More Donor-Conceived Children Searching for Siblings

test tube babyThe last decade has seen a surge in the number of children conceived through gamete donation who are actively searching for their biological parents and other genetic relatives. is reporting that in 2003, the Donor Sibling Registry website, which was founded in 1999 to assist children who wish to locate biological siblings conceived from the same sperm donor, had only 2000 members. By 2013, as more and more children conceived through these means come of age, the Registry’s rolls have exploded to 42,000 registered users. Nearly 70 percent of people who sign up for the Registry successfully match with a genetic relative within a few months.

“The more we got that word out there, that not only did they have the right to be curious, search and connect, but that there was a vehicle to do that… what we did is one of those ‘build it and they will come’ things,” said Wendy Kramer, founder of the Registry who started the service to help her son get in touch with his donor.

As successful as it has been, there are still some drawbacks because the egg and sperm donation industries are completely unregulated which means they lack the kind of oversight that requires accurate record keeping. While egg donation clinics and agencies have been more willing to cooperate with her service, the sperm industry is not as forthcoming.

“We have probably 25 or more clinics and egg agencies that are now writing the Donor Sibling Registry into their contracts,” Kramer told Fox. “Donors and recipients have contact with each other on the website right from the beginning. They can share and update information with each other, anonymously if they want. Not one sperm bank has done this.”

An estimated 30,000 to 60,000 children are born in the U.S. each year from the use of donated sperm. However, unlike other countries such as Britain, France and Sweden, the U.S. places no limits are on the number of children a sperm donor can father.

This is causing increasing 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. Other experts say the odds of accidental incest are also higher between half brothers and half sisters because many siblings often live within close proximity to one another and the clinic where the sperm was donated.

This kind of lax regulation has been good for business, however, because it allows fertility clinics and sperm banks to make huge profits by allowing an unlimited number of children to be born from donors.

Several years ago, Kramer told the New York Times about the horror parents experience when they learn their donor-conceived child may have dozens of siblings.

“They think their daughter may have a few siblings,” Kramer said, “but then they go on our site and find out their daughter actually has 18 brothers and sisters. They’re freaked out. . . . 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.”

She says the public needs to ask the question, ‘”What is in the best interests of the child to be born?’ and ‘Is it fair to bring a child into the world who will have no access to knowing about one half of their genetics, medical history and ancestry?’”

Kramer’s goal is to see sperm and egg donation clinics keep more accurate records, properly counsel recipients and donors, and update and share medical records, Fox reports.  She would also like to see clinics limit the number of children that can be conceived per donor and eventually to end the practice of anonymous donors altogether.

The Church would like to see the practice banned altogether for the obvious harm it does to children who are conceived through these means. This is because we believe that every child has the right to be born out of the love between a mother and a father who love each other and who love them; however this right is stolen from them in many of today’s most widely used means of assisted reproduction.
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