The XX Factor

Sex Ed and More in the Sperm Donor Age

Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

What does it mean when one sperm donor can father 150 or more children?

It means startled donors who keep track of the children born of their decision to donate (often made when young), via Excel spreadsheet. It means mothers adding one more thing to the sex education of their daughters: If being the children of sperm donation is one thing you have in common, check donor numbers first! And it means the sons and daughters of women and couples who chose sperm donation exploring their background and discovering that while their own families may be small, their extended family of half-siblings numbers in the double and triple digits.

It means that somewhere along the line, someone really didn’t think this through. In Britain and many other countries, fertility clinics follow the early recomendations of the Warnock Report on reproductive medicine, published in 1984 by a committee led by a philosopher and ethicist (Mary Warnock) rather than by fertility practitioners. Those countries limit the number of children who can be born using the sperm of a particular donor. In the United States, no regulations govern that decision. “It was all about whatever they could get away with,” one donor told the New York Times of the sperm bank to which he donated. “It is unfair and reprehensible to the donor families, donors and donor children.”

That lack of regulation plays into the hands of people like the Institute for American Values, who use findings that the children of sperm donors are troubled in various ways by their origins in support of their agenda, which would limit or end donor-assisted reproductive technologies. But who wouldn’t be troubled by the discovery of 150 half-siblings? It’s not the fact of the sperm donation that causes that particular form of culture shock, but the lack of control, or even the most basic consideration, about the technology’s use. Limits on donor use are a simple reform that everyone who benefits from or practices in the reproductive technology field should not just support, but advocate.