Famed cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead once stated, “Motherhood is a biological fact, while fatherhood is a social invention.” – simply meaning that as nature dictates, and excepting the act of fertilization, fathering a child is not so much an imperative as it is a perk. No doubt legions of parents (mothers and fathers alike) sociologist, and psychologist would be more than happy to argue the point that fatherhood is far more than a societal construct or fringe benefit. Still hundreds of thousands of children are born each year without a father in the picture, and an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 children in the United States are from sperm donor fathers, who presumably never have an opportunity to meet their offspring. The sheer number of prospective parents who rely upon artificial insemination and sperm donors to get them from just wanting to being parents increases, outsize groups of donor siblings are beginning to appear. These are the half-siblings that all originate from one specific donor, and in some cases there can be over 100 half-siblings, relatively unaware, living in the same town or municipality.
According to a New York Times article titled, “One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring” there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another. Call it donor monocropping, but without restrictions on multiple usages of any one particular donors sperm, the odds of having a small population holding half the same genetic code are pretty high. This potential was momentarily, but quite humorously, addressed in a vintage Simpsons episode where characterBarney Gumble is seen making another routine donation to the local sperm bank and fathering yet another child with his distinct characteristics (click here to see the clip in Spanish – it was the best I could do).
But beyond the witty commentary on the matter, this issue is hardly a laughing matter for those concerned. While other countries, namely in Europe, have limitations on how many children a sperm donor can father, the U.S. is currently without any imposed limit. There are guidelines sure (25 births per population of 800,000) but nothing to control the amount of one father’s DNA being distributed among the population. Some feel this is because sperm banks in the U.S. function like any other bank, positioning large profits and growing numbers over moral and practical decisions like how many children should come from an individual donor.
Networks are popping up providing donor children and their parents with information about their donor siblings, thus providing some reassurance and ability to navigate a sizable population of half-siblings. However, no real restrictions or legislation has been proposed to deal with this growing problem/issue, but the odds are that something is in the works. Do you think it is advisable to put restrictions on the usage of sperm from a unique donor, or should the prospective parents be the ones to determine when a donor’s contribution has been a little overworked? How much information is too much information in this case? Is it fair to bring a child into the world who will have no access to knowing about one half of their genetics, medical history and ancestry?