The Myths of the Nobel Sperm Bank

Exploring the "Nobel Prize sperm bank."
Feb. 23 2001 3:00 AM

The Myths of the Nobel Sperm Bank

The truth about who gave sperm, how they gave it, and who used it.

(Continued from Page 2)

After Smith's departure, Graham became his own chief recruiter. He wrote solicitation letters to young men listed in scientific "Who's Who" guides. He attended scientific conferences and introduced himself to promising new Ph.D.s. (Graham kept conference-going till his death, literally. He died at age 90 when he slipped in a bathroom at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.) Graham came to recognize that not all women were excited by lab coats, so he expanded his stable to include athletes, artists, and businessmen. According to one report, he even tried to persuade Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Phillip, to donate. (Given that the prince has never shown any evidence of any kind of brain activity, the solicitation certainly does not speak well for Graham's notion of achievement.)

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Graham's son Robin says his father was "aloof" to his own children. Graham seems to have reserved his warmth for his sperm bank kids. He visited many of them and wallpapered his office with their snapshots. One mother wrote me that she has always considered Graham, not the donor or her ex-husband, the father of her children.

The repository produced about 15-20 kids per year through the late '80s and early '90s, but Graham's 1997 death essentially killed it. Graham had funded it out of his own pocket, probably to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars per year. Graham had considered providing for the repository in his will but eventually left the decision to his heirs. His wife and children apparently didn't share his enthusiasm, and the bank closed in early 1999.

News of the shutdown shocked some mothers. Some had hoped they would be able to use the repository to find their donors or their kids' half-siblings. Indeed, the repository staff had helped several moms correspond anonymously with their donors. The repository's closure ended any hope of further contact. The repository destroyed its thousands of semen samples. As for the repository's records, no one will say what happened to them. State law does not require the repository to keep its records and certainly doesn't require it to release any information to mothers. No one connected to the repository in its final days is willing to talk about the records, either to me or to mothers who want to find their donors.

This vacuum is the main reason why mothers are contacting Slate. The records are gone, so they hope the collaborative power of the Web can help them find donors and siblings. And that is exactly what the next Seed articles will do.

For a preview of what's coming next and an update on the search for families and donors, click here.

If you have information about the Repository for Germinal Choice, or if you are a mother, child, or donor who wants to tell your story anonymously, please e-mail me at plotzd@slate.com, or call me at (202) 862-4889.

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