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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
Many sperm donors donate because they want to help other people fulfill their dream of having a family. A brief glance at sperm donor websites reveals heart-warming pictures of couples, just waiting for their dreams to be fulfilled. Single women, infertile couples, lesbian couples, and pregnant mothers all feature prominently. If men were more prone to guilt, you would wonder how more men didn’t feel compelled to donate their sperm to help these people achieve their reproductive goals.
The marketing even appeals to the prospective parents: just 3 easy steps to find a sperm donor (select using our search, place your order, and we’ll confirm). There is usually a picture of a handsome, younger man with options for type of hair color, ethnicity, eye color, and so on are pictured. And, to further ease the prospective parents’ minds, the authority of doctors and other medical professionals is attested to, throughout the site with pictures, testimonials, and explanations of the safety.
Both the left and right, it seems, are swayed by the arguments inherent in the whole business: the unequal access to procreation is remedied by sperm donors, and private enterprise is busy solving a societal problem with minimal governmental interference. Could this be a burgeoning moment of societal unity? Perhaps a closer investigation into the rest of the story of sperm donors will show the untold damages this arrangement causes.
As so often happens, the people who are impacted the most and have the smallest voice, are the children conceived by the donors. Their stories, unfortunately, are too frequently glossed over, or actively hidden. These children, when they are finally told, often suffer intense grief and anguish. Many of their stories relate feelings of being betrayed, commoditized, unwanted, or cut off, and sometimes they feel shame and guilt they certainly don't deserve.
Allison K. is one of these children. Her mother told her that her father wasn’t her biological father, on the day that Allison was moving into her first dorm as a college freshman. Initially, she explained, she didn’t care much. “A nice man wanted to help family have children, and my parents wanted to be able to have their own family.” Her feelings, however, changed the more she learned about the whole industry and what sperm donors can refuse to do.
She learned about pay anonymity, sperm donors refusing contact, no limits being placed on the number of births from donated sperm, and offspring not getting any access to medical records. Most poignantly, she said that she suspects that her biological father doesn’t want anything to do with her, which causes her (and her brother) pain and trauma that causes them to cry about it, even though they are now grown adults. Her closing statement is a powerful condemnation of sperm donors. She said, “My father might have sold his sperm, but my identity is not for sale. It belongs to me. I am not a commodity. I am his daughter."
Not every donor conceived child is rejected by the sperm donor. A New York man, who also bought into the humanitarian angle, donated his sperm to a local lesbian couple, waived any parental claims (custody, visitation) and in return was absolved of the need to pay child support. Unfortunately, the child was so ill-cared for that she was placed in foster care. The man, feeling the pull of paternity, wanted to care for the child and worked with the couple to be granted access. They refused, the courts backed them up, and even refused his request to take a paternity test. The child deals with being raised without a father and now without her home because she’s in foster care.
Increasingly there are more resources for donor-conceived persons, like DonorChildren.com or Them Before Us, to help people in these situations. They provide safe spaces for people to share their stories and create a network to help discover more about their genetic makeup and identities. The sheer number of stories and hunger for more information about their cultural heritage and genetic identity, means something has gone wrong with our society.
These stories, these people, these human experiences are all why the Ruth Institute believes that each child has a right to know his or her cultural heritage and genetic identity. What’s more, these children have additional rights which, when followed by their natural mother and father, will lead to the best outcomes for the child. Whatever the motivations of the sperm donors may be, the rest of the story shows a need for a return to the traditional Judeo-Christian sexual ethic, which protects and looks out for the interests of the children, and not as commoditized objects.