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Unregulated Sperm Donation Leads to 150 Children From a Single Donor

When parents find just how many siblings their donor child has "they’re freaked out."

Can you imaging having at least 150 half brothers and sisters? This is a reality -- however extreme -- for some "donor children."

The New York Times reports that it is estimated that 30,000 to 60,000 children are born from use of donated sperm each year. With little regulation in the United States for reporting children conceived using donor sperm and how many times a sperm donor can be used, there are a number of potential problems that could arise. The New York Times has more:

Although other countries, including Britain, France and Sweden, limit how many children a sperm donor can father, there is no such limit in the United States. There are only guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional group that recommends restricting conceptions by individual donors to 25 births per population of 800,000. [...]

“We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm,” said Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College and author of “The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.” “It’s very clear that the dealer can’t sell you a lemon, and there’s information about the history of the car. There are no such rules in the fertility industry right now.”

One family featured by the New York Times actually does have at least 150 half brothers and sisters from one donor, which begs the question: are these kids going to be alright? The mother of one of these children, Cynthia Daily, created a Web registry, not only for the brothers and sisters to get to know each other (they sometimes go on vacations together) but also to avoid the potential for incest:

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.

“My daughter knows her donor’s number for this very reason,” said the mother of a teenager conceived via sperm donation in California who asked that her name be withheld to protect her daughter’s privacy. “She’s been in school with numerous kids who were born through donors. She’s had crushes on boys who are donor children. It’s become part of sex education” for her.

Founder of Donor Sibling Registry Wendy Kramer was reported as calling for new legislation to regulate sperm donor use:

“They think their daughter may have a few siblings,” Ms. Kramer said, “but then they go on our site and find out their daughter actually has 18 brothers and sisters. They’re freaked out. I’m amazed that these groups keep growing and growing.” [...]

“These sperm banks are keeping donors anonymous, making women babies and making a lot of money. But nowhere in that formula is doing what’s right for the donor families.”

Sperm donor regulation falls under the Food and Drug Administration as a Human Cell and Tissue or Cell and Tissue Bank Product. Most of what the FDA has on its website pertaining to sperm donor use has to deal with donation of sperm. For example, the donor must have a medical history screening and he must be screened for infectious diseases.

The New York Times even reports that some sperm donors themselves are becoming concerned with how many potential children could be fathered from them:

“When I asked specifically how many children might result, I was told nobody knows for sure but that five would be a safe estimate,” said a sperm donor in Texas who asked that his name be withheld because of privacy concerns. “I was told that it would be very rare for a donor to have more than 10 children.”

He later discovered in the Donor Sibling Registry that some donors had dozens of children listed. “It was all about whatever they could get away with,” he said of the sperm bank to which he donated. “It is unfair and reprehensible to the donor families, donors and donor children.”

In 1984, the United Kingdom adopted regulations for sperm donor use from the Warnock Report, which recommends limiting the number of children fathered by one donor to 10.

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