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Who’s Your Daddy?

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News media are abuzz after a Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) — a nonprofit set up to help sperm donor children find their biological fathers and siblings — has revealed that some sperm donors have fathered dozens, sometimes hundreds, of children.  Many donors contributed sperm weekly for years at campus clinics for $50 per donation, a fast and easy source of spending money for college guys.  And those men, now middle-aged and many married with children, are discovering that they have several — and in some notable cases — numerous children.

One news article featured Todd Whitehurst, a 45-year-old medical engineer, who gave little thought to the consequences of donating sperm as a college student, but years later has now found nine children “sired by his sperm.”  Whitehurst said he was shocked to learn that the first girl, discovered when she was 14, bore a remarkable resemblance to him.

A biogeneticist ran the numbers and calculates the possibility that Whitehurst could be the father of 42 to 60 children.  The DSR found that one man in Virginia “has sired an astounding 129 kids,” and a man in the Boston area “has been traced to 72 kids.”

The reports focus on just one DSR, but that single entity has found 92 groups of 10 or more offspring, and 336 groups that have up to nine siblings.  The DSR founder, Wendy Kramer, has a sperm-donor child who wanted to find his dad.  Kramer noted that nearly a quarter of donor dads contributed to more than one sperm bank.

The public is now discovering that the donor industry has an almost total lack of regulations.  While the industry “ideal” is to destroy a donor’s sperm after that sperm has produced about 10 live births, many clinics like using sperm that are guaranteed successful.  As they put it, “high performers who rack up many pregnancies are among the most popular donors selected by women.”  A further problem is that the birth numbers are reported by the pregnant women, which is an unreliable, incomplete, and inconsistent method of record-keeping.

Thus another in a long line of our quick-and-easy, man-made solutions ultimately becomes a nightmare as the consequences involve dozens of teenagers discovering half-siblings living near and far and fathers discovering children that they never knew existed, who now want to claim their “dad.”