Sperm banks breed dysfunction

By Alexandra Kukulka

Chicago is a busybody city with thousands of people walking its streets every day. It is impossible to notice every person who walks by, but those faces present a frightening reality for donor children who are born via artificial insemination. A stranger might be their father, or they may panic if they see a resemblance to a person they have never met.

Some parents hide their use of artificial insemination from their children, making them lucky enough to not have to deal with this struggle. But this isn’t the major problem. The bigger issue at hand is that some men are donating almost a dozen times per year during the course of multiple years.

Berthold Wiesner opened his own fertility clinic with his wife in London in the 1940s. He lured his patients by promising them “high IQ donors,” leading them to believe he used donors from a small circle of intelligent friends. What these women did not know was that he was using his own sperm to inseminate them.

It was recently discovered that Weisner fathered some 600 children from 1943–1962. Two brave men who were conceived in the clinic, Barry Stevens and David Gollancz, revealed the twisted truth behind Wiesner’s operation. They conducted DNA tests on 18 people who were conceived in the clinic during those 19 years and found that two-thirds were fathered by Weisner.

An estimated 30,000–60,000 children are conceived from sperm donors in the U.S. each year. This is just an educated guess, however, because according to a New York Times article, only 20–40 percent of women report their donor child’s birth to the sperm bank.

While diseases can be passed along from parents to offspring, the more socially awkward problem is if two donor children meet and fall in love not knowing they are related, resulting in accidental incest.

“My daughter knows her donor’s number for this very reason,” a woman told the New York Times. “She’s been in school with numerous kids who were born through donors. She’s had crushes on boys who are donor children.”

Can you imagine your mom telling you, “Oh honey, don’t forget your lunch, backpack and donor number. Now run along to school.” God forbid you have the same number as that person you flirt with in math class, or else you have a whole new problem on your hands.This same New York Times article talked about an anonymous donor from the U.S. with 150 children, raising the point that many donors are subject to this situation because they are promised a low number of children, not hundreds.

Furthermore, there are far fewer safeguards in donating sperm than in adoption. The only thing doctors do to a man who wants to donate sperm is test him for any health problems. Adoption, however, involves home visits and interviews with the couple about their relationship, finances and sex life. The donation process needs to be more regulated. A study conducted in early June 2010 by Karen Clark, whose father was a sperm donor, and Elizabeth Marquardt, who studies “sperm donor babies,” proves that this form of conception has a negative effect on the child later in life.

The study proved roughly half of these individuals are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half said when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. Approximately two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth of their origin.According to the same study, these children are twice as likely to have problems with the law before age 25 than children who know their biological parents. They struggle with substance abuse, depression and health problems and tend to feel hurt, confused and isolated, the study said. It also stated that the U.S. should do the same as Britain, Norway and Sweden and end the anonymous trade of sperm. This could be a positive step forward because it would diminish cases like Wiesner’s.

There are some cases where the donor steps out of the shadows and connects with his donor child. For example, People magazine reported on sperm donor 48QAH, or Matthew Niedner, who has fathered more than a dozen children. He sends them emails and talks to them frequently. I bet he has an easier time managing that than Wiesner would.

There needs to be some sort of limit put on the number of times a man can donate his sperm. Otherwise, we may all be more interconnected than we think. Who knows? Maybe the person next to you is your half-sibling. All I can say is I am glad I know who my father is and that I am a product of my parents’ love.