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Talking, writing, educating, and change making in the field of fertility for more than twenty years

The Sperm Donor Debacle

I have been slow to write about this story. Not because it was unimportant – but because sometimes I simply get exhausted by this field of reproductive medicine that I care so deeply about. At times, it feels like the “scandals” are coming at us at an alarming rate. You only have to search this blog to find my reporting on them. Now, its’ about sperm donors and the complete lack of  thinking on behalf of some sperm banks.

Yes – I know the sperm bank industry response – that sperm gets sent all over the world – so it is very unlikely the the offspring for find each other, fall in love and make babies. But the distaste to this story goes far beyond incest.

It would seem obvious to anyone – you don’t need to be a doctor, therapist, or ethicist to get that it is simply morally wrong to use one donor to create 150 children.  What the sperm banks that were involved were thinking – we will never know. Some say greed – others say a complete lack of tracking. The fact is that this is really not unexpected to many of us are in the inside of the fertility world. There have been meetings, committees, and even a “Donor Sibling Registry” which was started by Wendy Kramer, a fabulous patient advocate and mother of a son conceived through donor insemination.

So when Cynthia Daily made the news after tracking the number of children by her donor following the birth of her son seven years ago – it was only the size of the outrageousness that got my attention – not the fact that this happened.

Besides the obvious distaste that  directly comes up for most of us – this case does raises concerns among many about the spread of genetic diseases and fears that the offspring could inadvertently commit incest.

This brings us back to the dreaded word “regulation”.  No one in the fertility field in the United States want regulation – the cry is that regulation who shut down the field and hurt patients.  Leaders in reproductive medicine shout loudly that this field is “self regulated” – and yet there seems to be more scandals in reproductive medicine than in any field of medicine that I know.

The Britain’s Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority has a legal limit of ten families per donor and that is not uncommon in other Eurpean countries. But in the U.S. – in the land of self regulation there is no self limit. But we do have outragous news stories.

You decide which is best.


About Pam Madsen
Talking, writing, educating and change making in the field of fertility for more than twenty years
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Thanks, as always Pam, for your insightful and authoritative commentary. I wonder if we need to not only consider the issue of consanquity (or incest, as you say, certainly a worst case scenario) but generally the social and emotional impact endured by each donor conceived child relative to the number of genetic half-siblings he/she may have (whether that number is 10, 20 or 150 as reported by the NY Times). It seems that it is that the lack of information about the totality of a donor’s donation history that is potentially harmful to the donor conceived-child (as well as lack of information about his/her medical/genetic history). The numbers in recent media reports are what is generating buzz, interest, but the issues around this matter apply whether we are talking about the genetic material of a sperm donor (distributed locally and/or internationally), the oocytes shared with multiple parties per a single fresh egg donation, the egg donor who irresponsibly withholds information about how many cycles she participated in or the practices at certain cryo-egg banks which, as relatively new to the market-place, remind me all too much of other banking practices. The bio-statisticians and ethicists publish studies that suggest that unknowingly mating with one’s genetic half-sib is statistically unlikely…but isn’t there so much more we should be thinking about? And isn’t this a discussion we should be having about all donation practices?

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