Thursday, August 11, 2011

Donor Unknown.... the Next Frontier of Family Secrecy

Donor Unknown: Adventures in the Sperm Trade follows young adult JoEllen Marsh on her search for biological half siblings, and ultimately her donor father. A New York Times interview helped identified several more siblings, and located "Donor 150", her biological father, who happened to read the article in a Venice Beach coffee shop.

The story raised questions and revisited some sad realities of donor conception. One of JoEllen's half sisters wasn't told of her donor conception until the age of 14. And while nearly a dozen children have been identified, it's believed many more were born with the assistance of Donor 150.

Where are these young people? If they chose not to make contact, that's one thing. But how many children are there out there, (conceived via sperm or egg donation, or embryo donation or embryo adoption) who don't even know how they came to be?  Do they even know their story? Don't they deserve to?

We've been here before. More than a generation ago. And we look back and shake our heads and and wonder how our grandparents and great-grandparents thought secrecy in adoption was beneficial to everyone involved. What we don't all agree on is the fact that we're battling the same secrecy demons when it comes to children conceived via assisted reproduction.

The whispering has returned.
 "Will you tell the kids?"
"You don't have to tell anyone, they'll never know the difference..."
We facilitate that lie.

Families can choose their donors based on physical attributes - matching them as closely as possible to the intended parent(s). Choose a blood type, pick a cultural back-ground. Opt for someone tall or short, stocky or slim, choose the very skin tone, and specify eye and hair colour, and musical talent.

...and that's all fine and wonderful. We do a lot of the same thing when we choose a life partner. But if our motivation is to deflect suspicion that (gasp!) our children might not be biologically related to the parents who raise them.... are we doing any better than previous generations when it comes to secrecy and identity?