News and Noteworthy

Selling Hate

by John Stossel; originally published at on January 16, 2018.

Who will warn Americans about hate groups? The media know: the Southern Poverty Law Center.

SPLC, based in Alabama, calls itself "the premier" group monitoring hate. Give us money, they say, and they will "fight the hate that thrives in our country."

I once believed in the center's mission. Well-meaning people still do. Apple just gave them a million dollars. So did actor George Clooney.

They shouldn't.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in Somalia, where she suffered female genital mutilation. So now she speaks out against radical Islam. For that, SPLC put her on its list of dangerous "extremists."

Maajid Nawaz was once an Islamic extremist. Then he started criticizing the radicals. SPLC labels him an "anti-Muslim extremist," too.

While launching hateful smears like these, SPLC invites you to donate to them to "join the fight against hatred and bigotry."

SPLC once fought useful fights. They took on the Ku Klux Klan. But now they go after people on the right with whom they disagree.

They call the Family Research Council a hate group because it says gay men are more likely to sexually abuse children.

That's their belief. There is some evidence that supports it. Do they belong on a "hate map," like the Ku Klux Klan, because they believe that evidence and worry about it?

I often disagree with the council, but calling them a hate group is unfair. In my YouTube video this week, the group's vice president, Jerry Boykin, tells me, "I don't hate gay people. And I know gay people, and I have worked with gay people."

But once you're labeled a hate group, you are a target.

One man went to the Family Research Council headquarters to kill people, shooting a security guard in the arm before he was stopped.

The shooter told investigators that he attacked the FRC because he found them on SPLC's hate list.

Calling the council a "hate group" made its employees the target of real hate.

SPLC also smears the Ruth Institute, a Christian group that believes gays should not have an equal right to adopt children. The institute's president, Jennifer Roback Morse, says they're not haters.

"I like gay people. I have no problem with gay people. That's not the issue. The issue is, what are we doing with kids and the definition of who counts as a parent."

The institute doesn't argue that gays should never adopt. "There could be cases where the best person for a particular child would be their Uncle Harry and his boyfriend," Morse told me. But the institute wants preference given to "a married mother and father."

For that, SPLC put the Ruth Institute on its hate map. That led the institute's credit card processor to stop working with them. In a letter to the institute, the processor company said that it had learned that the "Ruth Institute ... promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse."

"We went and checked our website," Morse told me, "and we were already down."

I suspect SPLC labels lots of groups "haters" because crying "hate" brings in money.

Years ago, Harper's Magazine reported that SPLC was "the wealthiest civil rights group in America, one that now spend most of its time — and money — on a fund-raising campaign." People in Montgomery, Alabama, where SPLC is based, call its elegant new headquarters "the Poverty Palace."

"Morris Dees' salary is more than my entire annual budget," says Morse. "Whatever they're doing, it pays."

Dees, SPLC's co-founder, promised to stop fundraising once his endowment hit $55 million. But when he reached $55 million, he upped the bar to $100 million, saying that would allow them "to cease costly fundraising."

But again, when they reached $100 million, they didn't stop. Now they have $320 million — a large chunk of which is kept in offshore accounts. Really. It's on their tax forms.

In return for those donations to SPLC, the world gets a group that now lists people like Ben Carson and Fox commentators Laura Ingraham, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Jeanine Pirro as extremists — but doesn't list the leftist militant hate groups known as antifa.

SPLC is now a hate group itself. It's a money-grabbing slander machine.


John Stossel is author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed."

May I Please Speak to My Daddy?

by Doug Mainwaring at on March 2017.



This world does not need men to selfishly take whatever we want, especially if the price is the welfare of our children. Our children don’t need superheroes—just quiet, unsung, ordinary, everyday heroes who answer to the name “Daddy.”

When I was taking my first few steps out of the closet in the late 1990s, a guy who called himself Tex offered me a short version of his life story over drinks at a Dupont Circle bar. The conversation took an unanticipated turn: he explained that his current partner had moved halfway across the country, leaving behind an ex-wife and kids. Tex would sometimes answer the house phone (this was before cell phones) and would hear a small voice cautiously ask, “May I please speak to my Daddy?” This was his partner’s eight-year-old daughter calling from somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Tex said that it troubled him deeply that his partner’s daughter had to ask permission of a stranger in order to speak with her daddy.





When I think of this little girl, my thoughts drift to folks like Alana Newman and others who have anonymous sperm donors for fathers, many of whom have daily asked that same question in their hearts. May I please speak to my Daddy?

When I started speaking out about the dangers of same-sex marriage for children, I found it difficult to get proponents of genderless marriage to engage in intellectually honest one-on-one discussions. Then I realized: at least half the people who wanted to clobber me with bumper sticker slogans were products of broken marriages.

In early 2013, following my participation in a panel discussion, a young man accused me of being unfair to gays, lesbians, and their children. So I took a chance and asked him point blank: “Did your parents divorce when you were a child?”

He was a little stunned by the personal question, but he answered, “Yes.” The smugness left his face.

“Did you live with your mother?”


“Did you see much of your father?”

“No. I almost never saw him.”

“Did you miss him? Did you wish you could be around him more?”

“Yes. Of course,” he answered, with a bit of wistfulness.

“Did your parents’ divorce increase your happiness—or your sadness?”


“So your parents dismantled your home and set up two new structures that put their needs first, not yours. In fact, they were structures guaranteeing your continued unhappiness. You learned to live with it, because as a child you had no control whatsoever over their actions, but these new structures weren’t necessarily built with your best interest in mind.”

“Well, no. I didn’t get to vote on the matter. I was a kid.”

“Exactly. So why would it be different for children of gays and lesbians who are denied either their father or mother? Do you really think two moms or two dads is exactly the same as having both mom and dad around to love and care for you? Seriously? Would having an extra mom around the house really have satisfied you, or would you still have an unanswered yearning in your heart for your Dad?”

“I see.”

“Then why would you want to condemn other children to be fatherless? Or motherless?”

He got it. He didn’t like it, but he got it—and then he walked away. I have no idea if he changed his mind, but at least he had finally actually heard and listened to an opposing point of view—one that resonated with him.

As I walked away, I thought to myself, “To be intellectually honest, I can’t keep speaking publicly against the dangers of genderless marriage without also simultaneously speaking about the objective evil of divorce for kids.” Divorce is an exponentially larger, far more pervasive threat to children than the prospect of gays raising children without moms and lesbians raising children without dads. I sighed. There is a lot to undo and set straight.

The Prodigal Dad

After my wife and I had been divorced for a few years, it was not unusual for her to call and ask me to drive to her house because our youngest son was out of control. When I would arrive, I found turmoil. He had gotten angry about something, and that had triggered a rage completely disproportionate to the issue. He would yell and scream and kick, then isolate himself in his bedroom. No trespassers allowed. It was gut-wrenching to witness this. Thankfully, he would calm down after a while and return to normal.

His rage would, in turn, trigger discussions with my ex-wife. What were we going to do about his behavioral problem? Did he require medication? Did he need to be spanked? Did he need psychological help?

After this happened a few times it became abundantly clear to me exactly what he needed. Our son did not have a behavioral problem. He needed just one thing: he needed his parents to get back together and to love each other. The slicing and dicing of our family had thrust unbearable stress on this four-year-old’s tender psyche. His Dad and Mom were the culprits responsible for this, yet we were approaching this as if it were his problem.

Our little boy bore no blame, but I sure did.

Keep reading.




White girl with a Korean mom thought she was adopted. The truth was more unsettling.


Featured Image Jessica Kern couldn’t figure out why she was white and her mom was Korean. At 16, she learned the unsettling truth.

June 25, 2014, at

CULPEPER, VA -- Jessica Kern was sixteen the day she found the missing puzzle piece that finally made her life make sense.

Growing up, Kern, now 30, had always suspected something wasn’t right about her household. It was more than just the emotional and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents. It was a deep and unsettling feeling that somehow, she didn’t really belong.

Kern grew up in an interracial home – her father was white; her mother, South Korean. Kern was raised as a half-Korean girl, attending Korean school on the weekends and her mother’s Korean church. But the mirror told a different story. Her appearance lacked even a trace of Asian ancestry. At times, she wondered if she’d been adopted.

The truth turned out to be much more complicated than that. At sixteen, a therapist she was seeing to help her deal with her parents’ abuse shared something hidden deep within her medical records: Kern was the product of a surrogacy arrangement. The woman who had raised her from birth was not, in fact, her biological mother.

In a single moment, a simple four-sentence statement buried in a doctor’s notes gave Kern an answer to the question that had been in the back of her mind all her life – but simultaneously presented a lifetime’s worth of additional questions that may never fully be answered.

“I think it’s wrong. It really is the buying and selling of babies, and the commodification of women’s bodies.”

When LifeSiteNews interviewed Kern last Friday, she had just returned from a whirlwind press tour to New York City and Washington, D.C., where she was promoting Breeders, a documentary about surrogacy produced by Jennifer Lahl of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, whose previous film credits include Eggsploitation and Anonymous Father’s Day.

Kern said she agreed to be part of the documentary because she felt like there was a very important voice missing from the ongoing cultural debate over surrogacy: the voices of the children themselves.

“I think it’s wrong,” Kern told LifeSiteNews. “It really is the buying and selling of babies, and the commodification of women’s bodies.”

“There’s a huge difference between the adoption world and the donor-conceived world,” Kern added. “[The] institution [of adoption] was not … created for the parents, to give them a kid. It was created for the opposite, to put children in a home, because they’re here already and we’re responding to a catastrophe.”

On the contrary, Kern says, “Donor-conceived [children], we’re creating them with the intent of separating them from their biology, and you know … it’s vastly different.”

Kern’s own story, in her view, is a perfect example of what can go wrong when science and the culture of entitlement meet – pitting the selfish desires of adults against the ultimate well-being of children.

In 1983, Kern’s mother wanted a child, but found herself infertile. She had just undergone a new, radical treatment for cancer that had put her into remission, but doctors still gave her only a five percent chance of surviving the next five years. That made adoption an impossibility – no responsible agency would place a child in such a high-risk situation.

“I don’t believe they would have [passed a home study for adoption],” Kern told LifeSiteNews. Aside from her adoptive mother’s cancer, “I don’t think she would have passed the psychological testing,” she added. “Also, my dad was 46 and had a family history of all the men dying in their early 50s. Adoption wouldn’t have touched that.”

Surrogacy, being comparatively unregulated, offered Kern’s parents a loophole. The practice was still unusual in the 1980s and not widely available, so the Virginia-based couple traveled to Michigan to make arrangements with a surrogacy agency. They never told anyone else what they were doing. Throughout the surrogate’s pregnancy, Kern’s adoptive mother wore pregnancy prostheses of increasing size in order to fool friends and family into thinking she was the one having the baby. When Kern’s biological mother went into labor three weeks early, “they were at a cocktail party,” Kern said. “The next day, she had to explain how she suddenly had a baby.”

The early delivery turned out to be a stroke of luck for Kern’s parents, if perhaps not for Kern herself. Several weeks before, Kern’s biological mother had mentioned the surrogacy arrangement to her doctor at a routine appointment. Out of concern for the well-being of her unborn child, the doctor called social services. A social worker was supposed to be present at the birth in order to interview Kern’s father and his wife, but on the advice of an attorney, the couple fled the state with the baby before social services could intervene.

Breeders: A Subclass of Women? - Trailer from CBC Network on Vimeo.

Today, Kern is outspoken in her opposition to all donor conception, including surrogacy, egg donation, and sperm donation. In fact, she strongly objects to the use of the term “donation” at all. “It’s not donation if you get a huge check at the end,” she told LifeSiteNews. “It’s selling babies. … If you’re a sperm donor or an egg donor, you’re not selling your sperm, you’re not selling an egg, you’re selling your child.”

Jessica Kern (L) with Jennifer Lahl, writer and director of the documentary Breeders, and Matthew Eppinette, co-writer and co-producer of Breeders. Jessica Kern


Kern says she went through an “evolution” in her attitude toward surrogacy after she learned the truth about her own origins.

At first, “I was relieved,” Kern told LifeSiteNews. “I knew something was not right, and honestly, the household was extremely abusive, so to a point, it was like, ‘Thank God I’m not completely related to these people; there’s hope for me yet.’”

But as time went on, and she gave the issue more thought, she began to feel increasingly conflicted.

“I think when you’re a teenager and you hear [you’re a product of surrogacy], you don’t think too much in depth about it. … I don’t know if that’s because it’s just too big a thing to think heavily about, or just because as a teenager you’re kind of self-involved,” she said. But once she began to process the information, she started to become curious about the circumstances surrounding her conception and birth. “You wonder about the logistics behind it, the motivations; you know, do they think of you?” Kern said. “It starts to become a little bit nagging.”

Despite her questions, Kern kept her newfound knowledge hidden from her parents, even after she moved out of their house at seventeen. She was “nineteen or twenty” before she gathered the courage to tell her father what she’d learned, and asked for her biological mother’s name and contact information. He refused to provide the details, even though he had allegedly promised the surrogate mother he would facilitate contact when his daughter turned eighteen. “I think because I was so unhappy with our family, he thought it would reflect badly on him,” Kern said.

So Kern turned to the internet for assistance, signing up for multiple websites where adopted children can seek to be reunited with their birth parents. “I knew I didn’t fit the profile completely,” Kern said, “but I hoped that maybe she was out there looking for me.”

Kern’s mother wasn’t looking for her. She assumed that because she had provided her contact information to Kern’s father, her daughter would come to her if she decided she wanted to. “She was just kind of waiting on me,” Kern said.

She would have to wait six more years. Kern was 26 when, fed up with her father’s refusal to give her the information she so desperately wanted, she stole two personal phone books from his house. When her father realized they were gone, he contacted the birth mother to warn her to expect Kern’s call.

When Kern finally reached her biological mother, “we talked for two hours,” she said. Kern learned that she was one of six children born to her mother – three of them, her mother raised, and three were surrogate children like her. She immediately made plans to travel to Michigan to meet her birth mom, along with three of her half-siblings and more than a dozen aunts and uncles. She was also able to establish contact with one of the other surrogate children born to her mother, a half-sister.

Kern’s birth mother told her she went through three surrogate pregnancies out of “compassion” for infertile couples. But in giving birth to Kern, she was rewarded with a $10,000 check for her trouble – an amount Kern is quick to note is more than a person would have made in a year of working a minimum wage job in the early 1980s.

Kern says she and her biological mother have had “a rocky road” since their meeting four years ago. As Kern has been more publicly outspoken against surrogacy, their relationship has cooled. But Kern is determined to keep speaking out for what she believes, in the hopes that increased public awareness might cause people to think twice before intentionally creating children who will spend nine months in a mother’s womb before being ripped away at birth to be raised by strangers.

“I personally am 100 percent against it; I don’t understand the purpose of it,” Kern said in the Breeders documentary. “I believe that there are too many children who need homes in this world.”

Kern now writes a blog called “The Other Side of Surrogacy,” where she shares her views on being a donor child and tracks the rapidly developing legal landscape surrounding surrogacy. She hopes to transition into full-time activism on the issue and perhaps write a book.

“There needs to be more education on the downfalls of surrogacy,” says Kern. “I think that it’s too easy to look at surrogacy from the point of ‘What are my wants, what are my desires and how do I get them met?’ But it’s a lot harder to look at how it could possibly affect the child.”

One of the main concerns Kern and other donor children cite is the lack of oversight and transparency at every stage of the assisted reproductive process. Not only are would-be parents not required to go through the same vetting process to which they would need to submit for traditional adoption, there are no requirements for donors of eggs or sperm to keep agencies apprised of their own health status post-donation. An egg donor who later developed breast cancer, for example, would not be required to report that to her agency, even though any female child conceived using her eggs would be at an increased risk of developing the disease and should therefore be monitored more closely. That means donor children are often left totally in the dark about potential health problems down the line.

Kern told LifeSiteNews that filling out routine forms at doctors’ offices can often feel “like a slap in the face” to donor children who have no idea about their genetic history. If they’re lucky, she said, they will have information about at least one of their genetic parents, like she does. But for those born to so-called “gestational carriers” – surrogate mothers who are sometimes implanted with both donor eggs and donor sperm – “it’s like, ‘I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine,’” she said with a shrug.

Kern also talked about the “primal wound,” an idea promulgated by Nancy Verrier in her book of the same name. In the Breeders documentary, the author explains, “The primal wound is what happens when you separate a baby and its mother. Babies know their own mother through all their senses, and when for some reason … the baby is separated from that mother, the prenatal bonding is interrupted, there is a trauma that happens to both the baby and the mother, and they both feel as if something is missing within them.”

In addition to Kern and Verrier, the Breeders documentary features a number of surrogate mothers, all of whom keenly felt the loss of the children they carried for nine months, whether genetically related or not.

In one difficult case, a mother was pressured to abort after the 20-week ultrasound, when it was revealed the infant – not biologically related to the surrogate – had a brain deformity. After a week of avoiding the prospective parents’ calls, the surrogate hired a lawyer and told them she couldn’t go through with the abortion. She gave them the option of placing their child with a different adoptive family or raising him themselves. They ultimately chose to keep their son, but in acting to protect their baby’s life, the surrogate formed a bond with that child that persists to this day, long after the parents walked out of the hospital with their new baby, without even leaving their contact information. “I still think about him every day,” the surrogate said, through tears.

Another surrogate said it was her daughter who opened her eyes to the oddity of the situation. Already a mother of two who had enjoyed both pregnancies and had easy births, the woman said she felt like offering the use of her womb to an infertile couple would be a compassionate thing to do, along with helping her to pay her bills and stay home with her kids. But she hadn’t counted on the emotional attachment her eldest daughter would form with her unborn half-sibling.

“She loved babies,” the surrogate said. “I mean, what was I thinking? I had two daughters at that point, and when my second daughter was born, it was the biggest thing that had happened in her life. It was like the best thing in the whole world to her. How on Earth did I think I could just give one away, and that she would be okay with it?”

That same surrogate – who has a relatively open relationship with the adoptive family – later recounted the experience of visiting her surrogate daughter for the first time at the couple’s home, some two months after the birth. The baby had been colicky and sleepless, crying for hours a night from the moment she had been removed from her birth mom at five days old. Within minutes of being placed in the surrogate’s arms, she was fast asleep on her chest, seemingly content for the first time in weeks.

“At no point did I consider how it would affect her,” the surrogate said, “being a baby, spending, you know, nine months in my womb, and then five days in my arms, and then being taken away.”

Five years later, on a visit to her birth mom’s house, that little girl would look at her three half-siblings and observe that she looked more like her birth mother than any of them did.

“She looked right at me, innocent as could be, and said, ‘We have the same hair, and we have the same eyes,’” the surrogate recalled. "'Why did you give me away and keep them?’”

To order the “Breeders” documentary or to watch the trailer, click here.

To read Jessica Kern’s blog, “The Other Side of Surrogacy,” click here.

If you are a child of donor conception, or an egg/sperm donor searching for your biological family, click here to join the free registry at

Will IVF change human history?

Scientists are beginning to realize that IVF could be a time-bomb.

by Michael Cook

This article was first published September 6, 2016 at


Evolution works because of the differential reproduction of individuals with certain features. If an organism has a harmful gene, it will not survive to reproduce and will perish before it produces offspring.

To some extent this is true for human beings as well, although we usually see it as a personal tragedy rather than as a force of nature. Infertility may be Nature’s way of decreeing that this man or this woman, or this couple, are not “fit” in the evolutionary sense.

So surely IVF, which enables people to bypass their infertility, must be having an effect upon human evolution.

This tricky but important question was tackled by Norwegian scientists in a recent article in the journal Human Reproduction. “Assisted reproduction is redefining human society and biology and, in the face of profound ethical issues, it is important to understand the technical and conceptual principles that underlie this new paradigm,” they write.

They point out that IVF systematically changes selection pressures, involving “a combination of artificial environments and selection criteria that are distinctively different from those of natural reproduction”.

They give a number of examples. For instance, the human oocytes, or eggs, which survive the selection process are different. The follicles in the ovary of normal eggs are highly sensitive to the FSH and LH hormones; IVF eggs, on the other hand, can survive harsh laboratory conditions, including puncturing it to insert a sperm in some procedures.

IVF favours sperm that swim fast for a short distance while nature “favours long-distance swimmers that are able to navigate the female reproductive tract”.

IVF embryos have to survive contact with plastic surfaces, exposure to light, mechanical manipulation, living in culture media in a Petri and abrupt temperature changes. There may be differences in how IVF embryos survive implantation and miscarriage.

Even the couples who seek out IVF come from a distinct subgroup: “Overall, the limited availability of IVF favours healthy sub-fertile couples in stable relationships who live in high-income societies over other sub-fertile couples”.

The authors stress that much of what they say is speculative, but they conclude that “The most extreme evolutionary scenario is a subpopulation in which reproduction is entirely dependent on IVF … Overall, it seems clear that IVF facilitates the propagation of genetically heritable traits of sub-fertile couples, and we suspect that ongoing studies of IVF offspring will show an increased risk of subfertility for this group.”

Apart from allowing infertile people to reproduce, IVF may also select for traits such as, for example, a resistance to exposure to plastic surfaces. What the results of this will be is completely unknown.

Other recent papers in the same journal point out that the Petri dishes in which IVF embryos spend the first days of their lives are filled with mysterious fluids made up of unknown ingredients. The composition of these laboratory cultures affects the birthweight of the resulting babies – and possibly their long-term health.

These alarm bells are not being rung by moralizing criticis. In a blistering editorial, Hans Evers, the journal’s editor, admitted that he knows far more about the ingredients in his favourite peanut butter, from the ingredients to the production record, than he does about embryo culture media.

“It’s not possible to sell a single drug on the market if you do not give the total composition of the drug, but for such an important thing as culture media, that envelopes the whole embryo, you can sell it without revealing its contents. For me, that’s unacceptable,” Evers told New Scientist. “Compared to the rest of medicine, this is such a backward area. We can’t accept it any longer.”

A working group of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, led by Professor Arne Sunde, from the University Hospital in Trondheim, Norway, has found that culture media for IVF embryos vary widely, their composition is usually unknown by the end users (the embryologists, clinicians and patients), and data about the influence of the media on embryos are conflicting.

“We have no information about long-term consequences of this, but we cannot rule out that the composition of the culture media may affect the health of children as they grow up and become adults," says Dr Sunde.

One possibility is an epidemic of chronic disease.

This is what the “the Barker Hypothesis” suggests. This idea stems from observations of the health of Dutch children conceived and born during a severe five-month-long famine in the German-occupied part of the Netherlands in the winter of 1944 to 1945. It was a perfect experiment – albeit a tragic one – in the effect of the gestation on adult health. In middle age these children are suffering from obesity, dementia, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes because their pregnant mothers were starving. The results may very well be relevant to the harsh and unusual environment of the Petri dish.

So while an IVF baby may be a delight to cuddle, 50 years later an IVF adult could be an overweight, doddering, diabetic, stroke-prone candidate for a heart attack. The millions of IVF children now alive may be health time-bombs.

We don’t know. The first IVF baby, Louise Brown, is only 38. Unfortunately, IVF scientists have been turning a blind eye to these issues for 38 years.

Back to the Norwegian scientists’ musings about IVF and evolution. Let them have the last word. They conclude, somewhat ominously, that despite IVF’s success in producing babies for infertile couples, it makes reproduction increasingly dependent upon artificial means: “It is our opinion that IVF should be seen as a primary example of how the human species is becoming not only culturally —but also biologically— dependent on our own technology.”

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Long and Winding Road out of the gay lifestyle: a story of forgiveness

The headline over at LifeSiteNews says this is a story out of the gay lifestyle. And so it it. But it is first and foremost an inspiring story of forgiveness and repentance. Any Survivor of the Sexual Revolution, any person seeking peace, can benefit from this article. 

A sample: 


I embarked upon an incredible journey of forgiveness, having many people from my past, and especially men, that I needed to forgive. The therapy and prayer sessions I now regularly engaged in never focused solely on my being sexually attracted to men, but I was encouraged to look every aspect of my present and past in the eye. This included the painful process of accepting that I had been consistently sexually abused by a number of men as a child over a three-year period.

Much of my spiritual journey became concerned with recognizing where, during my infancy and childhood, my little soul had chosen to build walls within myself against significant others in my life, especially against my parents, siblings and other prominent people from my past.

He faced the wrong that was done to him (child sexual abuse) and at the same time took responsibility for the ways he had built walls around himself. Eventually, he became able to forgive those who had wronged him. 

Survivors of all sorts: please study this! 


My dad was a sperm donor. My lack of identity reflects his

The film Delivery Man shines a light on the people deprived of roots, extended family and a father figure. It's a hole that can never be filled

by Elizabeth Howard

This article was first posted at The Guardian on January 16, 2014.

'The deprivation I feel as a donor-conceived child, though diluted, persists for my children too.'
'The deprivation I feel as a donor-conceived child, though diluted for my children, persists for them too.' Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
The film Delivery Man, about a sperm donor who unwittingly fathers more than 500 children, has been panned by the critics. Its cloying sentimentality, clumsy symbolism and implausible plot certainly grate; but for me, as a donor-conceived adult, it is important that the feelings of people like me have been brought to light. In the film, the donor's offspring get their happy ending: a warm and loving relationship with their biological father (and plenty of hugs, shared sunsets and burger-flipping opportunities too). In the UK, the reality is that donor-conceived people born before 2005 have no right to know the identity of their donor.

All I know about my father is that, one day in August 1971, he went into an office in Harley Street, masturbated into a bottle, was paid and left.

In all probability that is all I will ever know. Not for me the chance of asking for his details, as would be the case if I were adopted. The doctor who facilitated my conception is now dead, and in any case he claimed, when contacted years ago, that all his records had been destroyed.

My mother's husband was infertile. I called him "Dad" for 15 years, until I discovered by chance that my two siblings and I were donor-conceived. "Donor-conceived" is a clumsy term, because, in relation to me, the man in the clinic was not a donor. He gave something to my mother, but nothing – less than nothing – to me. He is, or was, my father, but by co-operating with my artificial conception, he deprived me forever of the possibility of knowing him. I do not know his name, what he looks like, what his personality is, what his voice sounds like. I do not know my paternal grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins.

I did not know, until I lost it, how much my sense of identity was rooted in my knowledge of who my parents were. Incidentally, discovering I was donor-conceived was in many ways a relief, since by that point "Dad" had been imprisoned for indecent assault of a child; but even though I was liberated from a genetic link with him, I was also cast adrift from who I thought I was, and from all the stories that make up a family's sense of identity. My sense of exile was all the more acute because, ironically, I had spent several years researching my family tree. It turned out that I had nothing to do with those illiterate peasants in Leicestershire after all.

The peculiar thing about donor conception is that on the one hand it privileges genetics: the fertile partner gets to be a real, biological parent. On the other hand, it says that genetics do not matter for the other half of the gametes, and that as long as a child is "wanted", he will have everything he needs.

Unfortunately, that is not true. I do not have a relationship with my father, and not just because of my mother's husband's criminality; I do not have a father because my mother, with the help of the medical establishment (and the law) deliberately deprived me of one. My mother claimed that her infertile husband was my father, so my birth certificate perpetuates a lie. Until I was married, my non-father was my next of kin.

I do not have a father, or the sense of identity that goes with one. I do not have any knowledge of half of my roots, my father, my medical history … so every time a doctor asks me, "Any family history of …?" I have to tell them I do not, and cannot, know.

And this deprivation, though diluted for my children, persists for them too. When my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer at one year old, I wondered whether this was another unthought-of consequence of the casual trade in gametes 40 years ago. My mother was assured, I presume, that only healthy young men were used.

Certainly things were different in those days. My mother told no one of our origins, and planned never to tell her children either. She insisted on family likenesses to a degree that is embarrassing in hindsight. I suppose this shows that she knew that origins mattered, even though ours were based on a falsehood.

Nowadays it is deemed to be an acceptable lifestyle choice for a woman to choose to have a baby using donor sperm, whether or not the baby will have even a semblance of a father figure. Birth certificates can even legally ratify the fantasy that a baby can have two women – or two men – as her two parents. Apparently it is enough for someone to want a child: that wish demands to be fulfilled, with scant regard for what the child might be deprived of.

I, and others like me, beg to differ. There is no Hollywood happy ending in sight for us.

Donor IVF baby who says 'I wish I'd never been born': It's the great IVF taboo - how will a child feel about never knowing their biological parents? For this family, the answer was shattering

By Helen Carroll for the Daily Mail

This article was first published at the Daily Mail on June 25, 2014.

  • Gracie Crane was one of the first children conceived from donor embryo
  • Born before the 1998 Embryology Act, she has no right to know who her biological parents are
  • Despite her parents unconditional love, Gracie says she can't truly feel part of a family that doesn't share her genetics
  • Not knowing who she is makes Gracie wish she'd never been born
  • Gracie wants to be a mother one day, but says her experiences mean she would never have a child through donor conception
  • Every year 2,000 people opt for egg, sperm or embryo donation in Britain

Sitting on the stage alongside classmates during her school’s annual open day, Gracie Crane scanned the faces of the proud parents before her.


It was like a guessing game, matching each beaming, waving adult in the crowd to the pupil: a cut of a chin, a facial expression, a shock of pale hair. You could usually work out who belonged to whom.

Catching sight of her ginger-haired mother and fair-skinned father filing in, beaming at her, Gracie felt the usual pang of sadness and confusion. For no one in the hall would ever match the beautiful Gracie, with her jet-black hair and coffee complexion, to her parents, leaving her to ask herself once again a question no one in her life can answer: ‘Who am I?’

Loving: Dominic and Nita with their daughter Gracie, 16, who longs to meet her genetic parents, despite her family's unconditional love for her

Loving: Dominic and Nita with their daughter Gracie, 16, who longs to meet her genetic parents, despite her family's unconditional love for her

Gracie, who is mixed race, was one of the first children in Britain conceived from a donor embryo, which means she has no genetic link to either of her parents.

As she was born in 1998 — seven years before amendments were made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allowing children born through donor conception to trace their genetic parents — she has no right to find out who her biological parents are. Or even whether there are any hereditary conditions which may affect her in the future.

Every year 2,000 people opt for egg, sperm or embryo donation in Britain — approximately 44,000 babies have been born this way over the past 20 years.

Having reached 16, and with the support of her clearly devoted parents, Gracie is speaking out because she wants anyone contemplating such a decision to understand just how difficult her life has been, despite being raised by a couple who adore her.

Miracle: After three failed IVF attempts, Nita and Dominic were delighted to give birth to Gracie via donor embryo

Miracle: After three failed IVF attempts, Nita and Dominic were delighted to give birth to Gracie via donor embryo

‘I would like to be a mother one day so I can finally have someone I’m genetically related to, but if I can’t have children naturally I would never have one through donor conception,’ says Gracie. ‘I wouldn’t put anybody else through what I’ve been through.

‘Knowing that the two people I love most don’t look like me and that I am not biologically related to them has been really tough.

‘There are times I’ve wished I’d never been born — as much as I love my parents, it’s just so sad not knowing who I am and where I came from.’

Gracie — the first British child of an egg and sperm donor to speak publicly about the complications such a start in life can cause — is eager to spread the word about the challenges facing donor-conceived children, but finds the subject so painful that she breaks down in tears several times during our interview.

It is upsetting to see both her sadness and that of her parents, Nita and Dominic, who have done everything within their power to create the perfect childhood for Gracie and their two adopted children, Ellie, 14, and Marcus, ten, who are genetic siblings and also mixed race.


Identity crisis: A cheerful Gracie aged three and the confused teenager today

Gracie is severely dyslexic and they spent £7,000 on solicitor’s fees securing her a statement of special educational needs that has enabled her to attend Maple Hayes Hall school, a Hogwarts-style manor house in Staffordshire, for children with dyslexia, where she has just sat eight GCSEs.

The Cranes’ ramshackle three-storey house, in a leafy suburb of Birmingham, is the perfect middle-class idyll, strewn with musical instruments, and containing two huge family dining tables.

But Nita, 62, a fostering advisor and exam invigilator, and Dominic, 54, who supplements his earnings as a singer-songwriter by working as a tiler, have had to accept that all the music lessons, holidays and family dinners in the world will never be enough to make Gracie truly happy.

Outsider: Gracie feels the lack of physcial resemblance between her and her parents means she is not truly part of their 'pack'

Outsider: Gracie feels the lack of physcial resemblance between her and her parents means she is not truly part of their 'pack'

Observing the three of them together, they are like any other loving family, recalling caravan breaks by the sea one minute, and squabbles between Gracie and her sister the next. They share the same soft West Midlands accent and laugh at anecdotes which have, no doubt, been recounted many times before.

However, there is no denying the stark difference in physical appearance between Gracie and her parents. And here, as far as Gracie is concerned, lies the rub.

‘If I cannot be looked after by somebody I am genetically part of then I don’t feel I’m part of a family,’ she says. ‘Families are like packs, they look alike, but I don’t resemble anybody I know.


The live birth rate using fresh donor embryos rose from 29 per cent in 2008 to 34 per cent in 2009

‘I brought a friend home from school recently and I’d never told her how I came to be born, so when she saw my parents I think she was quite shocked. I tried to explain but it’s not like adoption, so people find it really hard to understand.’

Three years ago, in her quest to fit in, Gracie began dyeing her hair ginger, like her mother’s, and, more alarmingly, scrubbing her skin with a pumice stone to make it look white.

‘I thought I could change my appearance to look more like Mum and Dad but when we went on holiday to France my hair turned a horrible colour in the sun,’ recalls Gracie. ‘Scrubbing my skin didn’t make any difference and it set my eczema off.

‘Now I make do with having the same spectacles as Mum and we have our nails done the same. We both like music and art too.’

Gift from God: As an embryo, Gracie was almost thrown away by the fertility clinic until Nita and Dominic agreed to have her implanted in Nita's womb

Gift from God: As an embryo, Gracie was almost thrown away by the fertility clinic until Nita and Dominic agreed to have her implanted in Nita's womb

Adopted children are provided with as many details as possible about their birth parents. But Gracie — like the 25,000 other people created using donor eggs, sperm or embryos before 2005 — knows nothing, and has no right to ever know anything, about the couple who conceived her.

All Gracie knows is that her genetic parents were a couple in their 30s: the ‘female’, as she refers to her, was a white housewife and the ‘male’ a machine operator who was half Afro-Caribbean, half white British.

In 1996, they had a son through IVF, using an embryo created from their egg and sperm. Three further embryos from the same batch were frozen but in early 1997 the couple told Midland Fertility Services in Aldridge that they had no plans to extend their family. The embryos were, therefore, due to be incinerated.

Before destroying them, however, the clinic asked the couple if they would consider donating the embryos to a couple who could not conceive using their own egg and sperm and, altruistically, they agreed.

Meanwhile, Nita and Dominic Crane had been trying for a baby for seven years and were recovering from their third failed attempt at IVF when a call came through from Midland Fertility Services.

By this stage Nita, whose damaged fallopian tubes had prevented the Cranes from conceiving naturally, was 46 and the couple were planning to use a donor egg with sperm from Dominic for their next attempt.

So, perhaps understandably, they considered the offer of a seemingly viable donor embryo to be ‘a gift from God’. They knew the male donor was mixed race, so that any baby was likely to be a different colour from them, but were unconcerned.

The following day, the Cranes told the clinic they would love to go ahead and all three embryos were implanted. Only one implanted successfully and Gracie was born, weighing a healthy 6lb 6oz, nine months later.

‘I can’t believe the clinic, which had never offered frozen embryo donation before, had been about to destroy the embryos,’ says Nita, reaching out to touch Gracie’s arm. ‘It was you, sweetheart,’ she adds.

‘Given how Gracie feels, perhaps we were naïve, but we wanted a family and believed this was the most likely way of achieving that — so it was like all our prayers had been answered.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed carrying Gracie for nine months and loved her from the moment I held her in my arms. She has always felt just like my own flesh and blood.’

In her quest to fit in, Gracie began dyeing her hair ginger and scrubbing her skin with a pumice stone to make it look white

Dominic believes that, back then, they couldn’t have been expected to know what impact their decision would have on their daughter’s life, as it’s only been in recent years that experts have raised concerns about children being brought up in families from a different race.

The irony is not lost on them that, before they were allowed to adopt their other mixed-race children five years later, they had to demonstrate a good understanding of black culture and how they would integrate it into their family. There were no such requirements before they had Gracie.

Also, the younger children know about the circumstances of their adoption and will have the option to trace their birth parents, something Gracie may never be able to do.

Quest: Gracie hopes that when she turns 18 she will be able to find her biological parents

Quest: Gracie hopes that when she turns 18 she will be able to find her biological parents

Dominic and Nita’s advice has been sought by other couples considering donor conception, many of whom are concerned that they may not feel the same love for the child as if it was their own flesh and blood.

‘I tell them it’s an understandable concern,’ says Dominic. ‘But if you’re not going to have your own child, what would you have to measure it against?’

Nita advises would-be parents who find themselves in the same position to consult the Donor Conception Network, set up ten years ago, before making up their minds.

For her part, Gracie recently agreed to a request by the Network, which successfully lobbied for the law to be changed so that new donors no longer remain anonymous, to speak at a workshop for people considering donor conception.

‘I was honest about my feelings and found it easier than when I was asked to do a talk at school about donor conception a couple of years ago,’ says Gracie.

‘That time I stood at the front of the classroom and just cried. I didn’t want to tell the other kids about how I started life so they had to make do with reading the information I’d pinned to the walls behind me.’

This is news to Nita and Dominic, who look pained by her confession that she wept in front of her classmates.

It was in 2005 that the law changed to allow children born after that point to find out information about their donors, as well as having the option to contact their genetic parents once they reach adulthood.

However, the only hope that children like Gracie have of ever tracking down their biological parents is if the donors have added their details to a register, set up in 2005 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

She won’t be able to find out if they are on the list until she turns 18.

However, she is clearly excited by the thought that they may read her story here and try to make contact.

Although she is very open to the idea, it remains to be seen how easy it would be for Gracie to cope with coming face-to-face with her genetic family in reality.

In the meantime, even in the event of an emergency such as Gracie needing a matching donor kidney, the Cranes have no means of tracking them down.

Nita and Dominic had talked to Gracie from the day she was born about the unusual circumstances surrounding her birth, and her earliest memory is of being given a book in which her father had drawn pictures explaining how she had come to be, which she still has in her bedroom.

All-consuming love: Nita says she can't imagine how a genetic parent could feel a greater bond

All-consuming love: Nita says she can't imagine how a genetic parent could feel a greater bond

‘So often I’ve wanted to scribble out the faces he drew of the donors and their son, my twin brother — how weird is that?’ says Gracie. ‘No one knows what they look like and I don’t want false pictures in my head.

‘I don’t want to be disappointed if I ever do get to meet them.

‘I want to see what they are like but I don’t know if they’ll want to see me. I’m hoping my twin brother will — I’ve always wanted a big brother.’

As the donors are likely to live in the West Midlands, having used a clinic there, I ask Gracie whether she searches faces in crowds looking for one that looks like her.

‘No,’ she says, without hesitation. ‘I couldn’t bear to get my hopes up.’

When I ask if there could be other genetic siblings, Nita explains that, of course, the donor couple could have separated and gone on to have children with other partners.

Gracie’s reaction takes Nita by surprise: she lets her long hair fall over her face and sobs again, telling her mother not to suggest such a thing.

This scenario is clearly unthinkable to Gracie, who has an idealised image of her uncomplicated genetic family, out there somewhere, living happily ever after. Any deviation from this is clearly one complication too many.

Despite her strong view that the circumstances of her birth were wrong, Gracie acknowledges that there is no easy way to prevent other children from suffering as she has.

‘Anyone considering starting a life which has already been started somewhere else shouldn’t just think about their desire to have a baby and take the fastest option,’ she says.

‘They should be as selfless as possible and think about how the child will feel growing up — speak to people like me and my parents.

Unconventional: Although Gracie's family did not have a typical jounrey to parenthood they are always there for her

Unconventional: Although Gracie's family did not have a typical jounrey to parenthood they are always there for her

‘If people are going to have a donor-conceived child, they need to match up the donors to the parents.

‘But then embryos that can’t be matched will be thrown away, and that’s not right either,’ she adds, her huge brown eyes welling up again.

Nita, meanwhile, says her love for her daughter is so all-consuming she can’t imagine how a genetic parent could feel a greater bond.

‘We thought that we were doing the best thing in having Gracie, and we still do,’ she says. But her worried expression as Gracie sits sobbing, her face hidden in her arms on the kitchen table, speaks volumes.

Reaching out a hand tentatively to her daughter, she adds: ‘We didn’t really think about the physical differences, but even if we were dark with brown eyes, we wouldn’t look like you, Gracie, because only your donor parents could look like you.’

At that moment, Arthur, the family’s rescue greyhound wanders into the kitchen. Gracie pulls him towards her, before heading out of the kitchen for some time alone.

Nita and Dominic are eager to explain why they didn’t put their arms around Gracie when she cried: ‘We’ve learnt over the years that Gracie likes to be left to cry it out,’ says Dominic. ‘But she knows that we’re always here for her.’

Unconventional though their journey to parenthood may have been, as mums and dads go, it’s hard to imagine lovelier ones than Nita and Dominic Crane. I’m sure that in time Gracie will see beyond the colour of her parents’ skin and appreciate them fully for who they are.

Sperm donor children speak out

by Christine Dhanagom

This article was first posted on Life Site News on December 5, 2011.

There are only four things Alana Stewart knows about her father: he has blonde hair, blue eyes, a college degree, and his assigned number at the sperm bank where he sold half of Alana’s genetic code is 81.


She is one of an estimated 30,000 – 60,000 children conceived each year in the United States through sperm donation. A former egg donor herself, Alana is now a vocal critic of the practice, which she calls “the violent act of buying and selling a child.”

Her story, featured in the upcoming documentary Anonymous Father’s Day, is becoming more and more common. Many of the children conceived through sperm donation are now adults, and some of them are speaking out against the practice that brought them into existence.

Their stories are revealing that the experience of being a donor conceived child is not what many proponents of the technology expected it would be. Such children were supposed to think of the man married to their mother as their father, and of their biological father as just the man who masturbated at a sperm bank and walked away with a $75 check. But according to Alana, it’s not that simple.

“The biological parent’s absence is impossible to ignore because their presence is impossible to ignore - when you’re living in a version of their body and thinking in a version of their brain,” she told LifeSiteNews. “I do very much feel separated from not only my father, but my entire paternal relatives.”

Jennifer Lahl, the director of Anonymous Father’s Day, says she created the documentary to give a voice to people like Stewart, whose concerns are too often overlooked in a debate that has deep implications for their lives and identities.

“All we’re concerned about predominately is people who want a baby, is how we can help people who want a baby get a baby,” Lahl observed. But, she continued, there is a need for prospective parents and policy makers to think about “the larger implications of reproductive technology.”

For Stewart, those implications have included a sense of abandonment by her biological father and a rocky relationship with the man who raised her.

In Lahl’s film, she recounts what it was like to be raised by her mother and the man she refers to as “my mom’s first husband.” There was a noticeable contrast between his relationship with Alana and his relationship with Alana’s adopted sister.

“He felt purpose in raising [my sister], he felt like her father,” she relates. “With me, my biological relatedness to my mother just emphasized what I didn’t have in common with him.”

When the marriage fell apart, Alana recounts, he fought for custody of his adopted daughter but not of Alana.

Barry Stevens, another of the film’s interviewees, has a similar story to tell. Stevens did not find out that he was conceived through donor sperm until after the man he believed to be his biological father passed away. He says that even prior to the revelation, he and his sister had sensed that something was amiss.

“I had a sense that he didn’t really feel like my father,” Stevens explained. “And my mother later confirmed that. And there was this big secret in the family, and I think that hurt us.”

The identity crisis that this situation created for Stewart and Stevens is reportedly a common problem for donor conceived children.

My Daddy’s Name is Donor, a report released last year by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future, surveyed young adults conceived through sperm donation and compared their responses to those of peers raised by adopted parents and biological parents.

The study found that 43% of donor offspring compared to 15% of adopted children and 6% who were raised by biological parents agreed with the statement: “I feel confused about who is a member of my family and who is not.”

Moreover, 48% of donor offspring compared to only 19% of adopted children agreed: “When I see friends with their biological fathers and mothers, it makes me feel sad.”

According to Lahl, the differences between adopted children and donor conceived children should not be surprising.

“In the case of the adopted child, there was some reason why a parent couldn’t keep them,” she pointed out. “Versus with the donor conceived person where someone just gave away a part of their body, their egg or their sperm, without thinking that was their child.”

Strikingly, the report also found indications of a correlation between sperm donor conception and marriage failure.

27% of donor children parents are divorced compared to only 14% of parents of adopted children. The number of donor child marriages that fail is only slightly higher than the failure rate of a marriage with biological children - 25%. As the study points out, however, the comparison with adoptive parents is more significant because most couples do not consider fertility technology or adoption until later in life, when marriages tend to be more stable.

For Stewart, the finding is consistent with her own experience. “Mothers can say things like, ‘Well it’s not your kid anyways.’ The father is left constantly insecure about his place and role in the family,” she said.

She added that turning to sperm or egg donation to conceive a child can be evidence of a “materialistic” attitude on the part of the couple.

“They are people that find it difficult to accept not having something and often put their own needs before others (i.e. their need to have a child before their child’s need to have its father/mother), and these personalities often fail in marriage.”

Despite the heartache that many donor-conceived children attribute to the circumstances of their conception, the report found that the majority, 61%, still support the practice.

“I call it the value endowment. It is what lead me to sell my own eggs,” says Stewart “There is a skewed level of support among donor-conceived people in approval of the practice, mainly because they are regurgitating their parent’s values, are afraid of being disowned if they reject those values, and haven’t had the time, space, inspiration to reflect further on it.”

The remaining 40%, however, are becoming increasingly vocal. Stewart has founded a website,, which provides a forum where all whose lives have been affected by donor conception can grapple with the issues it raises.

Lahl says she hopes the film will facilitate a similar dialogue, both in the public square and in the legislature.

There is, she says, a need to examine the “policy implications” that these concerns should have, since “right now in the United States pretty much, anything goes. If you have money, you can pay the doctor and the laboratory to do anything you want.”



Caroline was fathered by a sperm donor - so why does she bitterly resent the stranger who gave her life?

By Frances Hardy for the Daily Mail and Diana Appleyard

This article was first published at on June 24, 2010.

The act will have been brief, impersonal and utterly bereft of emotion - but 25 years on, the moment that Caroline Halstead was conceived is causing her lasting heartache.

For she was fathered by an anonymous sperm donor and, like a growing number conceived in this way, she has struggled to come to terms with the fact that she is the product of a scientific process rather than a loving union.

'I was conceived in a petri dish by artificial insemination at a Harley Street Clinic in London,' she says, describing the fertility treatment her mother sought when her husband was diagnosed as infertile.

'In my view, it is a horrible, clinical way to be conceived. All my life I've felt as if I'm only half a person.'

Caroline Halstead

Resentment: Caroline Halstead feels like she is only half a person because she will never know who her father is

A Surrey housewife and mother who is expecting her second child in August, Caroline is haunted by the thought of her conception - and the fact that, unlike her children, she will never know or even meet her biological father.

Her feelings are far from isolated. A new study, the first of its kind into the effects of donor conception on offspring, reveals the complex and often troubling emotions adults born in this way can experience. They feel confusion, isolation and hurt, more acutely, even, than those who have been adopted.

Nearly half of those surveyed by the Commission on Parenthood's Future were disturbed that money was involved in their conception.

More than half admitted that whenever they see someone who looks like them, they wonder if they're related. And two-thirds affirmed the right of donor-conceived children to know the truth about their origins.

Compare Caroline's testimony with that of social worker Narelle Grace, 27, who lives in West London. She also views her conception, using an anonymous donor sperm, as a cold, medical transaction.

'I don't like the word "donor" because it sounds so clinical,' she says. 'This man wasn't donating blood; he was donating life.

'There are huge implications to this and I think every donor child should at least have basic information about their father - who he was, where he came from, what family he has.'

Since April 1, 2005, the law allows donor offspring the right to identify their biological parents when they reach adulthood, but this can't apply retrospectively. So many - like Narelle and Caroline - conceived before that date will never find the missing half of their identity.

Moreover, since the change in the law has led to a shortage of donors in Britain, many would-be parents travel abroad for donor IVF treatment to countries - including the U.S. and Spain - where there is no legal obligation to identify donors.

Each year since 1992, around 2,000 children have been born annually in Britain from donor eggs or sperm. So the identity crisis felt by donor children is set to worsen in the years ahead.

As it is, Narelle, like Caroline, knows only the sparsest of details about the person who gave her life, after her mother and the man she long thought was her father were unable to conceive naturally.


Coming to terms with her past: Narelle today, left, and aged three, has tried to trace her biological father without success

Narelle's student donor was brown-eyed, brown-haired and 5ft 7in, and would have been paid a relatively small sum. He also provided sperm that created eight other children; each of them a half-brother or half-sister to Narelle.

'Out there, in the world, is a whole family I will never know and who will never know me,' she says.

She often wonders whether the young man at the root of this spreading and convoluted family tree realised how important was his gift of semen.

'My biological father would have been younger than I am now when he donated his sperm, and I imagine he thought very little about the consequences of doing so,' she says. 'But here I am, a young woman who is desperate to find out anything I can about him.

'Adoption is very different - not only can you usually find your real parents, but also you don't have to cope with the psychological effects of knowing you were conceived in a test tube. That's unsettling and weird.

'Being a sperm donor child makes you question everything about your humanity.

'I can honestly say that no matter how desperate I might be for a child, I'd never use a sperm donor. I wouldn't condemn any child to grow up as I did.'

Caroline, too, is deeply angry with the man who gave her life, even though it may have been done with the best of intentions to assist couples who could not conceive naturally.

'It isn't fair just to go along and donate sperm and then not give a thought to the product of that sperm,' she says.

'He's my father, and I have no idea who he is. I think it would be easier if I was the product of a one-night stand - at least then there would have been a connection between two people.'

It is a view with which Josephine Quintavalle of Corethics, an organisation that comments on reproductive ethics, has some sympathy. 'A woman donating eggs goes through a potentially risky invasive procedure. By contrast, it is quick, easy and risk-free to donate sperm,' she says.

'So you can imagine that a sperm donor might make the decision to do so quite carelessly, especially when money is involved.

'There is the sense, too, with any conception outside the womb that you're creating a product in a laboratory.

'And the more these processes move into the IVF lab, the further we distance ourselves from the beauty and significance of the natural act of conception.'

So topical is the issue of donor sperm that a Hollywood film, to be released in Britain in October, will deal with the controversial fall-out.

The Kids Are All Right, featuring a lesbian couple played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, considers the story of their two teenage children who track down their sperm donor father and insist on forging a relationship with him.

But for many - Narelle and Caroline among them - there is no chance of such a meeting.

And to compound the disquiet that surrounds their conception, children are often not told the truth about their birth by the parents who raise them.

'Men often feel uneasy about infertility so where assisted clinical reproductive techniques are concerned, there is more secrecy about sperm donation than any other method, ' says clinical forensic psychologist Professor Robert Edelmann.

'But a family secret is never a good thing. And if suddenly a child - or worse an adolescent - discovers the man they thought was their biological dad in fact is not, it can have devastating consequences.

It can cause a major imbalance family and lead to the child's rejection of the non-biological parent.'

For nurse Chloe Proctor, 22, who experienced just such a revelation when she was 19, the results were overwhelming and destructive.

'I found out I was donor conceived in the middle of an argument,' says Chloe, who lives in Bolton with her partner Michael, 24, also a nurse.

'It was the worst possible way to be told - the man I thought was my father suddenly said: "That's it. I've had enough. There's something I need to tell you right now." '

The shocking news was then imparted with callous disregard for Chloe's feelings.

'My brother and I were told that we were conceived using donor sperm. We were shell-shocked, and it has affected me to this day.'

'Mum wasn't there at the time of the argument, so was completely unaware he had told us. I felt I'd been lied to - why hadn't we been told earlier? It was the pretence that got to me - people saying to me, ''Don't you look like your dad?''

'All that time I'd been growing up with an image in my head which was one big lie. That had a huge impact on me.'

Psychologist Professor Olga van den Akker, of Middlesex University, says: 'It's often not so much the fact a person is a donor offspring as the way they are informed that can create psychological problems.

'If they are told during a row or inadvertently, and given no subsequent support, bad feelings can come out. Increasingly, they may idolise their donor.

'But we have to put it in perspective. All these children were conceived with intent. They were all wanted. And ultimately, as cultures become more open, the mystique of sperm donation will disappear.'

In the end, it was Chloe's father's inadequacy as a parent - rather than the fact that she was conceived by donor sperm - that killed her relationship with the man she thought was her dad. When the rush of anger and resentment had subsided, she could look at the situation calmly.

'Unlike many other children, I had at least been wanted by my mother. Though things weren't done in what I'd call an ideal way, Mum was always there for me and loved me unconditionally.'

The man Chloe calls 'this fraud of a father' had been absent from her early life and has now been erased from her present one.

'In one moment he became irrelevant to my life and I've had no contact with him since,' she says.

Narelle, too, was a teenager when she found out that she and her elder sister were donor offspring. She was 15 when her loving parents gently broke the news to her.

And though she was raised in a stable, happy home, she was profoundly unsettled by the revelation that the kind and dependable father who had cared for her was not, in fact, her biological parent.

Who knew?

Before the law changed on donor identification, nearly 30 sperm donors were recruited each month. This has dropped to ten

'I remember sitting there with my mouth open, with no idea what to say,' she says. 'It took me several years to process the information, and I'm sure this was why I was a teenage rebel and was difficult.

'For a while I buried the information deep inside, and then, when I was at university, I became involved with supporting other donor conceived children. I feel passionately that much more support should be given to us.

'In many ways, it's much harder than being adopted, because the adoptive community is well organised, there are many ways of finding out who are your real parents and there are lots of support networks.

'But we are like the hidden community, the one that people don't talk about, and I find that frustrating. It's such a complex issue, and it's so hard to deal with not knowing half of my family.'

Narelle's views chime with those of Caroline, who is married to 26-year-old services manager Tom. She was told early in her childhood that she was a donor child.

'My mum made me feel as if this was our guilty secret; a secret that no one should ever know,' she says.

'I didn't even tell my best friend. I've only started talking about it over the past few years, because I feel I have to let it out.

'I have to acknowledge how it makes me feel. When I was younger, I tried to ignore it and bury my feelings.'

Caroline's relationship with her mother became the casualty of their 'guilty secret'. She feels closer to the man who raised her, though she was not his biological daughter.

She also confesses she is at times envious of her three -year-old daughter, Charlotte, born to two loving biological parents into a conventional, Home Counties nuclear family.

'Sometimes I do feel jealous of her - she's so secure knowing who her parents are, and she'll never have this sense, as I do, that something is missing.

'I look at Charlotte and I can see my features and Tom's. She's so certain of herself, of her place in the world. But when I look in the mirror, I see only half a person and that's a burden to live with.'

Like two-thirds of the adults questioned in the U.S. survey, Caroline agrees that her absent father is 'half of who I am'. In common with many of the 485 18 to 45-year-olds conceived by sperm donation who took part in the study, she wonders about her biological parent.

'Of course I wonder about him - who is he, where does he live, do I have half-siblings?

'I'm not a scientific experiment, I'm a person, yet I don't know half of my identity. I have my mum's hair and eyes, but the rest of me is a mystery.

'I was clever at school and got high grades, while my halfbrother (from my mum's first marriage) got only one GCSE. Do I get my brains from my dad? Was he academic?'

The stark fact is that Caroline will never know the answers to the questions that haunt her. She has only a hazy outline based on speculation and surmise.

From the information her parents gave her, she thinks that because her mother was a nurse and the donor was a medical student. She speculates he supplied his semen, 'to make money'.

'It probably only took him a few minutes and he thought nothing more about it,' she says.

Meanwhile, Narelle's 12-year quest to trace her donor has yielded practically nothing.

'I've done as much as I can and I can't let it drag me down,' she says. 'For me, inside, something will always be missing.'

The last word goes to ethics expert Josephine Quintavalle: 'All the time legislation is moving to accommodate the interests of the adult who wants a child, but the child's interests are most important.

'In the interests of political correctness, our society has decided that a father can be anyone or nobody. But did anyone ask the child how they feel about this?'

The Sperm-Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right

A new study shows they suffer.

By Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt

This article was first published at  Slate, June 14, 2010.



The Kids Are All Right, due out in July, is being praised for its honest portrayal of a lesbian couple, played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. But what seems most revelatory about the movie is its portrayal of their two teenage children who track down their sperm donor biological father and insist on forging a connection with him. Finally, we have an exploration of how children born from such procedures feel, because in fact it turns out that their feelings about their origins are a lot more complicated than people think.

Each year an estimated 30,000-60,000 children are born in this country via artificial insemination, but the number is only an educated guess. Neither the fertility industry nor any other entity is required to report on these statistics. The practice is not regulated, and the children's health and well-being are not tracked. In adoption, prospective parents go through a painstaking, systematic review, including home visits and detailed questions about their relationship, finances, and even their sex life. Any red flags, and a couple might not get the child.

With donor conception, the state requires absolutely none of that. Individual clinics and doctors can decide what kinds of questions they want to ask clients who show up at their door. They don't conduct home studies. No contacts are interviewed. If clients can pay their medical bills, most clinics could care less about their finances. The effects of such a system on the people conceived this way have been largely unknown.

We set out to change that. We teamed up with professor Norval Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin to design and field a survey with a sample drawn from more than 1 million American households. One of us (Karen Clark) found out at age 18 that she had been conceived through anonymous sperm donation in 1966. The other (Elizabeth Marquardt) has completed studies on topics such as the inner lives of children of divorce and has been profoundly absorbed by the stories of adult donor offspring since she first began hearing them in comments to posts she wrote on the FamilyScholars blog in 2005.

Our study, released by the Commission on Parenthood's Future last week, focused on how young-adult donor offspring—and comparison samples of young adults who were raised by adoptive or biological parents—make sense of their identities and family experiences, how they approach reproductive technologies more generally, and how they are faring on key outcomes. The study of 18- to 45-year-olds includes 485 who were conceived via sperm donation, 562 adopted as infants, and 563 raised by their biological parents.

The results are surprising. While adoption is often the center of controversy, it turns out that sperm donation raises a host of different but equally complex—and sometimes troubling—issues. Two-thirds of adult donor offspring agree with the statement "My sperm donor is half of who I am." Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. About two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, donor offspring are twice as likely as those raised by biological parents to report problems with the law before age 25. They are more than twice as likely to report having struggled with substance abuse. And they are about 1.5 times as likely to report depression or other mental health problems.

As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families. (And our study found that the adoptees on average are struggling more than those raised by their biological parents.) The donor offspring are more likely than the adopted to have struggled with addiction and delinquency and, similar to the adopted, a significant number have confronted depression or other mental illness. Nearly half of donor offspring, and more than half of adoptees, agree, "It is better to adopt than to use donated sperm or eggs to have a child."

The stories that donor offspring tell about their confusion help to illustrate why they might be, as a group, faring so much worse. Christine Whipp, a British author conceived by anonymous sperm donation more than four decades ago, gives voice to the feelings some donor offspring have of being a "freak of nature" or a "lab experiment":

My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships, but rather represented a verbal contract, a financial transaction and a cold, clinical harnessing of medical technology.

Lynne Spencer, a nurse and donor-conceived adult, speaks eloquently of losing trust when her parents did not tell her the truth about her origins, and she suspected the secret:

When you grow up and your instincts are telling you one thing and your parents—the people you are supposed to be able to trust the most in your life—are telling you something else, your whole sense of what is true and not true is all confused.

Others speak of the searching for their biological father in crowds, wondering if a man who resembles them could be "the one." One donor-conceived adult responded to an open-ended question on our survey by writing: "Sometimes I wonder if my father is standing right in front of me." Still others speak of complicated emotional journeys and lost or damaged relationships with their families when they grow up. One wrote at the end of our survey: "I still have issues with this problem and am seeking professional help. It has helped me to become a stronger person but has scarred me emotionally." Another said, "[I am] currently not on seeing or speaking terms with family because of this."

Listening to the stories of donor-conceived adults, you begin to realize there's really no such thing as a "donor." Every child has a biological father. To claim otherwise is simply to compound the pain, first as these young people struggle with the original, deliberate loss of their biological father, and second as they do so within a culture that insists some guy who went into a room with a dirty magazine isn't a father. At most the children are told he's a "seed provider" or "the nice guy who gave me what I needed to have you" or the "Y Guy" or any number of other cute euphemisms that signal powerfully to children that this man should be of little, if any, importance to them.

What to do? For starters, the United States should follow the lead of Britain, Norway, Sweden, and other nations and end the anonymous trade of sperm. Doing so would powerfully affirm that as a nation we no longer tolerate the creation of two classes of children, one actively denied by the state knowledge of their biological fathers, and the rest who the state believes should have the care and protection of legal fathers, such that the state will even track these men down and dock child support payments from their paychecks.

Getting rid of the secrecy would go a long way toward helping relieve the pain offspring feel. But respondents to our study told us something else too: About half of them have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even if parents tell their children the truth. Our findings suggest that openness alone does not resolve the complex risks to which children are exposed when they are deliberately conceived not to know and be known by their biological fathers.

At the very least, these young people need acknowledgement of reality as they experience it. Donor offspring may have legal and social parents who take a variety of forms—single, coupled, gay, straight. But they also have, like everyone else, a biological father and mother, two people whose very beings are found in the child's own body and seen in his or her own image reflected in the mirror.