Sperm Donors' Offspring Reach out into Past But Those Searching for Roots Can Run into Rules and Dead Ends
by Judith Graham
Augusta, Georgia - There is no parenting manual for the questions that nag Bobby Gerardot. What exactly is his relationship to Katie Whitaker, the 21-year-old who contacted him 3 years ago after discovering he was the sperm donor responsible for her birth? Is he her father, with all that role entails? If not that, what - a fatherly friend? And how does he integrate Whitaker and her mother, who have moved to his hometown, into his life with two young sons and his wife, Lisa?
"I'm still trying to figure it out," said Gerardot, who readily admits that coming into contact with Whitaker has "shaken everything up."
As the first large generation of sperm donor babies comes of age, some are beginning to look for their biological dads, much as adopted children have sought out their birth parents. The searches pit young people's desire to discover their roots against donors' expectations that their identities never will be disclosed. Like so many new developments, this one is unfolding in large part on the Internet, where many sperm donor offspring are posting queries about their origins and claiming a right to know their parentage. Increasingly, that right is being recognised abroad. This spring, Britain became the latest country to say that children conceived this way can find out, when they turn 18, who the donor was. Several other European countries have similar laws.
Dr Joseph Feldschuh of Idant Laboratories, a large sperm bank in New York City, is appalled by the developments. "Most donors really don't want any kind of relationship with their offspring," he said. "Eliminate anonymity and you eliminate a great many donors."
Tracking Down Donors
Young people also are trying to find their donor dads by asking sperm banks to make contact on their behalf (some will, most won't), delving into their mother's medical files and following any clues, such as the donor's occupation. Ann, who lives on the East Coast and asked that her last name not be used, suspected her mother's gynæcologist was her sperm donor and sent him a package with a DNA sample, inviting him to have it compared to his own. When the package was sent back with a curt "`I can't help you' response," Ann searched through the university's archives in his hometown, hoping to find a visual clue in a college yearbook picture. "There was instant familiarity," she said, describing her reaction upon finding the doctor's photograph. "He has the same face as my daughter, the same eyes as my son. I just knew."
The booming sperm bank business in the United States largely is unregulated, and no one keeps track of how many donors father how many infants. Conservative estimates put the number of offspring from anonymous donors at more than 30,000 a year, or 1 million total, but this is little more than guesswork. Men are paid about $65 to $100 per sample. Experts say as many as 80% of offspring never have been told how they were conceived. Those who do know tend to be intensely curious.