Is It Time for Limits on How Many Kids a Sperm Donor Can Sire?

Is It Time for Limits on How Many Kids a Sperm Donor Can Sire?

Is It Time for Limits on How Many Kids a Sperm Donor Can Sire?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 6 2011 11:15 AM

Is It Time for Limits on How Many Kids a Sperm Donor Can Sire?

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Photo by MIGUEL ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images

The Kids Are All Right could have been a much longer movie.

Yesterday, the New York Times looked at the phenomenon of sperm donors whose seed is used to create dozens of children—more than 150, in one case. The upside is that these half-siblings and their parents can form an extended community, even going on vacations together. The downside—at least, the biggest one—is the potential for inadvertent incest. One mother of a sperm-donor child, worried that her kid might fall in like with a half-sibling tells the Times that she has coached her daughter to memorize her donor’s number. (“You might sleep with your half-brother” seems like one of the more terrifying but effective ways to encourage your kid to stay celibate.) While this worst-case scenario might happen only rarely if ever, there is evidence that not knowing a sibling as a child might make incest more likely. Slate’s William Saletan wrote in 2007, “On average, your level of disgust at the notion of sex with a sibling correlates with how long you cohabited with that sibling and watched your mom care for her as a small child.”

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There are currently no limits to how many children a sperm donor can sire; the industry has been reluctant to be regulated. But stories of extreme examples can spur new guidelines. Take the case of the infamous Nadya Suleman, aka “Octomom.” Her octuplets were a result of in vitro fertilization; she claimed that her doctor implanted six embryos and two split into twins. The public uproar helped spur the American Society for Reproductive Medicine put into place new limitations for embryo implantation. Now the chairman of the ASRM tells the Times, “Now I think there needs to be a reassessment of the criteria and the policies regarding the appropriate number of offspring.”

Read more on the New York Times.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, New America, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies.