by Iris Waichler, LCSW
I heard the term “accidental incest” for the first time last week. I was with a couple of friends who also had kids through egg donors and we all shared the same stunned reaction. It was used in relation to a story the BBC did about a sperm donor in England who allegedly has fathered up to 150 children. According to the BBC, another man was caught with a refrigerator full of his sperm that he was illegally distributing and there were great fears about the number of offspring he had fathered in his own neighborhood in England.
The New York Times did a story on non-regulated sperm donation The article looked at the total number of children born as a result of sperm donation. It reported “some estimates put the number between 30,000 to 60,000, perhaps more.” People can choose to report a birth as a result of a donor, but nothing is mandated so the real numbers are impossible to obtain.
Critics discuss inherent dangers with unregulated sperm donation. There are fears that if a donor has a serious genetic medical problem it can be passed on to many offspring. The story I heard on the BBC discussed a researcher who discovered there is an attraction that can occur between half siblings of the same donor. It has not been documented but in interviews with people where this has occurred they describe feeling a closeness, familiarity, and level of comfort with their unknown siblings. Researchers cannot explain how or exactly why this occurs.
The United States has lagged behind other countries in addressing this complex issue. The New York Times points out that “countries including, Britain, France, and Sweden limit how many children a sperm donor can father.” The U.S. currently has no such legislation in place. According to the New York Times, the only recommendations in place in the US are guidelines recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (ASRM) They “recommend restricting conceptions by individual donors to 25 births per population of 800,000.” There is nothing currently legally binding that upholds this recommendation here in the United States.
There is no legal or financial incentive for fertility clinics, sperm donors, or sperm banks to make these recommended changes. Those of us who have experienced infertility are painfully aware that there is a lot of money to be made by people offering these services.
The New York Times references a 1982 study by Mary Warnock, an English philosopher. Her committee recommended “regulation of the sale of human sperm and embryos and strict limits on how many children a donor could father. (10 per donor)”
These recommendations have been adopted by other countries.
Hearing the BBC radio story and reading the New York Times article certainly has me wondering why we are not pursuing some type of regulatory measures here in this country. I understand that governmental regulation is a very sensitive issue for many people. In light of these new reports on donors the ASRM is considering revisiting the question of the numbers of permitted donor offspring.
Wendy Kramer is the co-founder of the Donor Sibling Registry. This site was created in 2000 to help those conceived via sperm, egg, or embryo donation try to identify and contact their biological parent. She has become an advocate for this population. She told the New York Times, “Experts don’t talk about this when they counsel people dealing with infertility. How do you make connections with so many siblings? What does family mean to these children? I believe these are significant questions that must be addressed. We need to take a closer look at the problems non regulation has created and come up with ways to advocate for the children of donors.