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The Emotional and Physical Consequences of Sperm Donor Children


The latest Hollywood debate: Should a woman become a single mother via artificial insemination. Some children of mothers who became pregnant using anonymous sperm donors are saying that they have unresolved emotional issues related to being “donor offspring”. And for some, another health issue is important – understanding their genetic history and risk for contracting certain conditions as an adult.

In Jennifer Aniston’s latest movie The Switch, she portrays a woman who becomes pregnant using a sperm donor. She has told reporters that she approves of the science that has given women the ability to have children without having to “settle with a man just to have that child.” Bill O’Reilly has criticized Ms. Aniston’s statement saying that her comments are “destructive to our society” and accusing her of “diminishing the role of the dad.”

MSNBC today reports the story of two women, Katrina Clark and Lindsay Greenawalt, who have searched (or still searching) for their biological fathers. These women want to transform the dynamics of sperm donation so that if children later wish to learn more about their family history, they can. They seek a ban on anonymous sperm donations as they do in Britain and other European countries.

According to the report, an increasing number of US sperm banks now offer identity-release policies in which donors agree to let offspring contact the donor when they turn 18. But many donors still opt for anonymity.

In a recent study of 485 donor offspring, conducted by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future, titled “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” children conceived by sperm donation were more troubled and depression-prone than other young adults. Ms. Greenawalt may be among those, saying that she has learned that although the man she seeks is aware of her, he appears to not want to be contacted.

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She states in her blog: "If I had to choose between being conceived with half of my identity and half of my kinship deliberately denied from me for eternity — or never being born — I'd choose never being born. We were created to carry a loss. A loss that no human being should have to endure."

Even those who reach their biological fathers often remain unfulfilled, says Dr. Jamie Grifo, a past president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Ms. Clark has said that although she has been successful in contacting her sperm-donor father, communication has been sparse.

Another issue many donor offspring must contend with is not knowing critical family medical history. The medical screening process today is stricter than it used to be, however, each sperm bank has its own requirements and procedures for sperm donors. In general, a sperm donor must be between the ages of 18 and 44, were not themselves adopted and must be free of significant illnesses. They must also not have a family history of genetic disease.

Often, the donor will fill out a thorough questionnaire about personal and family medical history and will undergo a full physical with blood testing. Donors will also be screened for current infectious disease, sexually transmitted disease and the most common genetic problems sing a process approved by the FDA, the ASRM, the CDC and the American Association of Tissue Banks. While this procedure is thorough based on what we currently know, medical research learns new information about health and genetics every day.

Some sperm banks do have a procedure for this. In Greenawalt’s case, for example, she requested a medical update, which her donor father has complied with.

Ms. Clark, although an activist to stop anonymous sperm donation, accepts that artificial insemination can be a blessing for some parents. However, she hopes more will be done to assist the donor offspring with emotional and medical needs. She also encourages families to tell their children the truth early about their conception. “The most damaging thing I’ve seen is when parents wait to tell,” she said.