The Donor Sibling Registry: 21 Years of Educating, Connecting, and Supporting Donor Families

By admin on September 03, 2021

Today, September 3rd, 2021 marks the Donor Sibling Registry’s 21st anniversary!

This was our very first posted message:
I am the mother of an awesome 10-year-old donor child. I know that he has at least 3 donor siblings and would love to contact them. We are looking for Donor #1058 from the California Cryobank. I hope that this board will serve others looking for their children’s (or their own) siblings.

During the DSR's first few years, we worked tirelessly to convince the sperm banks and the egg clinics, the reproductive medicine Industry, and many parents that disclosing the truth to offspring was necessary and that it should happen early in a child's life. Yet back then, fear, shame, and embarrassment of infertility still overruled honesty in the majority of heterosexual donor families, as the Industry recommended (and benefitted) from this silence and shame-based secrecy.  Only a few organizations, like the Infertility Network in Canada, challenged this idea. Now we have dozens of published research articles illustrating why early disclosure is best.

At conferences where we regularly present research on all of the stakeholders, I've spent countless hours in face-to-face meetings with sperm banks and egg clinics pleading for them to read our published research and re-examine their policies. While sperm bank policies haven't changed much, donor families have been evolving. So many more parents understand the importance of early disclosure, a child's right to know about their origins, and the importance of acknowledging and honoring their child's curiosities about their unknown genetic family and the importance of making these connections, long before the age of 18.  These days, I frequently consult with parents who are about to tell their adult children as they just can’t carry the secret any longer, and feel guilt over not being honest with their children. Most were advised to never tell. Now, even the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (the ASRM) has finally, in recent years, begun to advise early disclosure.  

Early on, we began to examine and tackle the issue of donor anonymity, long before DNA testing blew anonymity completely out of the water in 2005. While many egg clinics connect parents and donors from pregnancy/birth via the DSR, the sperm selling industry still misleadingly sells every single vial of sperm as anonymous, be it for 18 years or forever. Not a single sperm bank will facilitate such early connections and many won't honestly acknowledge or properly educate their clients and donors that maintaining anonymity is no longer possible.  The American Society of Reproductive Medicine's continued silence on the topics of anonymity and about the needs of donor-conceived people to know about their ancestry, family medical history (and updated information), and close genetic relatives speaks volumes.

The DSR now has more than 75,750 members and has now facilitated more than 21,100 connections. While warming to the idea of half-sibling connections, many parents still insist that the donor is only a contributor of "a cell" or "a piece of genetic material" and has no importance or place in their children’s lives.  While that might be the case for parents, the "donated cell" actually contributes around 50% of a donor-conceived person's DNA and therefore affecting many of their health, mental, and physical characteristics.  As more donor-conceived people tell their stories publicly, we'll keep hearing about the importance of knowing their close genetic relatives, and about their ancestry and family medical history. 

We’ve worked very hard to convince the sperm and egg selling industries, donors, and parents about the importance of connecting donor-conceived people with their close genetic relatives long before they reach adulthood. At first, this idea was novel and many threw up their arms in outrage, proclaiming a donor’s right to anonymity and denying any importance of a genetic connection. One LGBTQ organization, the Family Equality Council, proclaimed that "DNA doesn't make a family!" and some parents claimed, “those people are not your family!” (from the parent of one of my son’s 21 half-siblings). We held our ground as we watched match after match on the DSR have a profound impact on donor-conceived people, parents, donors, and their family's lives as the meaning of "family" expanded and lives were enriched.

In no other segment of the population is it accepted practice to deliberately keep people from their close genetic relatives (eg. biological parents, half-siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents) until adulthood, or even forever. How the reproductive medicine industry still sells this idea as in the best interests of all stakeholders, most importantly for donor-conceived people, is utterly baffling to me. How will history judge this practice that actively works to keep people from their close relatives, ancestry, and medical histories?

We’ve waved our arms for years about the Industry's lack of accurate record-keeping, their subsequent inability/refusal to track and then limit the number of children born to any single donor, and their inability/refusal to update and share medical information amongst families and donors. Sadly, 21 years later, these issues are far from being acknowledged and therefore resolved.

In the meantime, we'll keep giving it our all. Kudos and thanks to all of our Donor Sibling Registry donors, parents, and donor-conceived people that have been brave enough to tell their stories publicly, in the media, and via our website.  Each story and testimonial pushes for a more moral, ethical, just, integrious, and accountable donor conception world, honoring all stakeholders, but putting the needs and rights of donor-conceived people first and foremost.

A huge thanks to all who have supported our work over the years by paying for DSR membership. Without you all, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish all that we have.

Nate's mom Jennifer was the 2nd mom to join the DSR in 2000, acknowledging the importance of her son connecting with his donor family. Nate met his biological father Cliff through the DSR twelve years later, and he now knows of eleven half-siblings. Here's Nate and Cliff with a half-sister, Billie, and her fiance Mike.