Donor Babies Search for Their Anonymous Fathers

All grown up, some children of sperm donors are trying to break through the secrecy that keeps them from knowing their family history

She says the donor-conceived kids of Kathleen's generation are just the tip of the iceberg.

"About ten years from now, we're going to have this...huge tidal wave of donor-conceived kids who are going to demand accountability [and] want to know where they come from, and I think this industry is not going to know what hit them."

But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine approaches it as a civil-rights issue — no government should be allowed to interfere with how an individual or couple chooses to have a baby.

Kathleen LaBounty believes anonymous sperm donation should be banned.
Daniel Kramer
Kathleen LaBounty believes anonymous sperm donation should be banned.
Wendy Kramer created the Donor Sibling Registry in 2000.
Mark Manger
Wendy Kramer created the Donor Sibling Registry in 2000.

The Society's spokesman, Sean Tipton, also points out that while the folks on the Donor Sibling Registry might criticize the industry, there are thousands of donor-conceived children out there who don't appear to have these identity issues, and who don't make any noise.

Tipton adds that "People make decisions for their children every day about all kinds of things and that's what has happened here. The rearing parents in this situation made a decision about how to conceive that child and how to deal with the circumstances surrounding the fact that...a donor was used. And as any parent will tell you, sometimes the decisions you make for your children are not popular with them, and may not be the right decision, but you do the best you can do."

Phil Maher is 31 and could have anywhere between 15 and 30 kids.

Of course, he'll probably never meet them, and he's never met their mothers, who could be scattered across the country. They simply used the sperm he donated at least once a week for two years, when he punched in a code on the back door of San Francisco's Pacific Reproductive Services and walked back to the little room with the same old dirty magazines.

He got $80 or $90 a sample, but toward the end, they offered him nearly twice that if he would become a known donor.

"Frankly...I just wasn't comfortable kind of with this idea of having some random kid kind of tracking me down," he says. The most he felt comfortable with was taking a few extra bucks for conducting a 20-minute audio interview. A counselor asked him about his job, his passions, his advice, all recorded in case any of his unknown progeny would want to at least get an idea of what their old man was like. Or at least what he was like in his mid-twenties.

Maher, who now lives in Denver, had moved to San Francisco shortly before the dot-com bubble burst, and when he found himself without a job, he turned to sperm donation. He had donated plasma in college — as he says, "I was kind of comfortable with the idea of donating bodily fluids, I suppose."

Maher runs, a site for prospective donors who want to get an insider's perspective on the process and to find out where they can donate locally. But while he doesn't address it on his site, he says he's thought about donor-conceived children in Kathleen's shoes. Would a concession like a 20-minute audio clip even be enough?

"It almost seems a little bit cruel, having this audio tidbit," he says. "It's like, 'Okay, this is all you get. You get to hear your father answer a couple questions and that's it.' You know — 'get away now.'"

Ultimately, he doesn't think anonymous donation should be banned, but he feels donors should have both options clearly explained to them when they begin the process, something, he says, that was never offered to him — not that he would've opted for known donorship.

"That's the beauty of it, is not having this sort of this responsibility [you have] when you have a marriage, and you have a kid with someone," he says. "That's the beauty of the system, and that's what I signed up for. And I would just want future sperm donors to know the real ­difference..."

At California Cryobank, one of the country's biggest donated-sperm providers, that difference is explained up front, according to spokesman Scott Brown.

Five years ago, Brown says, the company implemented an "open" donor option, where the donor agrees to at least one contact with his offspring when they turn 18. The company acts as the go-between, arranging a phone, e-mail or personal visit. However, even before the program started, the company tried to help those offspring who wanted to find their donors.

"Historically speaking, our donors have been very receptive, very open to meeting the offspring," Brown says. "And it's really led to some great reunion stories. We are certainly very supportive of all children having the opportunity to meet their donors. At the same time, we greatly respect the privacy our donors may ­prefer."

Brown says he sees both sides of the anonymous donor debate, and, like Wendy Kramer, he predicts an increase in the number of donor-conceived children wanting to locate their genetic fathers.

When California Cryobank opened its doors in 1977, it catered to heterosexual couples with infertile males. But in the last ten to 15 years, Brown says, the company has seen a shift in clientele. Now 60 percent of the clients are single moms and lesbian couples.

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