Many adults born from a sperm donor constantly look for their “dads” and worry about dating someone who is a biological sibling. Ten percent say they felt like a “freak of nature.”
Still, 61 percent of sperm-donor-conceived adults support the practice of assisted reproduction — and 20 percent have already donated their own sperm or eggs or been a surrogate mother.
These findings, released May 31 by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future at the Institute for American Values, are intended to start a national conversation about the ethics, meaning and practice of donor conception.
“Many people think that because these young people resulted from wanted pregnancies, how they were conceived doesn’t matter to them,” said Elizabeth Marquardt, co-author of the report, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation.”
But many of these adults say they are troubled by the secrecy around their births. The “half-siblings” issue alone is huge, said study researcher Karen Clark, whose father is a sperm donor.
“You have no idea how many [half-siblings] are out there,” she said. They could be in the same school or somehow become a romantic interest. “And you can’t ask” about sharing a sperm father, she said, both because it’s awkward and because “they might not even know they are donor-conceived.”
The federal government tracks births from egg donations (about 6,000 births in 2005), but not births from sperm donations. Some literature says 30,000 to 60,000 U.S. children are born from sperm donors each year, but “that is a guesstimate,” said Mrs. Clark.
Moreover, almost no reliable evidence exists about these children as adults, she said.
The study, which is posted on familyscholars.org, makes 19 recommendations, including ending anonymity in sperm donations, setting limits on how many offspring can be born to a donor, and bringing dignity and respect to the issue. Dark humor abounds about sperm dads, but movie themes on “accidental incest” and being conceived with turkey basters are “not funny,” Mrs. Marquardt said.
The study is based on surveys with 485 sperm-donor-conceived adults, 562 adopted adults and 563 adults raised by their biological parents. The adults, ages 18 to 45, were found through a search of about a million U.S. households.
Most of the donor-conceived adults were raised by heterosexual married couples, while 113 were raised by single mothers and 39 were raised by lesbian couples.
The study found that donor-conceived adults strongly approved of artificial reproductive technologies: 76 percent agreed that such technology is “good for children because the children are wanted.”
But some 58 percent wondered whether certain people could be their fathers or blood relatives, and more than 40 percent worried about dating or having sex with someone to whom they are related.
Not surprisingly, 67 percent of donor-conceived persons agreed that they “have the right” to know the identity of their sperm donor, the study found.
One way to handle this would be to treat sperm donation “like an open adoption,” where prospective parents and donors meet and stay in contact, Mrs. Clark said. Instead, men can sign up with multiple sperm banks and make donations under different names. “There’s no accountability,” she said.
Anonymity in sperm donations is not an easy sell, however. After the United Kingdom passed a law in 1996 to allow donor-conceived offspring to trace their genetic parents, sperm donations fell, the British Fertility Society said.
The “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor” study found that donor-conceived adults were more likely to get in trouble with the law and struggle with substance abuse than adults raised by biological parents or adoptive parents.
Findings like these add to the body of knowledge about nontraditional family formation, said sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, a member of the Commission on Parenthood’s Future.
“It seems that it doesn’t matter how you break the norm. … When kids are brought up outside intact, married families, their risks” for problems go up, he said.