loss which, I myself cannot fully comprehend since I grew up with my own two biological parents). We have to recognize the fact that there are competing claims for happiness.

    • Lisa,
      It’s not “I wish I had never been born” – that really is the not the point.

      This is similar to the question that many try to use to discredit any ‘donor’ conceived who has anything to say against their method of conception – “Aren’t you grateful to be alive?”

      I had written this on another forum – I’m too lazy tonight to try to rephrase it to fit perfectly here but you’ll see the tie-in:

      “There are people conceived from all kinds of less than perfect arrangements – such as from a one night stand or even rape – who are grateful to be alive. They might be very loved and wanted by who ever parented them but society does not expect them to be grateful for the method of their conception that unintentionally created them in a way that resulted in the absence of meaningful loving relationships with their biological kin.

      It is ridiculous to say to a person who was conceived in a way that intentionally separated them from loving meaningful relationships with half or all of their biological kin that they should just be grateful to be alive, grateful for their conception method AND assume that because of the intentional nature of their conception, which intentionally separated them from loving meaningful relationships with biological/genetic kin, that they must be more loved and wanted than others. Justifying a wrong by comparing it to another wrong does not make it right. This is just a really empty argument.

  24. BTW the yuck factor isn’t universal. I myself do not have a yuck reaction to the idea of 400 offspring, though I do oppose it for some of the other reasons mentioned.

  25. Julie, there is a big difference between parental irresponsibility caused by circumstances , and parental irresponsibility which is planned and executed on an industrial level and sanctioned by law. It is similar to the difference between hitting people in the traffic by chance and deliberately driving into them.

    As far as I can see your argument runs as follows: since we can’t ensure that every child has responsible parents, then why not allow people to plan on evading their parental responsibility from the very start? In other words, why have speed limits, when we can’t stop people from speeding anyways?

  26. Julie,
    I think the “yuk” factor regarding the 400 kids from one donor, stems from the loss of identity of the offspring. We all like to think of ourselves as having a unique identity and we all feel that we belong to different groups due to this self identification. We are defined by our role in the family we are born into, by our looks, our height, our weight, our scholastic ability our IQ, our religion, our politics, our job, our social/marital status – you name it, it is part of our makeup. Even if we have 10 or 20 siblings as part of a known family group, our identity gets enlarged by our status in that group of siblings. Someone might say, “I am the 10th child of 15”. When we have 399 1/2 siblings ,who we don’t know anything about except that a man, who is our biological father, masturbated into a cup and got paid for it many times, it does not make for good self identity. I think, as humans, we all know this and that is the Yuk part of it. We wouldn’t want to be one of the 400 but if you are donor conceived, as I am, you don’t know if you have 10 1/2 siblings or 399. Personally, let alone yuk, I think it sucks. The donor conceived do not have a total sense of self identity and it is a problem. There are many, many of us out here and even if we don’t all feel the same about it, I think there is a need to have this information for our own self worth. “who was this masturbator, what did he look like, what part of the world did his ancestors come from, is he alive or dead” Questions, no answers. So my answer to you for why the 400 1/2 kids from one donor is wrong is because it robs the donor conceived individuals who resulted from the “donation” (I prefer the word sale) of their identity of self.

  27. Vicki

    I don’t know about the “yuk” being tied to being one of 400. For example, I descended from Yaakov Avinu, and even though there are 13 Mio others who do so too (hi Sara, hi Julie), I am very happy with that and in no way feel slighted by that fact. It is very empowering to read the Bible or the Pessach Hagada and be aware that it is family history.

    No, I really think it is mostly to do with the perceived distribution justice, and the unfairness of someone getting it for no transparent achievement. And because one would be a descendent, having the ancestor who has no transparent achievement to that result, it is this that would be shameful.

  28. Frank,
    I am very pleased that you have found your identity and kinship with your many brothers and sisters. I also think that being able to relate to the Bible is quite outstanding. My point is, that the identity of the brothers and sisters, is hidden by the practice of sperm donation (for money) by society today. This denies me the right of being able to identify with my brothers and sisters as you do.

  29. Frank, I find it hard to believe that you relate to your extended kin in the exact same way that you relate to your first degree brothers and sisters. I certainly don’t, though I feel a kinship with all Jews and certainly greater level of kinship to descendants of the Maimon Family .

    If you did, that would be a sad statement on the state of your relationship with your immediate siblings.

    Hypothetically speaking , even if one were to know the identity of all those siblings, the sheer magnitude reduces the sense of belonging to a family relationship, to distant kin.

    In modern culture, the family is of far greater importance then clan.

    (of course, as someone said, this is hypothetical, as most people do not know the identity. )

  30. Hi Sarah

    From my perspective, I would say that the sense of belonging is mostly a psychological thing, based on perceptions of loyalty and fealty. Nonetheless, these perceptions are real. Sensations and moral sentiments are not just sensations and sentiments – they reflect the reality of potential support and cooperation.

    Being a member of a sub-tribe – like you being a descendent of Rambam, or Julie being a descendent of Aharon Hakohen – does carry certain lean-ons. However, they are mostly ephemeral.

    Partly, it is because in our advanced society, these subtribes don’t represent much of a potential support network. The real networks are of course the narrow family, the religious affiliation, the people you know, whom you help and who help you, and then it’s the entire nation.

    So I would agree with narrow family being more important than clan. But I would disagree with religious membership being less important than the clan. If they are committed to a certain religion. Then, it could actually be a link almost as strong as the narrow family.

    Like say, someone descended from R Abarbanel, would have an Abarbanel surname, but would be a Lutheran minister living in Germany. Would the Jewish Abarbanels who ARE shomrim mitzvot feel much of a kinship with him?

  31. Going back 30 generations almost all Europeans share common descent and almost all Ashkenazi Jews have much more recent ancestry than that. But immediate family such as genetic father, mother and siblings are a million times more important than co-religionists or wider clan.

  32. Lisa,

    You say: That man masturbated into a cup for money–thus their own stories begin with a financial transaction. It is not surprising that they feel like products.

    It is even worse than what you describe, but few people like to talk about the sordid details. Young men are payed to perform a sexual act (masturbation), but most of them can’t do so in the clinical environment of the sperm bank. They need access to sexual stimulation. The sperm banks therefore provide pornographic magazines and videos. This pornographic material has been produced by paying people for performing sexual acts, not very different from prostitution. That is why sperm donors describe the collection room as a mixture of “clinic” and “brothel”.

    When you contemplate this new way of conceiving children, which has a lot in common with prostitution, I think there is a lot to say for the oldfashioned way of being conceived in the back seat of a car ( with the added advantage that you keep your legal rights)

  33. Sandy, 30 generations back we are not even in the “dark” middle ages. This is a time long AFTER the Norman conquest, so at that point The English and Scottish genetic set-up is settled, and will not change by more than 1% till after WWII. Just to give a rough guide: 4 Millenia are approx 100 generations.

    There is a flood of new studies on population genetics using tags on the Y-chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA. Both sets of tags are not recombined (exchanged) during meiois, so you can follow up the maternal line or paternal line back to the original Mr Adam and Mrs Eve.

    What these studies show is that different European countries have quite different sets of geographic originators. As well as a gradient from Eastern Europe to the most Western parts (Ireland, Wales, West France, Spain) suggesting a genetic influx from the East (horsemen tribes), that fanned out and diffused into the lest mobile, indigeneous Western-European population. So no, Europeans do not have all a common ancestry. At best, there are different mixtures between the indigineous europid populations and the europid horsemen.

    Jewish ancestry is completely different. More of the 70% of the Ashkenasi men carry Y-chromosome tags that are also europid/nostric BUT Mesopotamian in geographic origin. The nearest related populations are Assyrians, Kurds and Maronites, the descendents of the “Kanaanites” or “Phoenicians”, depending whether you follow the biblical or the hellenic nomenclature. This also agrees with the biblical record.

    The genetic relationship with nomadic tribes from the Arab peninsula is considerably lower. Incidentally, there is a strong genetic relationship between Muslim Arabs in Israel and those from the Arab peninsula, but not with the Separdic or Ashkenasi Jews.

    With respect to the maternal sources, the mitochondrial DNA haplotypes suggest that at least 40% of the descendents are due to just 4 women. It would of course be fancy to think of them as Mrs Sarah, Mrs Rebecca, Mrs Rachel and Mrs Leah, 🙂 but at present this is just a totally hypothetic conjecture. The same mitochondrial and Y-chromosome haplotypes are also present in the Sephardi populations.

  34. Hi Frank,
    I think you have helped make my point that identity of self is important to humans. You seem to feel very strongly about your roots. If the biological father or if you wish sperm donor for the 400 children was a descendent of the Ashkenasi then they will never know about their heritage and never be allowed to feel this pride and kinship that you feel about your ancestors. If they are male and can trace their Y chromosomes and dna then they can indeed learn about it but if they are female they will never be able to know and it will be a missing link in their lives. I have the B positive blood type which is the rarest of blook types and as I have read many Jewish people share this blood type. Again, I am not sure of this fact but from my readings on the web it seems this is the case. I could possibly be of Jewish descent and not know it. I could possibly be in your family and am not able to feel this kinship with you because being donor conceived has denied me this part of my identity. Do you understand how this can be a real burden for the donor conceived adults who know nothing about thier paternal ancestry?

  35. Chiming in a bit late here …

    I have two objections to being one of 400 children. Well, I guess I have three objections but one of them is irrational.

    Objection 1: It weakens the genetic pool

    Objection 2: People do not reproduce or choose partners in a vacuum. Jews are more likely to marry Jews. Children of gay people are more likely to socialize with children from similar families.

    When a sperm bank has only 5 or 6 African American or Hindu donors — I get really worried. That donor is going to be used disproporitionately by those communities and they are precisely the same communities where those children will seek marriage partners.

    Add in the fact that most straight people don’t tell their children about their conception and that we can’t identify donors and have no system for tracking children — I hope you can see the problem.

    When a medical group calculates the risk of incest by saying that there are 1 million people in the greater Boston area and so in order to keep the risk acceptable, we can produce N number of children — they are completely not taking into account the obvious fact that we DO NOT MATE RANDOMLY.

    We, in fact, tend to have children with other people very much like ourselves. There is a problem when you do not take the simple fact of ingroup preference into account in these calculations.

    Every lesbian I know has a story about someone in their baby group or the larger community either using the same donor or almost using the same donor, etc.

    Fortunately, lesbians are very unlikely to lie to their kids about having used a donor so hopefully, the parents will save that slip of paper and check it at least once before the kids get married.

    Not so straight people — so there is a problem.

    Objection 3: It seems like a bad idea. That’s my irrational objection.

    If having 400 children were a normal part of human reproduction — we would see it in human societies. This is not something we see when we look at “normal” human society and certainly not in tribal society and so I suggest that we refrain from this behavior, just in case there is some real reason that we cannot yet put our fingers on.

  36. My roommate was a donor for 8 years. In then summer he was the only donor as the other students went home. He was a gardener for the university and bragged that he had more kids than the kings of England.

    He was a red head and you could pick out his babies from the nursery. Nine months after the summer most of the babies were red headed.

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