An article in yesterday’s New York Times tells the story of one anonymous sperm donor whose donation has resulted in at least 150 offspring.
Sperm banks, as they are called, are as yet unregulated in the US. That means that it’s up to those institutions to set guidelines and policies, like one’s that might cap the number of times one donor’s sperm can be used. According to the article, it doesn’t appear many sperm banks in the US are self-regulating.
The result is an unusual scenario of huge extended families of half-siblings, many who don’t know how large their family really is. Of course, the internet is stepping in to solve this problem–websites like donorsiblingregistry.com are allowing kids born from donor sperm to find one another via the donor’s unique number. This is where the 150 sibling family showed up.
I’ve written a bit about assisted reproduction before, in particular surrogacy. I think the ethical concerns that these technologies bring up–sperm donation, surrogacy, egg donation–are going to be some of the most difficult ethical questions of the reproductive justice movement moving forward.
I’m definitely in support of regulation of these industries. Because most of these institutions are for-profit, we cannot rely on them to self-regulate. The bottom line will be the most important factor, and if a sperm donor is very popular, it’s in their financial best interest to keep selling that donor’s sperm.
Of course, deciding what regulations are acceptable is the trick. Assisted reproduction, while ethically murky, also has allowed non-traditional family structures to exists. Single parents, queer families, co-parents. It’s also a question of autonomy. If men want to donate sperm, why should they be stopped? If women want to be surrogates, who are we to say that they shouldn’t be allowed to? But regulations on these industries are really important for protecting both the donors and surrogates, the intended parents and the children themselves.
When I wrote that article about surrogacy, I found there were few reproductive rights and justice organizations willing to take on the issue. It’s a challenging one, but we’re in serious need of advocates to push for protections and regulations, so that the industry that profits off these technologies isn’t the only one lobbying.