July 5, 2022

Tell kids early, says report on sperm donation

One of the many ideological battlegrounds
in bioethics is whether children are harmed if they are the offspring of sperm donors.
A well-publicised
report last year from the Institute for American Values
found that “young adults conceived through sperm donation are
hurting more, are more confused, and feel more isolated from their families.
They fare worse than their peers raised by biological parents on important
outcomes such as depression, delinquency, and substance abuse.” It claimed to
be the “first-ever” report on the welfare of donor-conceived adults, but it was
severely criticized by the infertility industry.  

A new report in
the journal Human Reproduction gives a more positive spin to the experience of
being donor conceived. It claims to be “the largest
survey to date of donor-inseminated (DI) offspring”. Its message is that the
children of lesbians and single mothers have few problems with being donor
conceived because they were told about their origins at an early age. Uneasiness
and shock came more often when children raised in heterosexual families learned
the truth as adolescents or young adults.

The authors’ view is that the
central problem is contemporary views of masculinity and men’s discomfort with
their own infertility. Social fathers find it hard to disclose or even discuss
their child’s origins. “It appears that infertile men may be among the last to
become comfortable with openness surrounding [donor insemination],” they write.
They call for better public education to offer men healthier ways to deal with

However, in many ways, the new report
supports the argument of last year’s “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” report. A full 24% of children of
heterosexual couples compared with 2% of lesbian couples were told when they
were over 18. The response of these children ranged from relief to rage. “I
felt totally blindsided, sort of dumbfounded, speechless, confused…” was one
comment. “Relieved for an explanation for why I felt like a misfit,” was
another. About two-thirds of the children of heterosexual couples still felt
“different”, “special” or “confused”.

Research in this area is a minefield. About
60,000 American children are conceived every year through sperm donation, but
both surveys were based on a few hundred responses. Both were based on questions
put to children who knew that they were children of sperm donors. Both are based on
on-line surveys which can be unreliable. But since the “vast majority” of heterosexual parents do not tell
their children and do not intend ever to tell them, it is hard to know what the
long-term effects of sperm donation really are. Most researchers agree that
secrecy has a toxic effect upon family relations.

The authors conclude that society should be
more open about and accepting of assisted reproduction. If only men were as
open as lesbians about their children’s donor origins! ~ Human
Reproduction, online early

Michael Cook
sperm donation