The XX Factor

What Gets Left Out of the Conversation on Sperm-Donor Kids

The Sperm-Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right ? Maybe. But even a cursory read of the research behind that headline suggests a more complicated conclusion. When Elizabeth Marquardt and Karen Clark wrote about their report ” My Daddy’s Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation ,” for Slate and DoubleX , they used the results of a survey of approximately 1,500 people to report that the adult children of sperm donation are “suffering” because of their origins-“hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families.” They found it significant that “sperm-donor kids” were more than “twice as likely” to have struggled with substance abuse or to report problems with the law.

Marquardt and Clark didn’t mention that they’d found that those same suffering, conflicted people were 20 times more likely to have donated sperm (or an egg or a womb) themselves.

Everything about Marquardt and Clark’s research suggests that an unusual conception prompts people to think longer and harder about issues of family and identity, but that last finding-that even as “sperm-donor kids” struggle with questions surrounding their genetics, a significant number of them are willing to pass on both their genes and their questions-apparently runs contrary to Marquardt and Clark’s agenda in promoting their research, and they’ve repeatedly left it out.

After reading their first press release a few weeks ago, I called the authors out on their omission (writing for Babble’s Strollerderby ). Elizabeth Marquardt responded on her own blog that it was, indeed, a “stunning” finding, but said that “you and I seem to have different ideas about what it means.” She said she’d acknowledged the statistic in a longer press release (not the one I’d been sent) on their Web site. But I’ve read Marquardt and Clark’s Slate piece five times, and I still don’t know what Ms. Marquardt thinks it means that adults conceived through sperm donation are so much more willing to participate in donor-assisted reproductive technologies. It’s a fact that doesn’t fit easily within the framework of the argument, and one that Marquardt and Clark have once again failed to address.

Marquardt and Clark are ostensibly arguing that sperm donation should not be anonymous, but the subtext of their article goes much farther. The implication that even donor-conceived adults object to the process of sperm donation (found in phrases like “nearly half of donor offspring, and more than half of adoptees, agree, ‘It is better to adopt than to use donated sperm or eggs to have a child’” and “about half of them have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even if parents tell their children the truth”) is consistent with the agenda of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, which employs Marquardt and apparently Clark as well. (Notable gay-marriage opponent David Blankenhorn is its president.) The Institute seeks to promote “an increase in the proportion of U.S. children growing up with their two married parents.” Depending on how narrowly you define the word “parents,” many (or all) of the families that result from sperm donation don’t fit within that rubric.

I actually found “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” to be fascinating reading. But this continuing refusal to incorporate all of its findings into the conversation makes it clear that the goal of the research isn’t to inform the debate over the way donor-assisted reproduction in handled in this country but to shape it. Does anyone else think the Commission on Parenthood’s Future (which released the report) might have already decided what the future of parenthood should look like?