By admin on February 24, 2019
Over the years, I have given a lot of thought to how the varied voices of donor-conceived people are heard and considered. While I do think that all donor-conceived people’s experiences and points of view need to be included in the donor conception conversation, I also think that they need to be weighed accordingly.

Here are a few analogies: comparing things that might, but don’t certainly, cause harm. If there is a potential for harm, there are precautions/warnings. To be clear: I am not directly comparing donor conception with any of these things.
  1. Seat belts. Some people drive around without using seatbelts, and they’ve never been harmed in an accident. We have seatbelt laws because many people who have not used a seat belt have been harmed. 
  2. Smoking. Many people who have smoked have had no health issues. But because smoking does cause harm to some, we give proper warnings on cigarette packages. Stories of smokers without health issues don’t factor into proper cigarette warning education.
  3. Alcohol. Many pregnant women have consumed alcohol, and their babies were born without any health issues. Stories of those women don’t factor into the proper warnings about consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
  4. Open Adoption. Decades ago people acknowledged the importance of adopted people knowing about their families of origin. Like donor-conceived people, not all adopted people were curious, but most were. Today, closed adoptions are all but extinct; it’s estimated that only 5% of modern adoptions are closed. Because of that, the adoption system continues to evolve. 

Highlighting and equally weighing stories about people who smoke with no health consequences, or who don’t use seat belts and have never been injured in an accident, or who drank alcohol during pregnancy and had healthy babies, or who have adopted children who were not negatively affected by having no information on their families of origin is not just cause for not warning people about the inherent and potential harm in these situations.

So yes, some donor-conceived people are not curious, and some don’t care about meeting their genetic relatives or knowing about their health history or ancestry, but that doesn’t negate the importance of making rules that affect everyone, most importantly the significant number of people who are negatively affected by being kept from this familial information. As with auto safety, alcohol awareness, smoking, and adoption: New data, research, and information need to be acknowledged in order to be able to move forward so that policies can be set to protect all people.
“My Mom asked me years ago if I wanted to search for my donor. I did not and still do not wish to know who he is. I have never felt angry or betrayed and have never felt a sense of loss! As of now (I am 21) I have no interest in the donor. He was probably donating for the $ and wasn’t looking to create a child with a true connection to him, except biological. The donor has never used the DSR, probably because he has no wish to, or, has never thought about his 'donation.' I don’t feel any sense of anger or loss. I’m happy they wanted me enough to use the sperm.”

Parents and the reproductive medicine industry can acknowledge the new data, anecdotal information, and research so that the ideas regarding donor anonymity can evolve accordingly. There is no data or psychological research that shows anonymity for 18 or more years is in the best interests of anyone. The data, anecdotal reports, and research clearly show that anonymity is harmful to a significant number of donor-conceived people. Anonymity might serve the fears, hesitations, and worries of uneducated and uncounseled parents and donors, and be in the best interests of the sperm banks and clinics, but that doesn’t justify the ethics of the practice. 
 “The repeated assumption that simply telling your kids from the start is a magical elixir (not saying lying isn’t a big problem, but there are plenty of mixed feelings from people who weren’t lied to), the belief that because someone was 'so wanted and loved' is a logical counter to losing half their bio relatives, that someone is 'well-adjusted' because they don’t show interest in finding their donor, or that a parent is doing a great job for the same reason ... it gets a little tiresome and turns people off from wanting to express their feelings.”

“I have always known that I was donor conceived. Since I can remember, I have been curious and excited to look for paternal family members. Never have I felt loss or anger. In fact, I can only imagine being angry if my mom didn’t tell me. I’m 33 and am just now starting to connect with half-siblings and it makes my heart explode. I also knew from the beginning that my Mom had an anonymous donor.”

“I don’t like the term donor. It’s our biological father. Many of us hear that we should just be happy to be alive. We are, but I think it’s more about validating our feelings. Most of us want to know about our background. What our other biological parent is/was like. Stories of our families. Also, the fact of missing out on childhood memories being made with siblings. Oh, and I think the thought of being bought and paid for. Not every day, but some days you just feel like a transaction.”

“I am unhappy with being DC. I actually do not even wish to continue to refer to myself as DC — my mother had a sperm donor, I have a biological father who I will never meet or know. I am constantly frustrated by the hypocrisy of people who believe biology is so important they buy sperm or eggs in order to have a biological connection to their offspring. These same people then deny the importance of biology by writing off the 'unknown' portion of their child’s parentage.”

By admin on February 20, 2019
Many people (and certainly the sperm banks) often don’t understand why 20, 40, 100, or 200 kids for any one donor might be problematic. 
Besides the obvious medical and psychological issues for donor offspring, this perspective from a donor’s wife also needs to be included in the conversation.

“Hi Wendy,

I would like to ask you to share our story with others in the hope that all sides of sperm donation will receive the attention and respect every side deserves. I feel that if families want sperm donation to be an option, there needs to be education for all involved with regard to the emotional impact — not only at the time of donation/creation but in the years to come when the donor may be building a family in the more traditional sense and the donor-conceived have questions and are seeking the missing part.

I read frequently that the donor-conceived do not sign anything when they are created or born and do not have a choice in how they were created. I would also like people to understand and respect that I didn’t have a choice. I never signed anything that said I would be ok with the idea of blending 40 biological offspring and their families into my marriage. My kids didn’t have a choice either. They never signed anything that said they were ok with someday finding out they are one of 40, not one of four.

My wish is that women retain the right to have the child(ren) they desire, that any stigma over sperm donation is removed and that greater consideration be extended because many people are affected by the decision to donate and use assisted reproduction. This consideration should be the dual responsibility of the donor and the recipient family. Let’s make these things happen.

Continued thanks for your work.”

The donor’s wife sent a second email message in response to many parents and offspring who commented on her message on the DSR’s Facebook page:

“My husband told me on our first date that he was a sperm donor. I asked him if any children had been born, and he said the clinic wouldn’t share that information with him.

Seven years into our marriage, we agreed to the clinic’s request for pictures and medical information for the very reason of giving kids who came forward a sense of coming from someone — not a vial. We graciously opened our lives as we recognized the psychological needs of others. The clinic still would not share how many children there were. I would also like to point out that at this point he could have asked to remain an anonymous donor — that would have been his right — but he/we didn’t. Yes, he said he would be open to contact if the child showed interest in meeting him — because we had children of our own at that time and could understand why knowing the person who contributed might prove healing. Again, he was thinking of the donor-conceived kids. Up to this point, we were both operating under the false assumption that it would be a handful of kids. Help me understand what “moral responsibility” my husband or I failed to recognize.

Three years after providing the pictures and medical information, a dozen and a half come forward. Today, there are now 40 (that we know of). Over two dozen of those were born before the birth of our first child. When we agreed that he would be open to meeting children who came forward, this is how we thought that would play out based on what we were told by the clinic. Child/parents/family would contact the clinic expressing desire to meet their donor. Clinic would contact us to see if we were comfortable with that. After three, maybe four, we could have decided that was enough and would not welcome further contact from any additional offspring. We would have been able to control the impact this had on our lives. But it didn’t happen that way at all. Social media, person searches, and genetic testing companies have made boundaries and protection of privacy virtually non-existent.

He wasn’t 'shirking any duties.' He 'didn’t forget he was a sperm donor.' He didn’t donate for 'easy money' as one poster suggested, and he absolutely thought about his actions. And I am not 'jealous.' He did not bring the donor-conceived into the world. He brought our four children into the world. He stood by my side as I birthed each one of them. The families of the donor-conceived are the ones who brought their children into the world. Let’s not muddy this important distinction — that we create our children with intent and love, that sometimes assistance is needed to make that happen, but as parents, we bring our children into being. From their first breath, we belong to our children and our children belong to us. Our children absolutely do not matter more as people, but they matter more TO US, and their emotional health is more important TO US because they came from my body and were created out of our love. Wouldn’t any one of you say the same thing ... that your children rise above all others for one reason — you carried them, you raised them, you protect them? Who would we save first in a burning building? Exactly. Our own. But I guess in our case, I am made to believe that if my husband’s 44 biological offspring were in that burning house, he would be expected to simply choose a child at random, for they are all the same, right? They are all his biological offspring, so he should treat them all the same. That is what is being asked of me, of us, of our children. Does anyone see the hurt and pain here?

Please don’t blame this completely life-changing event on the fact that my husband donated, and as such, he should have been prepared. Please don’t tell me, that by marrying him, I agreed to let any and all families into our lives. Or that my children’s needs don’t count or are overshadowed by those of the donor-conceived because our kids got to live with their 'bio-dad' all these years and the donor-conceived didn’t get to. We should not be made to feel guilty or indebted because we made our family a different way, and that yes, four people have the privilege of calling him dad or daddy. (We never refer to him as our kids’ bio-dad.)

As far as what number is acceptable, what would it be for you? Five? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? More than that? What difference does it make what the donor’s family feels comfortable with? We weren’t told how many births had happened. We didn’t control that number; the clinic did. And I agree with the poster who suggested this clearly demonstrates the need for regulation and more education for all parties.

Nobody is saying donor-conceived people don’t matter. I am saying that the best we can do with so many varying needs and wants in the sperm donation community is to respect each other and support each other to the extent that we are able. My experience is my experience. You haven’t lived it, so how can anyone pretend to know what learning of 40 offspring has been like for our family? And on the flip side, how can I possibly begin to understand what it feels like to grow up without that sense of coming from an actual person? I think we can all agree that the starting point is changing the process of sperm donation. So let’s do that rather than pummeling each other in posts, placing blame where it shouldn’t be, and making statements about families and people we know next to nothing about. We have the numbers to make change. Until the industry changes, stories like ours will continue to happen and some donor-conceived individuals will continue to be met with rejection and silence.

On an ending note, stories of poorly mismanaged sperm banks will continue to come forward. At what point will enough experiences and opinions be shared that men no longer want to put themselves in these complex and sticky circumstances because they don’t want to deal with what other families have gone through? There will come a time at which monetary compensation for the donor will not be adequate for giving away total lack of privacy for the rest of their lives. How much money does my husband deserve for all the hurt feelings this situation has caused us over the years? And how sad will it be when a single woman or a couple who wants to have a baby can’t because men no longer donate?

Thank you to those who expressed empathy and understanding. Thank you, Stefani, for sharing your feelings when finding out your daughter had four half-sibs. Shock, anger, betrayal, and bewilderment were your words. And she conceived with donor sperm. The fact that this woman could relate to these feelings when she herself carried a donor-conceived child warmed my heart. It tells me that our two sides of this situation are not that far apart. There is a chance to work together to bring about change ... for everyone.

And here’s a little something for thought ... when I donated eggs after we were married, I was required to provide an extensive medical background and pictures even before the process could begin. The recipient was also required to write a letter of appreciation, thanking me for my donation. It was a symbolic way of recognizing that what had once been mine was now hers. I understand when a man donates, there are millions of sperm, and when a woman donates, there might be twelve eggs. But I don’t see why the same standards don’t apply. I still have that letter. My recipient has never reached out, and the clinic shared there was more than one birth. But if she did want to reach out, she would be required to do it through the clinic as she signed a contract to that nature. So clearly I don’t have a problem with the fact my husband donated. I have a problem with the numbers we were forced to digest, after the fact, and the complete lack of oversight on the part of the clinic to address boundaries in a more organized way. I am not disrespecting the 40 children. I am disrespecting the government and state bodies that think that assisted reproduction is a business rather than the art of bringing families into being, and time and time again, operate without any regard for the humanity behind it all.

So let’s show them that there is no doubt — our families matter.”

By admin on February 14, 2019

Woman uses DNA test, finds sperm donor – and pays a “devastating” price.

CBS ran their story on the Northwest Cryobank situation I wrote about in my last blog post and the NY Times ran its story on February 16, 2019.

It’s my professional opinion that sperm banks’ attempts to keep donor-conceived people from their first- and second-degree genetic relatives, by trying to prohibit mutual consent contact on DNA websites and on the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), has nothing to do with “protecting the donors” as they claim, but rather an attempt to keep their wrong-doing from becoming public.

Threatening parents for testing their child’s DNA and for reaching out to first- and second-degree genetic relatives to learn more about ancestry, ethnicity, and medical history is a battle that’s already been lost and only a diversion to the real problems and issues at hand within the sperm banking industry.

It’s absurd that none of these critical items (with real and devastating consequences) are in the agreements that parents sign:
  • • Sending the wrong sperm (happens frequently; two such reports from NW Cryobank parents this month)
  • • Changing donors from open to anonymous; this happens frequently — several reports from several of the large U.S. sperm banks, including NW Cryobank, with the donor featured in this story
  • • Keeping accurate records (no sperm banks have accurate records on how many children are born from any one donor)
  • • Updating and/or sharing medical information (84% of surveyed sperm donors were never asked for medical updates)
  • • Tracking or limiting the number of kids born from any one donor. The DSR has many groups of more than 100 half-siblings, all the way up to around 200. Limiting the number of kids born to any one donor is also not in any of the donor contracts, although many donors, including my own, have been promised no more than 10 kids. You can’t limit until you accurately track, which just isn’t done.

NW Cryobank is the only sperm bank threatening their donors into not signing up to the DSR to make mutual consent contact. This is deliberately keeping donors from sharing and updating medical information with the families, and vice versa. 

The sperm bank’s reason for not allowing donors to make mutual consent contact on the DSR was to “protect the parents,” and their reasoning for not allowing parents to “seek the identity of the donor” (DNA test) was to “protect” the donor. The director of Fairfax Cryobank told me that the reason they don’t allow donors from before 2010 to know their own donor numbers (thereby attempting to keep donors from connecting with offspring) was also to “protect the parents.” So it seems like these sperm banks are playing both sides of the field: threatening both parents and donors for their own “protection.” In reality, these policies mainly serve the interests of sperm banks.

“I get the distinct impression they are trying to limit my access to other families since my daughter was born with genetic issues.”

NW Cryobank/California Cryobank said in their response letter to Ms. Teuscher, “There’s a human being on the other side of the gift,” referring to the donor. Donors sell their sperm, and parents pay a lot for a vial of it. No one is “gifting” anything. It’s a commercial transaction — a seller, a middleman, and a buyer. NW Cryobank has taken back the “gifts” that Ms. Teuscher paid a lot of money for.

Donor offspring of all ages are testing their own DNA, sometimes completely unaware that they are donor-conceived and they, along with all other offspring, never signed any type of “agreement” prohibiting mutual consent contact with their biological relatives, via DNA testing or via any other methodology. When you submit DNA, oftentimes you are told that you’re 15% or 25% related; so until you reach out to that unknown relative, you just don’t know if it’s a half-sibling, a grandparent, a cousin, or an aunt or uncle.

It’s time that sperm banks shift their decades-long great effort and focus from attempting to keep donor-conceived people from connecting with their first- and second-degree relatives to learn more about their ancestry, ethnicity, and medical backgrounds to understanding, acknowledging, and addressing the needs and rights of these people. We invite the sperm banks to read the two-dozen research papers that we’ve published in peer-reviewed academic journals that address the psychological and medical impact of donor anonymity and the importance of these connections. 

Additionally, it’s urgent that the banks stop the practice of promising/forcing anonymity in all parent and donor sperm bank contracts. Donor anonymity ended in 2005 when the first donor offspring located his donor via DNA testing. We invite all sperm banks to act in a more ethical manner and call for honesty, accountability, and responsibility within the industry.