Anonymous Sperm Donors and Genetic Testing: A Moral Conundrum

Anonymous Sperm Donors and Genetic Testing: A Moral Conundrum March 1, 2019
Blurred malle face seated (Jesús Rocha, Unsplash CC0)
Blurred malle face seated (Jesús Rocha, Unsplash CC0)

IVF has always been an issue for Catholic morality. New DNA tests that help find relatives create a further problem: what happens regarding anonymous sperm donors used in IVF? If a service points to a relative, you can probably find out who the donor was. I will discuss three cases, quote practical problems from articles, and then examine the privacy issues.

DNA Testing Breaks Anonymity

Three stories show this. CBS reported on a story,

Danielle Teuscher’s 5-year-old daughter Zoe is one of thousands of children conceived with sperm from an anonymous donor. When Teuscher wanted to know more about her daughter’s ancestry and possible health issues, she and other family members decided to get DNA tests from 23andMe and added one for Zoe. What turned up appeared to be one of the anonymous donor’s immediate relatives. She was shocked.

CTV in Canada offered a related story,

Jae Blakley, like millions of others, is using services such as Ancestry DNA and 23 And Me to learn about his family tree.

His parents used a sperm donor to conceive him and it wasn’t until after his father died that his mother broke the news. The man who raised him wasn’t his birth father.

“I was terrified. It really shakes up your world when you find out your parent has not been your parent,” Blakley said.

The New Zealand Herald featured an odd story:

Two strangers who were born just months apart and live in the same American city have united after discovering 35 years later they have the same Kiwi father.

And the New Zealand man, a doctor [then living in the USA], is believed to have secretly fathered at least three other children.

Phoenix woman Amy Measeles was told 14 years ago by her mother she was conceived using a sperm donor.

Shocked by the news, Measeles decided to take a DNA test to find who her real father was – but her journey uncovered another secret: she had a sister.

Across town in Phoenix, Emily Sinclair spent the first 35 years of her life thinking she knew who her father was.

Personal Issues for the Donor-Conceived

Both stories are honest about the personal issues these people suffer.

For a child who finds out

CBS spoke about the anonymous sperm donor’s backlash and the child’s issues:

[Teuscher] got a “cease and desist” letter from Northwest Cryobank, telling her not to contact the donor or “learn more information about his identity, background or whereabouts.” The sperm bank warned it could “seek $20,000 in liquidated damages.” Worst of all she said, it took back “four [4] additional vials of donor’s sperm that” she “purchased” — sperm she’d planned to use to have Zoe’s genetic siblings. “Devastating. I mean … I was shocked, I was crying for days, I could barely eat,” Teuscher said.

[After media outcry, they withdrew this cease and desist letter.]

“I mean, you just click the boxes,” Teuscher said. Plus, she said, it’s not all about her.

“My daughter is an actual living, breathing, feeling human being who did not sign that contract,” Teuscher said.

For an adult who finds out

CTV talked with another person who found out late in life they were donor-conceived:

“It’s really strange to think of a doctor being like, ‘Okay, the procedure is done and you can never tell anyone it happened,” Erin Jackson said.

It wasn’t until Jackson was 35 that she learned she, too, was donor conceived.

Jackson says the realization made sense. “It was an explanation for my face and maybe my personality.”

The NZ Herald mentioned Sinclair’s issues:

The news devastated Sinclair, telling Fox 10 Phoenix she was upset her Dad acted like nothing had happened and revealed she needed to take two months off work to process the heavy news.

After doing some research Sinclair then found an email address for her biological Kiwi father and sent him a message.

The half-sisters’ biological father revealed he was a Phoenix resident between 1979 and 1983 but said their parents didn’t want a relationship with him because “that wasn’t the purpose”.

Impossible to Keep Sperm Donors Anonymous

With Genetic testing so widely available and no way to force the conceived child or relatives from doing such testing, “anonymous” sperm donation is now a misnomer.

Northwest Cryobank… said “there is a human being on the other side of the gift who may have a partner, parents, job and children of his own” and uninvited contact “could jeopardize these relationships and families.”

But experts say in 2019, that contact may simply be unavoidable. He said despite our best efforts, it’s impossible to promise anonymity anymore.

“The problem we have now is that the science has kind of overstepped where we are, in terms of legality,” said Dr. Peter McGovern, an infertility specialist.

Obviously, the issues the anonymous donors may have with their own family upon such revelation are real. However, maybe that reminds us why we shouldn’t be using sperm donation to make babies in the first place.

CTV notes that some want to make anonymous donation illegal as some countries already have:

She hopes Canada will ban donor anonymity and notes other countries, such as Australia, have already taken that step.

Couples have the option to use donor sperm and men have the option to donate, but Jackson says donor-conceived people are the only ones who aren’t given a voice.

“I’m the only one that doesn’t have a choice and this affects me the most,” she said.

It was also recently reported that one DNA bank is working with the FBI. I don’t think any of us what murderers or rapists to go free, but such raises concerns for other uses and access: what if your employer can get it after paying them a fee?

Moral Issues with Anonymous Sperm Donors

Obviously, IVF is wrong and is further wrong when it is done with sperm from someone outside the marriage. Nonetheless, I think there is a third problematic layer when such a donor is anonymous.

Anonymity for sperm donors is a problem for several reasons. First, think of the child. If such contracts were enforced a child would be excluded from a relationship with their biological father and would not be able to know a family medical history which often helps them prepare for possible health issues themselves. You can see above how hard this is, even when the donor-conceived children find out. Second, think of the act of impregnation. It is the result of the marital act (or part of it, depending on how you define it). This act is the most intimate act between two humans. If it is a personal act, doing it anonymously – and thus more impersonally – adds to a sin of adultery or fornication. Third, think of the problems for the donor’s family. I can only imagine the devastation many women would feel upon finding out their husband anonymously fathered a bunch of kids years ago.

IVF is a problem as it separates the procreative and unitive aspects of marital love. Using donor sperm makes this worse as it separates this for the marriage and denies the child’s right to their father. Making the sperm donor anonymous further aggravates this immorality further as it removes it from a persona act, reducing it to mere biology. Let’s end such practices.

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