Slate finds a long-lost "Nobel Prize" sperm bank donor.

Exploring the "Nobel Prize sperm bank."
Aug. 7 2002 3:23 PM

Donor White Meets His Daughter

Fifteen months ago, Slate helped a mother search for the Nobel Prize sperm bank's "Donor White"—the genetic father of her daughter. We just found him.

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In his initial e-mail, which you can read here, Donor White offered details to verify his identity. He described how he had been recruited into the repository in 1984, when he was working in a California high-tech company. He gave a careful account of the visit he had with Joy in 1991. He mentioned that he'd fathered 11 boys and eight girls through the repository. He described how Dora Vaux inadvertently let him learn the identities of two other children—a brother and sister—and that for years he ran by their house so he could watch them grow up. He ended the note like this:

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"I cannot imagine that some of the donors contacted have said that they rarely think about their children, because I think of mine very often. Indeed, I expect that they will be included among my last conscious thoughts on this sweet earth."

Donor White asked me to forward the e-mail to Beth, but before I would, I needed to verify his identity. Every corroborating fact he gave about the repository could have been gathered from press reports. So I quizzed him about details of his family history that he revealed in his earlier letters to Beth, letters that she had passed on to me. (I asked him where his ancestors were from, how old his mother was, how one of his grandfathers died, and what Beth's and Joy's real first names were.) He nailed the answers.

So who is Donor White—no, not his name—and why was he involved in the "Nobel Prize" sperm bank? Read about him here.

The night I got Donor White's answers, I called Beth and forwarded his first e-mail to her. I included Donor White's e-mail address so she could write him directly. Beth was ecstatic and wrote back instantly. Donor White received her e-mail on Father's Day. They immediately struck up a giddy, loving correspondence. He traced his family tree for Beth, described his mother and father, told family stories, and sent a poem that his mother had written. Donor White charmed Beth with his straightforward warmth. "I am so emotional I am having a hard time concentrating," she wrote me in a late June e-mail.

Beth kept the news from Joy for three weeks. "I needed time to settle down, I was on an emotional high. … I just wanted to tell her in the best way possible." When Beth told Joy that she'd found Donor White, her daughter asked, "When can I meet him!!?"

On July Fourth, Joy wrote her first e-mail to Donor White. Since then, Joy and Donor White have been messaging each other two or three times a week. She writes to him about school, dance, track, her summer vacation. Joy advised him to see the Harry Potter movie before reading the book. Donor White talked about his pets and favorite books and passed on stories about their ancestors. Joy asked what she should call Donor White and his wife, and they decided to use first names. They sent each other photographs. Writes Donor White, "I was most highly pleased with Joy, and my photo was not so bad that it caused her to change her mind about a visit with us."

At the end of August, Beth and Joy will travel to California to spend a few days with Donor White and his wife. He is going to take them to a favorite garden, for a walk on the beach, and to see a museum that might interest Joy. "Mostly, though, I think that we will visit in our home, as I have a good many things to show Joy that I believe will be of interest to her, including photographs of several of her half-siblings."

And so there is a happy ending, or, rather, a happy beginning.

It is a beginning that could foreshadow many more. Approximately 30,000 children per year are born from anonymous sperm donations—probably half a million kids in the two decades the practice has flourished. But when Donor White and Joy see each other in a few weeks, it will be one of the first times in history that an anonymous sperm donor has met his child—and the only time a donor and child have met without the help of the sperm bank. (There has been one published case of a bank helping a child meet her donor. But sperm bank experts I contacted have not heard about any other encounters between a child and an anonymous donor. Some American sperm banks are experimenting with "identity-release" programs that will allow kids to meet donors after they turn 18. Read about them here.)

Was it wrong for Slate to break the confidentiality the repository required? Read a discussion about this.

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