In law there is a saying: Hard facts make bad law. It’s always dangerous to make decisions based on the extreme, but sometimes it takes the extreme to capture our attention. Well, this is certainly extreme, and it certainly captured my attention. The New York Times reports today on a sperm donor who has fathered 150 children. Nope, my friends, that zero is not a typo. At what point is the risk of
overregulation outweighed by the risk to families and children?
Although 150 children from one sperm donor is not the norm, more than 40 is not all that unusual. Perhaps surprisingly, we don’t really know how many children are born from donor sperm each year or from one particular donor. Some estimates put the number at 30,000 to 60,000 sperm donor conceived children per year. Reporting a pregnancy and birth after using donor sperm is voluntary, but many parents, especially in heterosexual couples, tell no one, not even the children. Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, estimates that only 20 to 40% of woman report the birth of a donor conceived child.
There is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Parents and donor conceived people are also concerned about accidental incest (consanguinity) between half-sisters and half-brothers, who often live close to one another. Besides the strong “ick” factor, there are health issues for any subsequent children resulting from such matches.
Although other countries, including Britain, France and Sweden, limit how many children a sperm donor can father, there is no such limit in the United States. In Britain a donor can only father 10 children. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), has guidelines that recommend restricting conceptions by individual donors to 25 births per population of 800,000. With growing evidence of high number of children from specific donors, the ASRM is beginning to rethink this guideline, but has made no changes. Note that the ASRM has no way to enforce their guidelines.
The infertility professional community has long resisted more regulation fearing that regulation would make infertility treatment less available and more expensive. The cynics might add “less profitable” as well. The United States has long abhorred unnecessary regulation of anything, but have we reached the point where regulating the number of children conceived by a single donor has become necessary. Our standard when we make any decision in infertility should be ‘What is in the best interests of the child to be born?’ What do you think?
Image credit: June Freeman
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In the UK adoption records must be kept for a minimum of 100 years
Hmmm. Before reading this, I’d have said no easily. However, this is a large number and there is risk of half genetic siblings getting into relationships unknowingly, which would not be good. Not sure what a good stopping point number would be though. 15?
At work, we once had to help a young man (under 30) learn parenting skills…he had 13 kids. One of my biggest questions was why women “date” him at all! Don’t they see what kind of man he is?
Kathleen LaBounty’s father was a doctor in Harris County Texas that donated sperm. She was interviewed on NPR tonight. Following the Association of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) guidelines of 25 children per donor per population of 800,000 ((population/800,000)x 25 how many siblings might she have within her county? How about her state? The US, North America or the Planet?
Harris County Texas
3,984,349 pop / 800,000 = 5 x 25 = 125 children per donor
24,782,302 pop / 800,000 = 31 x 25 = 775 children per donor
307,006,550 pop / 800,000 = 384 x 25 = 9,600 children per donor
528,720,588 pop/ 800,000 = 661* 25 = 16,523 children per donor
6,775,235,700 pop / 800,000 = 8469 * 25 = 211,725 children per donor
One more time. The ASRM is really saying that each donor should have no more than 211,725 children world wide. The members of that association turn a financial profit every time a man or woman agrees not to take care of his or her own offspring. A huge huge profit. They don’t make money when people take care of their own offspring. Get it yet? Clinics follow guidelines written by people who make money creating orphans and half orphans. Its like having the fox guard the hen house. Tell you how to regulate the industry, make it so you cannot provide sperm or eggs for another persons use unless you go through the process of giving the child up for adoption at birth like any other bio parent who does not intend to raise their own offspring, The only reason why these bio parents don’t have to go through that process is that doing so would bring a multi-billion dollar business to a grinding halt. We don’t stop the wheels of commerce for nobody in this country.
Just as an update, the NYTimes “Room for Debate” section today is on regulation of sperm donation and the fertility industry:
Thank you for the link to the NYT Room for Debate section. It is fascinating. I will spread this link on Facebook and Twitter.
I think the parents receiving sperm via donation need to be educated on the importance of being open with their children about their genes, and there needs to be a strongly encouraged registry where these children can check records to help minimize the genetic risks for their own future offspring. Setting the expectation and standards of what is acceptable may prevent the need for further regulation, that said those committed to making this a safe viable option for families need to spearhead the effort.
No, the donors are not “dads” in the sense that they have no legal rights to the children and they do not have a hand in raising them. But they ARE biological fathers and a part of the child’s identity. I guess I’m not really sure why regulation of sperm donation isn’t more along the lines of adoption in terms of transparency and consideration for the children. Will we look back on this era of biomedical ethics like we did adoption in the 1950s?
Sarah, good point. I think there are many ways the third party reproduction community (donor sperm, donor egg, surrogacy, embryo donation/embryo adoption) could learn from the adoption community.
The UK and other countries are miles ahead of the US on this and shame on the US (and Canada too). There are so many Adult DC individuals speaking out today – yet is anyone listening? Are they on your blog roll?
Ban anonymity so when the DC child becomes an adult they can have their information.
Limit the number – end of story.
Require record keeping for more than ten years, that is nothing when compared to a lifespan. Have a national respository for those records when the clinic closes and the records are lost for all time or require court records.
Put into place a system where updated medical history can be obtained – sheer numbers guarantee many, many DC individuals will be impacted by the lack of knowledge all non DC or non adopted can obtain if they are intelligent enough to recognise the value, i.e. current updated family health history. Info collected at the time of donation is not enough. Genetic screening is not mandatory and even if it was, the genes and gene combinations for all hereditary diseases have not been discovered yet. Screening now is primarily only for STD’s. People don’t stop and think ahead, it isn’t just the ones conceived via donation, it also impacts their children.
Stop and listen to the Adult Donor Conceived – you know the one most impacted by this.
It really cannot be about the people who wish to be parents – it has to be about the best interests of the people created. How can it be otherwise?
Leyla, a 29 year old with 13 kids. Wow. Note that this man in my blog is a “donor” not a dad to these kids.
Is it just me, or is Britain just more on top of thinking these ethical issues out? Maybe if the govt pays for reproductive treatment/alternatives, people are just more OK with accepting the terms and conditions of the assistance. I’m a little skeptical of the argument that limiting donorship hampers opportunity/affordability; there are just so many potential donors out there at a fairly low cost (compared to egg donors, anyway). But of course I don’t have all the facts.
In addition to the conseguity/genetics issue, I just think it would be strange to be a child with 150 half-siblings. Would you feel less special or unique knowing that 149 other children were conceived in precisely the same way?
Sarah, I had wondered also about how the kids feel about being one of 150. This man is a donor, not a dad, to these kids, but still…