Dr. Manny: Can a man have 533 children?

In the new comedy movie, “Delivery Man,” which hits theaters today, an anonymous sperm donor played by Vince Vaughn finds out that he has contributed to the birth of 533 children. As this film garners more and more attention, many people are wondering: Can this happen?

Well, in theory, yes. And I’m sure it has happened –  though perhaps to a lesser extent – and we just don’t know anything about it.

For years, anonymous sperm donors have been recruited by many OB-GYNs to help women get pregnant. Utilizing a sperm donor continues to be a popular option for people seeking to have children – especially in cases where the male partner is unable to produce sperm, or a single woman feels strongly that she wants to have a child.

Since 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been more heavily involved in regulating sperm donation, requiring donors to be screened and tested for a variety of health risk factors. Additionally, most sperm banks monitor or limit donors when they notice that they have produced around 25 children.

However, it can be difficult to monitor the number of children a donor has fathered. While most patients and their delivering physicians should report their pregnancy outcome to the sperm bank after utilizing donor sperm, not all do. Furthermore, many sperm banks are self-regulated, and accidents can theoretically happen.

What is important is that sperm screening – especially when it comes to personal history and screenings for infectious disease – is practiced throughout the system in order to minimize medical problems in both the newborn and the potential mother.

Each year, it is estimated that anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 children in the United States are born with the help of artificial insemination – but, as the long range indicates, this statistics are not completely accurate. Over the years, as sperm donation has increasingly become a public matter, more of the children born from donor sperm are attempting to find their biological fathers.

As people see this movie over the Thanksgiving holiday, I think that it will open up some broader questions about how we can better regulate this industry.  I think the film should also raise discussions about just how much information should be available to children born from donors in order for them to better explore their own identity. I think everybody wants to know about their backgrounds, and for some people, this information might make them feel more whole and create a more stable sense of identity.

I know that there are many legal ramifications surrounding cases in which children born from sperm donors begin to want more from their biological father – and I certainly don’t have the answers for that. But I do know that sperm donation is something that I support, since it gives tremendous happiness to couples who truly have a great desire to bring life into this world. However, more control of this industry should be implemented in the near future.