America appears on the cusp of a revolution in the relationship between donors and offspring. In the last few decades, the United States has been astonished by the vigorous campaign of adoptees to break open adoption records. A similar movement among sperm bank children seems inevitable. This is an age of genetic determinism. People increasingly demand to know their genetic heritage. Sperm bank kids are missing half of their genetic history, and they want to know it. A California court recently ordered a sperm bank to reveal the identity of a donor to his offspring when it turned out the donor had failed to mention a rare gene-linked illness in his medical history.
The wall of secrecy around sperm banks is cracking. In the past, families always hid their use of donor sperm in order to protect fathers. But more and more sperm bank customers are single women and lesbians, who don't need to pretend.
The result of these changes: Sperm bank kids will soon be demanding names. The first large cohort of sperm bank kids is now in its late teens. Unlike donor offspring of the '50s and '60s, many of them know their parents used a bank. As they enter adulthood and start their own families—which is the time people get curious about their past—they may start insisting that sperm banks open their sealed records. (Seed suggests that the Web could be another mechanism for donors and children to find each other. The Single Mothers by Choice Web site, for example, has a "sibling registry" where sperm bank moms can look for other kids from their donor.) The sperm bank kids may not succeed in opening records: The law isn't on their side. But Americans changed their minds about the rights of adoptees, and adoption records are easier and easier to open. Will they change their mind again if thousands of donor offspring demand to know their origins?
What will happen if donors and children do start finding each other? In some respects, donor offspring are like adoptees: They have a genetic parental relationship that challenges a social parental relationship. Adoptees and their birth parents don't necessarily find happiness when they meet, and there's no reason to assume that donors and their children will have it easy. But unlike adoptees, donor offspring are unlikely to be troubled by feelings of abandonment.
Donor White and Joy seem likely to avoid many of the emotional conflicts that others might face. Donor White is too old to be Joy's father, so their relationship already resembles a grandparent-grandchild bond more than a parental one. Joy's social father, while not enthusiastic about the reunion, isn't trying to prevent it. Donor White has no children of his own, so he doesn't have to worry about hurting the feelings of his own kids when he pays attention to Joy. Still, who knows how it will turn out in reality? Slate will keep in touch with Donor White, Beth, and Joy to discover what happens in their new family.
The original idea of Seed was to see what became of the children born from the "Nobel Prize" sperm bank. We were happily surprised when it turned out that people were just as interested in lost families as in genius babies—and that Slate, purely by accident, had become a tool for helping donors and repository families find each other.
This is a task we welcome. I've heard from several other repository donors who would like to meet their children and from several other repository mothers who would like to meet their donors or have their children meet unknown siblings. (Slate has introduced two half-siblings from one donor and plans to introduce several others to each other in coming weeks.)
Beth and Donor White hope their story will inspire other Donor White families to seek them out. Beth would like siblings for Joy. Donor White would love to know more about his other, lost family.
To other parents who conceived children using Donor White's sperm: If you would like to be in touch with Donor White or with your child's half-sister, Joy, and Joy's mom, Beth, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (202) 261-1370. All contacts will be considered confidential.
If you are a parent, child, or donor who wants to find lost repository relatives, Slate wants to hear from you and to help you find them. Please e-mail me at email@example.com or call me at (202) 261-1370. All contacts will be considered confidential.