By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, 13 JUNE 2010 (ZENIT)
The constant increase in artificial insemination and the use of
sperm donors means there is a growing number of children who are
in the dark about the identity of their biological father. A
recent report looked into the implications of this for the lives
of those who have now reached adulthood.
The Commission on Parenthood's Future released the study.
Titled "My Daddy's Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults
Conceived Through Sperm Donation," it was co-authored by
Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval D. Glenn and Karen Clark.
According to the study, between 30,000 and 60,000 children
are born each year in the United States through sperm donation.
This is, however, only an educated guess, as there is no agency
that collects statistics on such procedures. Moreover, this is
the first serious study to evaluate the well-being of those who
are now adults. The report also commented that sperm donation is
an international phenomenon. People from around the world seek
sperm donors in the United States due to the lack of any
regulations, and countries such as Denmark, India and South
Africa also provide sperm donors to a flourishing market of
The authors made an interesting comparison between sperm
donation and adoption. Adoption is governed by strict rules, and
adoptive parents are carefully studied before being able to
adopt. When it comes to sperm donation, however, women shop for
donors in online catalogs that compare physical qualities,
intelligence and professional accomplishments, and all they need
to do is pay for the transaction.
Regarding the comparison with adoption, the authors noted
that quite frequently their friends and colleagues commented to
them that sperm donation is just like adoption. For a start,
this fails to take into account the difficulties that many
adopted children face in terms of being separated from their
biological origins, the report replied. In addition, adopted
children can take comfort from thinking that perhaps their
mother gave them up only after a difficult struggle or due to
extreme circumstances. With donor conception the offspring
realizes that it was just a commercial transaction without any
thought on the part of the donor about them.
To study the situation of adults conceived through sperm
donation the authors surveyed more than a million households and
then assembled a representative sample of 485 adults between the
ages of 18 and 45 who said their mother used a sperm donor. They
were compared with a group of 562 adults who were adopted as
infants, and 563 adults raised by their biological parents.
"We learned that, on average, young adults conceived through
sperm donation are hurting more, are more confused and feel more
isolated from their families," the report stated.
No less than 65% of donor-conceived adults in the survey
agreed with the statement: "My sperm donor is half of who I am."
Even the mothers admit to being curious about who is the father
of their child.
Just under half of the donor adults expressed discomfort
about their origins, with many of them saying it is a frequent
concern that they feel. Some of them felt like freaks
the result of lab experiments
while others struggled with identity issues. The fact that money
was involved in the process was also a cause of concern for
many. Others expressed discomfort about being a product made to
satisfy their parent's wishes. And no less than 70% admit that
they wonder what their sperm donor's family is like.
The concerns of donor offspring are not limited to issues of
identity and family, but extend to medical worries. The report
pointed out that some donors have fathered dozens of children,
and there are even cases of a hundred or more. So the donor
adults are worried about unknowingly dating a half-sibling, or
that their children may date the child of a half-sibling.
The issue of anonymous sperm donation has been a hot topic in
many countries in recent years. Criticism of the practice has
led Britain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and
some parts of Australia and New Zealand to ban it, the report
noted. In the United States and Canada, however, there are no
such restrictions. The Catholic Church is strongly opposed to
all practices of artificial insemination, but as the report
makes clear even if you don't agree with such a stance, there
are very good reasons to stand up for the right of children to
know who their father is and to put an end to anonymous
The survey also examined social and psychological issues.
Asked if before the age of 25 they had trouble with the law, 21%
of donor offspring said yes. The corresponding figures for
adopted children and children who grew up with their biological
parents were 18% and 11% respectively. Similar results were
reported for problems of alcohol or substance abuse. These
results remain constant even when the results are controlled for
socio-economic status and other variables.
Regarding the variable factors, one interesting bit of data
that came out of the survey was that 36% of donor offspring said
they were raised as Catholics, compared to 22% from adoptive
families, and 28% raised by their biological parents. This is a
striking finding, the report commented, given the opposition by
the Catholic Church to such practices. Moreover, 32% of donor
adults said that Catholicism is still their religion. By
contrast, a larger number of Catholics in the other two control
groups have left the Church.
Another difficulty sperm donor offspring suffer is the
secrecy about their origins. In most cases, parents let the
child believe that he or she is biologically related to both of
them in the beginning. Then, when the child finally discovers
the truth, the child feels lied to and the parent-child
relationship is strained. This leaves a legacy of distrust, with
47% of them declaring that their mother might have lied about
important matters when they were growing up. This compares with
27% for those who were adopted and 18% for those who were raised
by their biological parents. Similar results were given for
worrying that their father might have lied.
Not surprisingly, a substantial majority of adults conceived
through sperm donation expressed support for their right to know
everything. This included the identity of the donor and the
right to have some kind of relationship with him. They also said
they wanted to know about the existence and number of their
half-siblings. As it now stands, the law in the United States
does not give them any of these rights. In fact, it protects the
donors and fertility clinics at the cost of the children
But the problems do not end with secrecy. The survey results
showed that 44% of the donor-conceived adults were comfortable
with donor conception so long as parents tell their children the
truth, preferably from an early age. Nevertheless, 36% had
concerns about it even if parents told the truth, and 11% said
it is hard for kids even if parents handle the issue well.
In fact, the report commented that: "openness alone does not
appear to resolve the potential losses, confusion and risks that
can come with deliberately conceiving children so that they will
be raised lacking at least one of their biological parents."
The report concluded with a series of recommendations. Among
them was the observation that no other medical procedure has
such enormous implications for a person who did not seek the
the offspring. And they asked: "Does a good society
intentionally create children in this way?" A question well
worth reflecting on.