Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sperm banks at center of discussion about emotional effects on children

Published: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 6:00 AM
Angela Townsend, The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer

A report with a title "My Daddy's Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation" is a sure attention-grabber.

The Commission on Parenthood's Future, a New York-based think tank, released the report in May. 

Equally eye-catching: the headline on the press release, issued by theInstitute for American Values, or IAV: "Pathbreaking Study Finds Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation Suffer Substantial Harm." Data was culled from an online survey of 1,687 people, roughly one-third of whom said they either knew that they were sperm-donor offspring or suspected as much.

The report talks -- mostly anecdotally -- about the emotional and psychological effects of being a donor offspring: feelings of loss, anger and confused identity.

Unless you've used one, donated to one or were conceived with the help of one, you probably haven't thought much about sperm banks. I'll leave it up to you to form your own impressions about the 140-page report, filled with news accounts and first-person observations. But I'll admit the report got me thinking a lot about a topic that, until a few weeks ago, was not at the forefront of my mind.

And that, says Elizabeth Marquardt, lead co-investigator of the report, is the point.

"Our aim is to reframe the national discussion," says Marquardt, director of the IAV's Center for Marriage and Families. It's not just about making babies, but "making people. [Donor offspring] have just as much of a right, if not more of a right, to be leaders in this conversation."

One recommendation in the report is for an end to anonymity. While some sperm banks have open or identity-release donors (men who consent to contact from their offspring once the child turns 18), the vast majority do not.

The report also calls for mandatory counseling for donors, would-be donors and parents.

"We're in this Wild West -- there are so little regulations," Marquardt says. "Some [fertility centers] do a very good job. Others do a very poor job. It's pretty much at the clinic's and doctor's discretion in how to proceed."

The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals Case Medical Center both operate fertility clinics, but neither has a sperm bank. In fact, none exists in Ohio. The hospitals recommend banks that they have used in the past to patients who decide to go that route.
The Clinic encourages their in vitro fertilization patients and sperm- and egg-donation recipients to speak with a psychiatrist for needed counseling. At UH, everyone considering using donor egg or sperm is required to meet with a psychologist for evaluation.

"It can be a psychological burden for the couple or child, that's why we insist on [the evaluation], says Dr. William Hurd, chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at UH.

"My Daddy's Name Is Donor" cites the statistic that between 30,000 to 60,000 children in the United States are conceived each year through donor sperm.

That may have been the case 20 years ago, but there are not nearly as many today, says Dr. James Goldfarb, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, or SART.
"Now with [continued advances in] in vitro fertilization, many of the men with very low sperm counts in the past can easily conceive a child," says Goldfarb, director of Infertility Services at the Clinic.

For example, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI, conducted in a lab, makes it possible for an egg to be fertilized with just one sperm, instead of needing an entire semen sample -- a boon for men with low sperm count.

The cost for one IVF cycle with ICSI can be more than $10,000 while the cost for the services of a sperm bank is several hundred dollars. For those who don't want that expense, or single women and lesbian couples who don't have the benefit of getting sperm from a friend, the bank is the only other option.

The number of sperm banks in the United States has gone down in the years since the Food and Drug Administration began enforcing more stringently the guidelines for testing and incubating sperm.
"In years past, sperm donation was done everywhere and very casually," Hurd said. "Then people became aware of infectious diseases."

The FDA requires vigorous testing for HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Many sperm banks also have begun genetic testing.

SART guidelines for fertility clinics and their use of sperm banks -- aside from using banks that comply with FDA rules -- state that all participants should have informed consent and be offered psychological screening.

"These couples, in my opinion, have the best service if they go to a clinic where they're experienced in doing this," Goldfarb says. "The procedure is low-tech. The real skill is in [dealing with] people."

Even before the "My Daddy's Name Is Donor" report, extensive research has been conducted on the welfare of children from donor sperm and, to lesser extent, donor eggs.

"The vast majority suggest that it's very safe psychologically," Hurd says. Even so, "We need to continue to try and to study the psychological and medical well-being of all our patients who undergo assisted reproductive technology. We don't necessarily know the long-term implications."

The Donor Sibling Registry was founded in 2000 to help egg, sperm and embryo donor offspring and their biological parents get in contact with each other. Since then it has conducted research, some of which has been presented at conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals.

Not everything about donor conception is bad, says registry co-founder Wendy Kramer.

"I know a lot of donor-conceived people who are very happy, healthy and well-adjusted," says Kramer, whose son was 2 years old when she told him he was conceived with donor sperm.
"My own son wanted to know who his biological father was," she says. "But being curious and wanting to know doesn't always imply devastation and destruction."

A graduate of Kent State University who holds a master's degree in library science, Lindsay Greenawalt of Canton writes the blog "Confessions of a Cryokid." On it, she openly states her desire to be reunited with "Xytex sperm donor 2035," her biological father who donated to a sperm bank in Georgia.

"Offspring have varying degrees of how they feel," says Greenawalt, 25. "I'm past the anger thing, I'm more directed at the big picture. I want to make change."

Make that a revolution, the word Greenawalt uses when talking about the possibility of what could happen when more people start to demand many of the same changes that have shaped the way adoption looks like today.

"I think that in time, donor conception will be seen like adoption is now," she says. "Adoption used to be parent-centric but that's changed."

As for the commission's report, in which she is mentioned, she says, "I think [the report] has already elevated the conversation. A lot of [the response] is negative, but I think we're kind of to the point that people are listening."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Day Note

Father's Day is bittersweet for me, as it is for many donor conceived people. It's a day where our emotions are often torn between the subtle differences of two seemingly synonymous nouns.....dad and father. Society's understanding is that these two terms both identify the same individual, one is a formal while the other is a more intimate term. However, for donor-conceived offspring we have segregated the roles of these two words.

Our dad is the man who raised us. He's the one who changed our diapers and spanked us when we misbehaved. He's the one who may (or may not) have taught us to play ball or coached our little league team. Heck, he may have even paid for our college! On the other hand, our father is the man who gave us life. We share 50% of his DNA. His family, his ancestors, are our kin. We may have his freckles, his nose, his personality or his temper.

Neither one of these two figures are any more important than the other. That is where many recipient parents get it wrong. They try to eliminate the role of the donor, our biological father, to something so mere as "helping us" or "giving us his sperm". Both men have a very important role in our lives, and it is our choice how to handle the dichotomy of dad and father that is unnoticeable to most everyone else.

I wonder as this Father's Day draws to a close if I will ever have the chance to wish my biological father a Happy Father's Day? If I had that chance, if I ever met him, if he ever came across this blog, this is what I would want to say to him, to let him know.


A note to my father:

I've dreamt of you since I was a little girl. I used to dream that you were a super hero, or a famous celebrity, an astronaut, a doctor, a spy. Every month or so I would pretend you were someone different, because I honestly had no clue of your identity or anything about you, so it was possible that you really were the President!!!

I even had several years ago a reoccurring dream where I met you at a genetics conference when I was much older --- this was when I was applying to PhD programs in genetics.....still my academic interest and passion but no longer my career. My interest and knowledge of genetics seemed to appear mysteriously (and against the sheer comprehension of my family!), so it makes me wonder what your career is, are you a doctor, a geneticist, a scientist? Did I inherit an unnatural [i.e. before ever taking a genetics class] understanding of Mendelian inheritance and ability to do complex statistics on genetic data from you?

Do you dream about me too? I mean, I know you don't of course dream of me as an individual, but do you ever think of your children that you donated away? Do you think about how old we might be, if we got into a good college, if we are successful? If we are happy? If we think of you?

I always wondered what you looked like. Do you look like me? What are your hobbies and interests? Do you prefer movies or TV? Chocolate or vanilla? Do you even like ice cream?! Are you a hopeless romantic? Do you like sports? Are you better at Math or English? What's your favorite childhood memory?

There are so many things I want to know about you. There are so many things I want you to know about me.

I'm not looking for money. I'm not seeking a father-figure or another dad, although I would hope you would enter into a reunion willingly and openly. I'm looking for answers to life-long questions and concerns, and the chance to get to know you, and you me.

Would you take the chance on me? Would you take the chance to step away from your comfort zone of anonymity and look for me? Am I worth it?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Where is sperm donor 2035?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Op-Ed
June 18, 2010

"Where is sperm donor 2035?"
By David Lapp

On this Father’s Day, Lindsay Greenawalt, 25, is still searching for her biological father. “Are you xytex donor 2035?” she asks on her blog, “Confessions of a Cryokid.”

Greenawalt was conceived with the help of an anonymous donor from the Georgia sperm bank Xytex. She knows donor 2035 was born on Feb. 12, 1961, has green eyes, brown hair, is Baptist, and was a senior in college in 1982 when he began selling his sperm.

But she doesn’t know who he is. On a blog post, “Happy Birthday to my father,” she wonders, “Does he want to be found?? Does he want to look??”

Every year, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 women conceive a child through sperm donation. Of course, for every woman who conceives through donor insemination, there is a man who sells his sperm, and in most cases in the U.S., does it anonymously.

But what sperm banks regularly fail to adequately communicate to these men — usually college students who, no doubt, are looking to make an extra buck — is that they are becoming fathers to as many as dozens of children. Just as they try to sanitize reality by saying that men who sell their sperm for as much as $1,000 a month are “donating,” so they obscure the reality that “donors” are biological fathers by pretending that they’re merely altruists helping a family out.
As a young man, that doublespeak makes me angry: It expects men to care less about the new life they are co-creating and it cheapens the awesome, life-changing responsibility that is fatherhood. The easy money aside, I do not doubt that some men may have genuinely good motives and just want to “give the gift of life.”

But this is a human life we are talking about, not simply blood or even a kidney. If it’s true that human persons are not mere spirits who happen to be encased in bodies, but rather a dynamic unity of body and spirit, then biology does matter. But the language of “donor” trivializes all that.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying. After all, the typical donor will likely never meet his child; he only supplies the sperm at the sperm bank. Besides, as a former donor put it in a letter to prospective donors in a California Cryobank ad, “I could never hold a candle to [the person’s] real parents, the people who raised and loved [him or her] from infancy.” Maybe it is love, not just biology, that makes a family. Maybe donor 2035 is just a donor.

But there’s a contradiction here. Biology clearly matters for many of the would-be parents who choose to use donor insemination rather than, say, adopt. As Olivia Pratten, who was herself donor-conceived, says at the blog FamilyScholars.org, “If biological roots didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have a whole fertility industry whose priority is to maximize the genetic continuity of the parents using the technologies.”

According to a new study, My Daddy’s Name is Donor, biology also matters for the children who are conceived this way. Released by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future, the study surveyed 485 young adults ages 18-45 who were conceived through sperm donation. It found that two-thirds believe they have a right to know their biological parents; 44 percent agree, “It is wrong to deliberately conceive a fatherless child;” and 48 percent agree, “When I see friends with their biological fathers and mothers, it makes me feel sad.”

Donor-conceived young adults do not speak with one voice, but a substantial proportion of them are saddened because they’ve been denied their biological father.

Of course, many donor-conceived adults express great love for their parents. And I’m certainly not suggesting that parents who conceive a child in this way cherish their children less than biological parents.

But if biology matters for would-be parents, shouldn’t it also matter for the men selling sperm? As a man, just because my biology allows me to more easily remove myself from the link of responsibility that issues from human life does not mean that that link does not exist. The instinct of most male animals is to leave their offspring. The dignity of the human father is to freely love and commit to his children.

What should we do? For starters, our vocabulary should reflect reality. Tangled Webs UK, an advocacy group for persons conceived through artificial insemination, suggests the following: “‘Donors’ are more accurately described as ‘biological parents,’ ” and “Where ‘donors’ are to be distinguished from recipients the term ‘conception-absent parent’ can be used.” Adopting this language would show that we expect men to take seriously the tie between child and biological father. Also, we should follow the lead of countries like Britain, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands and ban anonymous gamete donation.

We can no longer deny the voices of people like Lindsay Greenawalt. The question is whether our culture will continue the doublespeak: blithely assuring the man who walks into the sperm bank that he is no more than donor 2035 — and thus shielding him from the children who long to know their father.

David Lapp is a research associate at the Institute for American Values in New York.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another new study released on donor-conceived adults!

Also released to the public yesterday (although I didn't want to overwhelm everyone with two studies in a single day!!), I cannot neglect yet another fantastic study done by a fellow donor-conceived adult AND library science student!!

Amber Cushing is a doctoral student at UNC-Chapel Hill in Library and Information Science, and published her study on the searching experiences of donor-conceived individuals this month in Information Research (Vol. 15, No. 2 - June 2010).

Introduction. This paper discusses the findings of a qualitative study of sperm-donor offspring conceived in the United States who have searched for information about their donors and genetic heritage. It explores how these individuals search for information and the characteristics of such searches.
Method. Sixteen telephone interviews were conducted with sperm-donor offspring who had engaged in varying levels of search for varying amounts of time.
Analysis. Interview transcripts were coded with codes initially developed from the interview guide.
Results. Results indicate that sperm-donor offspring often begin their search by talking to their mother and then trying to contact their mother's doctor, very soon after being told that they were donor-conceived. Next, individuals use University yearbooks to find "look-alikes." Eventually, some donor offspring attempt to contact prospective donors.
Conclusions. Overall, this research demonstrates the sometimes intense, emotional and personally driven nature of search. Many participants engaged in search to gain a greater sense of their identity and self.
This article is free to access with the above link.

I was one of the offspring interviewed for this study.....betcha can't figure out which one I am!!!! ;-) haha

Apparently, even while Hollywood is making $$ this summer off exploiting the likes of donor-conceived persons, without regard to our POV (ie. the Back-Up Plan and the handful of other films to come out this season on the same - and highly biased - topic).......we, as adult offspring, are standing up and showing the world what we have to say!!