Watch out for a new issue washing up on the shores of fertility frontier. According to a story in BBC magazine, since the U.K. ruled in 2005 that sperm donors can't be shielded by lifelong anonymity, the pool of available donors has run dry. Now there are a total of 208 sperm donors in the U.K. Since a single donor's sperm can be distributed to as many as 10 families and those families can spawn multiple children from the same vial, many men have decided that the risk is too great that someday they'll be bombarded with offspring looking for emotional or financial support. (And in a country where the state will fund such fertility services, one can imagine that these virtual studs are in hot demand.)
U.S. laws still allow banks to promise anonymity, but it's dubious how sperm-tight such promises are. In one case reported in the New Scientist in 2005, a 15-year-old boy found his biological father in 10 days using a DNA test, genealogical records and Internet searches.
With many of the first donor babies now reaching adulthood, there's a growing subculture of kids looking for their biological relatives. And with about 90,000 inseminations every year in the U.S., this is just the trickle before the flood. One Web site, Donor Sibling Registry, helps donor kids find their half-siblings; others allow donors and children to post biographical information in order to find one another. (MTV is currently looking for subjects seeking their biological fathers for a new documentary.) Similarly, one young woman who wrote about finding her donors via one of these sites asserts that the donor transaction doesn't end in a Dixie cup and a well-written legal contract.
"I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up," writes Katrina Clark of her fellow donor-sperm spawn. "We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the 'products' of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place."
I've always been a staunch believer that a parent is defined by shared experiences, not shared DNA, but Clark's idea that anonymous sperm banks are predicated on a hypocrisy casts all those thousands of vials in a new and murky light.