Who's Your Daddy?
Sperm donors rely on anonymity. Now donor offspring (and their moms) are breaking down the walls of privacy
Meeting place. For parents like Lentz, the site has been the next best thing to finding the donor. Through the DSR, Lentz met Mary Catherine Baechtel, whose daughter, Amelia, 8, was also conceived with an assist from Fairfax Cryobank donor No.1585. Lentz and Baechtel then connected with two other families with 1585's children, although not all the children know the truth about their origins. Brandon got a half sister in Amelia (they met recently in Disney World and keep in touch by E-mail and letters), and Lentz, Baechtel, and the other mothers traded their offspring's medical histories.
Brandon, Amelia, and another of their half siblings, for instance, all experienced very early growth spurts. When Amelia was diagnosed with early-onset puberty, which can be followed by an abrupt shutdown in growth, the problem had a name. As a toddler, Brandon would get hysterical in the presence of loud noises and bright lights and was on the verge of being diagnosed with autism. Then a speech therapist determined he had a sensory integration disorder that made it difficult for him to properly process certain stimuli. When another half sibling was said to be autistic, Lentz told the mother about Brandon's experience, and the boy was re-evaluated and diagnosed with the same sensory disorder. Three of the half siblings appear to suffer from celiac disease (an intolerance for gluten). One has been diagnosed; two others with symptoms are being tested. One half sibling has type 1 diabetes; two others have the precursors to type 2 diabetes. Both celiac disease and type 1 diabetes are believed to be genetic. "Yes, I'm driven to find out more about my donor," says Baechtel, 47, a retail wine manager in Derwood, Md. "But I'm not that curious to know his name, what he's interested in, or what he does for a living. I want medical information, and I'm willing to settle for that."
Few experts think that sperm banks will be forced by the courts to identify their donors in the near future, although DNA registries may make it harder for them to hide. And even if they were forced, the results might be less than satisfying. Other than a federal requirement to screen for a vast array of diseases such as HIV and cystic fibrosis, the donor industry is totally unregulated. Record keeping, although better than it once was, is still often spotty. Although some sperm banks limit the amount of sperm they will make available from an individual donor, there are no legal limits. The average specimen is good for about six inseminations, and men often remain in donor programs for years, fathering numerous children. "I could fill a banquet hall with my children," says one donor from Southern California, who, like many medical students in the '60s and '70s, donated sperm to help cover living expenses. Now he is trying to locate some of his children through the DSR, and so far he has found two whom he believes to be his sons. They're all scheduled for DNA tests later this month. Among the donor's concerns is what might happen if two of his offspring were to become romantically linked. "What's to keep them from getting involved with each other?" he says. "They don't know they're related."