Donated Fatherhood

Episode: 
7

There are some middle-aged men walking around who have fathered half a dozen children. Maybe even twenty.  Are these men candidates for “Father of the Year,” men who just love children?  No.  These men haven’t even met any of their children. Should we turn them in for gross irresponsibility?  No, these men were paid.

I’m talking about sperm donation.

Artificial insemination techniques were developed to help couples conceive when there was a problem with male infertility.  This is called AIH, artificial insemination by husband.  Next came AID, artificial insemination by donor. Many donors were medical students, looking to make a few extra bucks.   Some were the IVF doctors themselves.  One ended up in prison when it was discovered he had fathered 75 children without the mothers’ consent.

Today, there are thousands of young adults who were conceived with the help of anonymous sperm donation.  Some of them are searching for their father.  Why? 

Many of these children are experiencing “genetic bewilderment.”  They wonder why they don’t look like anyone else in their family.  Some may have just learned that the man they call “dad” is not their biological father. They may struggle with a sense of not belonging. Canadian bioethicist Juliet Guichon comments that these children have a hard time forming an identity when they do not know their genetic, cultural, and historical roots.

Barry Stevens began the search for his sperm donor father when he was 18, after his natural father died.  Barry wonders why the dad who raised him was distant.  He says, “As far as I'm concerned, he was definitely my dad but I wonder if he didn’t feel that I was his real son.”  Barry is still searching for the sperm donor. Other AID children express the same feelings, sometimes called “father hunger.” 

A sperm donor’s offspring may have medical history questions.Now as adults, they are starting families of their own, wondering if they might pass on unknown genetic diseases to their children.  Their concerns are legitimate.

A San Francisco sperm donor passed on a sudden death heart defect to at least 9 of the 24 children he fathered, including a 2-year-old who died.  Another sperm donor has been linked to autism in several offspring in New York. Five children in Michigan inherited a 1-in-5-million-chance blood disease from their sperm donor father.

Donation of a kidney or blood is a humane, life-saving act. Sperm donation is intended to create a new life, outside the loving embrace of a husband and wife. Serial donation not only challenges family boundaries, it creates personal, social and medical repercussions.

Fatherhood is wonderful.  Donating blood or a kidney is wonderful.  Don’t mix them up.  “Donated fatherhood”?  It doesn’t make sense.

 

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