More on Non-Regulatory Solutions to the Too-Many-Offspring Problem

Recently I’ve been writing and thinking about the problem of male sperm providers ending up with too many off-spring.  This has been in the news quite a bit, with a couple of particularly high profile instances featured.   I’ve talked a bit about what worries people about the too-many-offspring problem (some of this is continued in the comments) and speculated about whether ensuring that everyone had accurate information (which is what I meant by transparency) would help.

I like the idea of using transparency to try to solve the too-many-offspring problem.    It’s not that I necessarily oppose regulation, it’s more that it is somewhat hard for me to see how it works. And the more it requires some substantial bureaucracy to operate, the less likely it is to be put in place, I think.

I’ve had this other thought I wanted to toss into the hopper.   Why do men like Ben Seisler sell sperm dozens, scores or even hundreds of times?    I think it’s for the money.   This is consistent with the observation offered by Professor Almeling that the general pitch to male gamete providers is as a commercial activity.  (I wrote about this, too, not so long ago.)

(As an aside, check out this paper: Sperm and egg donors’ experiences
of donating and of being contacted by their donor offspring
  Human Reproduction, Vol.26, No.3 pp. 638–645, 2011,  (2011).  Tabitha
Freeman, Vasanti Jadva, Wendy Kramer and Susan Golombok.   Table III shows the number of donations per donor and I’m not sure which is more striking–that more than 10% are in the over 250 times category or that more than half are in the 51+ category.)

It makes sense that if men give sperm to make money they’d be inclined to give more and more.   But perhaps this would not be the case if the pitch to men were an altruistic one.   This is the approach taken by the London clinic I wrote about a while back.    Of course the men are still paid, and so the logic (more donations=more money) would still hold.   But if men thought about the larger project at issue–if they thought about creating a child–perhaps they would be less willing to become sire to scores of children.   (It appears that the men who end up in this position haven’t really anticipated it.)

(Another aside:  Table IV shows the reasons why  men and women became gamete donors and in shows a balance between altruism and financial gain.   But here I wonder if the sample source–men who have sought out the Donor Sibling Registry–skews the result.  I suppose that is a good question to raise in all cases.)

Anyway, it makes a certain amount of sense (at least to me) that a more altruistic approach to potential male gamete providers might help a bit with the too-many-offspring problem.  Remember that the London Sperm Bank says it changes the demographics of the provider pool.

I don’t contend this would solve the too-many-offspring problem, only that it is another non-regulatory step that might help some.    Food for thought, in any event.





7 responses to “More on Non-Regulatory Solutions to the Too-Many-Offspring Problem

  1. The most important point about large numbers of offspring is not the risk of incest, but the way it affects the mental health of the offspring. This is the reason why the number of offsprings has been limited to ten in the UK. The British-Canadian film director Barry Stevens who testified to a Canadian parliamentary comity is a donor child. He found out that his donor father donated for 30 years and would probably have somewhere between 500 and 1000 offsprings (about as many as Djengis Khan).

    When a donor child has many unknown half-siblings it creates a state of confusion which can affect its mental health. Since this ‘treatment’ is sanctioned by law, the same cautionary principle apply as to any other treatment which involves a public health hazard.

    • While I see the point you are raising and I appreciate that many people would share it, I’m not quite willing to go down the road to the “public health hazard” yet.

      There’s two things about the too-many-offspring problem. One is the risk of accidental incest which I do think we can agree is calculable. The other–and I’ll expand what I said earlier to take into account the point you are raising–is how people feel about it. When I wrote before I focussed on how the person or people using the sperm would feel. I think you are quite right to say that we need to consider, too, the way it makes the offspring feel, which is where we might get to mental health.

      This sort of harm seems to me to be quite complicated. Just as there are various responses to being donor conceived, there’s probably variation here. And as people have different views on the importance of DNA, so people must have different views on the meaning of all those genetically related offspring. The degree to which it creates confusion or any other response probably varies, too.

      I don’t say this to minimize the experience of the people in this position. But I’m reluctant to say that this is the most important thing and to declare it a public health hazard.

      It seems to me that while it is certainly possible that there will be instances where the person choosing the sperm is indifferent to the too-many-offspring problem while the offspring would not be, this might not be common. That’s to say that even with this additional potential harm taken into account, the non-regulatory solution might hold promise.

  2. I think it’s a valid idea. Some “chronic donators” are probably a special kind of man, and if you allow me to be frank – they’re probably thinking something like: “I’m doing it anyway, and I can get paid for it too!”.
    I doubt that a more altruistic marketing message would change anything about their behavior. (But the way I understand you, you don’t believe that either). But I do think it would attract more of a different kind of man, the ones who don’t go because it is sometimes viewed as something “sleazy”.

    • Right–I guess I am thinking that you get a different kind of donor. You don’t exactly get rid of the first kind, but perhaps some of them filter themselves out (because they think harder about what it is they are doing.)

  3. Keeping the industry free, and reproductive rights intact, is worth the risk of some donors having lots of offspring.

  4. Now I’m seeing a machismo element to it. Maybe I’m wrong to call it that I don’t know but they seem to want biological descendants out there and cannot achieve it always in monogamous relationships I guess.

    • Some might say this is the essential drive of the male of the species at work–create as many offspring as possible. That’s evolutionary pscyhology. I don’t actually think it’s terribly common. I suspect it is often the case that young men (men in their early 20s) don’t think much about the fact that there are children being created. Perhaps it’s another aspect of the consent issue (which I think is a difficult one).

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