Did you know that 30,000 to 60,000 babies are born every year with the help of donated sperm? Or that people who purchase sperm from banks are not required to notify the bank if they conceive a child and carry it to term?
In fact, it is believed that only 20 to 40% of sperm buyers report back to the bank they purchased from on whether or not they conceived. According to Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College and author of “The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception”, “We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm.”
While I think it is wonderful that sperm donors and the banks that manage them make it possible for many families to have children where they might not otherwise, I find it shocking that the industry is not subject to more regulation or, at the very least, the focus of more study.
According to a recent New York Times article, there is one group of half-siblings from the same sperm donor, that has now grown to 150 people and could get even larger. There are several other groups that contain 50 or more half-siblings. In many of the other countries that use sperm banks, including England, France and Sweden, there are limits to how many children can be fathered by a single sperm donor, but in the U.S. there are only guidelines that recommend “restricting conceptions by individual donors to 25 births per population of 800,000.”
Using that math, a sperm bank with a popular donor’s sperm could justify 387 half-siblings to enter the US population. And what business would decide to take it’s top-selling items off the shelf unless they were forced to?
Donor conceived people are able to find their half-siblings because different sperm donors are tagged with individual identifying numbers that can be used, with the help of organizations like The Donor Sibling Registry. Despite the Registry’s existence, even if you only take the lower estimate of 30,000 children being born a year into account, the number of identified half-siblings is incredibly low with only 32,145 people self-registered with the organization, and that number includes donors and parents, as well as the donor conceived people.
With so many potential half-siblings in the US and, presumably, in clusters in the areas surrounding the bank that is selling the sperm, some experts have pointed out that there are increased odds of accidental incest. One mother of a teenage daughter in California is quoted as saying, “My daughter knows her donor’s number for this very reason, she is in school with numerous kids who were born through donors. She’s had crushes on boys who are donor children. It’s become part of sex education” for her.
Other health implications of having so many children born from the same donor could include the possibility of the widespread dispersion of rare genetic diseases throughout the population. Donors fill out forms disclosing personal and family health histories, but what if they didn’t know it existed at the time of donation?
With the ever-increasing amount of babies being born a year via donated sperm, don’t you think that it’s time for the fertility industry to be the subject of some kind of regulation? I don’t want it to become more difficult for families to conceive, but it seems unwise to leave important decisions, like limiting the amount of children conceived by one father, to businesses that will always have to take the monetary bottom-line as their main consideration.
Photo credit: © Statsenko – Fotolia.com
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