Still Searching for Donor White (or Coral, or Fuchsia …)
The latest on the "Nobel Prize sperm bank" investigation.
Slate's"Seed" project is chronicling the history of the Repository for Germinal Choice, the "Nobel Prize sperm bank" founded by millionaire inventor Robert Graham. We have been searching for the 240-plus children conceived through the bank, their parents, and the men who donated the sperm for them. The left-hand column on this page displays links to the six articles in the Seed series, including the introduction that explains the project.
Last week, Seed recounted the story of a woman's quest for Donor White, the genetic father of her daughter and perhaps a dozen other children from the Repository for Germinal Choice. (Read the story here.) The woman, "Beth," had corresponded anonymously for years with Donor White, but they lost touch in 1997 when the repository stopped forwarding their mail. Donor White had told Beth he wanted to meet his daughter. Beth wants her daughter to meet him. She also wants her daughter to meet her genetic half-siblings, Donor White's other repository kids. So Beth invited Donor White—and any family that had kids with Donor White's sperm—to contact Slate.
A week has passed, and, sadly, Donor White has not contacted us. Nor have his other sperm bank kids or their parents. (We invite them again to get in touch with Slateby e-mailing me at email@example.com calling me at (202) 862-4889. I will treat the correspondence as confidential.)
But Slate has heard from other repository mothers and donors who hope to find sperm bank kin:
Two mothers who had children using Donor Fuchsia want to find other Donor Fuchsia families. (In case you're wondering, these mothers don't know each other, but perhaps they will soon.)
A mother who has a teen-age son from Donor Coral is looking for other families that used his sperm.
A mother who had a son using Donor Yellow is curious about his siblings and about the donor himself.
Donor Orange, whose DNA went to more than a dozen kids during the '90s, would like to meet his genetic children and their parents.
Several other parents and donors would like to connect with repository relatives, too, but they are still leery about sharing even their donor identification colors.
If you are a parent, child, or donor who wants to find repository relatives—especially if you're linked to Donors White, Fuchsia, Coral, Yellow, or Orange—Slatewants to hear from you. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (202) 862-4889. All contacts will be considered confidential.
Dozens of sperm donors, mothers, and children from other sperm banks have also contacted Slate in hopes of finding relatives. I'm sorry to say that we can't assist your search, but click
Many readers are curious about how many kids, parents, and donors have responded to Slate's request for help.
Six families have reached me by e-mail, telephone, or "The Fray." I have located another four families using other sources. (I have also heard from two women who tried and failed to conceive using Graham's prime sperm.) The response has been much greater than I expected, because getting the families to talk is delicate work. In most cases, I have talked only to parents—usually mothers. They are understandably wary of the press. Their children are minors. The parents want to shield them from interviews. In two cases, I have communicated directly with kids, but none of that communication has been on the record—yet.
These 10 families account for 15 of the 240-odd kids who were born from the repository. They are certainly not a representative sample. The families are self-selecting. They're the ones who are 1) willing to acknowledge that their children came from a sperm bank; and 2) willing to talk about it to a reporter. (Studies show that as many as 80 percent of parents who use sperm banks don't tell their kids about it. These 15 kids probably represent a significant chunk of the kids who know about their repository heritage.)
As for donors, six have e-mailed or called me, and I have a line on a seventh. I have also e-mailed with two men who were invited to donate sperm, agreed to do it, but then were rejected after medical background checks.
I don't know how many donors the repository recruited over its 20-year life, but all signs suggest it wasn't a huge number. The California Cryobank, the nation's largest sperm bank, offers women a choice of almost 200 donors. But the repository never had more than a dozen men in its stable, and sometimes had many fewer. (One mother tells me she had no choice: "Genius sperm" was available from only one donor when she applied.) The repository had a very hard time recruiting for three main reasons, I suspect: It had received very negative press; it required donor candidates to endure very onerous tests and paperwork; and it did not pay donors.
Based on the evidence I've accumulated, it's a reasonable guess that the repository used between 50 and 100 donors during its lifetime. So my sample represents perhaps 10 percent of the total. (Again, it's small, self-selected, and unrepresentative group.) The repository told most donors—at least in vague terms—how popular their sperm was, so these donors have estimates about how many kids were theirs. Together, the six seem to account for about 30 of the repository's kids—slightly more than 10 percent of the total.
(Many people ask how I know these families and donors aren't fakes. Click
The pace of donor and parent contact is slowing. I heard from most of these folks in the two weeks after the first story, and from only one or two per week since. The total MSN/Slate audience makes up perhaps 10 percent of the U.S. population, so the "Seed" articles may have already reached most of the repository parents, kids, and donors who would naturally see them. I hope not.
When are Slate readers going to hear from all these interesting repository people, you ask? Good question! So far Seed has done very little of what we promised to do in the opening installment: tell how the repository kids turned out. Are they high achievers? Are they "superbabies"? What kind of families do they come from? Do their parents burden them with excessive expectations? Have their sperm bank origins put a strain on father-child bonds? And what do the donors think? After all these years and all these genetic kids, are they comfortable with what they did?
In the next few weeks—relying on the people I've interviewed and hopefully more to come—I will address these questions. I will also take sidetours into the peculiar history of American sperm banks and the even more peculiar history of American eugenics.
If you have a connection to the Repository for Germinal Choice—whether as a donor, client, child, or employee—and you would like to share your story anonymously, please contact me by e-mail at email@example.com by phone at (202) 862-4889.
The Seed Series
Part 3: The first responses
Part 5: An update and a preview
Part 7: An update on the donor list
Part 9: The Nobel sperm bank celebrity
Part 10: The donors
Part 11: A look at the parents
Part 12: The rise of the smart sperm shopper
Part 13: The genius babies grow up
Click here for Michael Kinsley's explanatory introduction to Seed.
Join the Discussion
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.