A Father's Day plea -- let's stop anonymous sperm donations

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We are just a few days away from Father's Day 2012. On Sunday, June 17, Americans will celebrate the value of fatherhood.

Yet, without seemingly having given it much thought to it at all, our society now allows millions of men and women to create children who will never know their biological fathers. That's because we sanction allowing men and women to purchase sperm from anonymous donors. These donors will forever be shielded from having their identities discovered by their sons and daughters.

This policy inherently presupposes that bearing children who have no opportunity to know their biological fathers does not deprive them of anything that is inherently theirs--as a fundamental human right.

It also presupposes that the biological connection between fathers and children is without much value at all--since in a wholesale (or shall I say, retail) manner, we sanction tens of millions of kids being born who have no idea whatsoever who their biological fathers are and can never find out, period.

It also presupposes that men who anonymously donate their semen are not short on some facet of empathy or humanity that ultimately means we are transmitting an undesirable personality trait to future generations.


None of this, by the way, has anything to do with adoption. When a child is adopted, many have the option of finding their parents later on. And even if they can't, their adoptions into (hopefully) loving homes were a solution to other problems in their early lives that needed to be solved.

Artificial insemination by anonymous sperm donors solves no problem of any child. It is a convenience to adults who are encountering fertility problems and would prefer the convenience of jettisoning part of their child's true life history in order to commandeer that child from its true biological father.

As a medical student, when extra money would have come in handy, I briefly considered donating sperm. It was a way to earn some extra cash from which classmates of mine at Johns Hopkins had already earned several thousand dollars each.

One of them had joked with me that it was the most pleasurable work he'd ever done and that he almost certainly had many children in the world, already. He figured that was probably a pretty good thing because he was unarguably smart and happened to be good-looking with a full head of hair (which meant that his sperm probably sold better than, say, mine might--given that I was already balding). Still, he advised me to sign up right away and get in on some of that easy money.

I never did.

In my gut, I felt it would be wrong to have many children of mine born onto the planet inherently, irrevocably, forever disconnected from me.

I never could sign on with the notion that my children would not intuit that disconnect, to the detriment of their spiritual sure-footedness.

I wondered if they would look at their non-biological fathers and wonder--if only unconsciously--how they had missed having any physical characteristics in common, or why they seemed to lack their non-biological fathers' prowess in, say, complex mathematical reasoning, or, for that matter, boxing.

The effects of a policy that sanctions anonymous sperm donation are not known. But, given my two decades of experience as a psychiatrist, I would wager anything that many thousands of children born in this fashion develop significant anxiety or depression, or both, because the first chapter of their life story is a manipulation. If they are lied to about their origins then they have parents who are liars, by definition.

And that can't be good.

If they are informed about their origins (and I have counseled several adults conceived through anonymous sperm donation who were so informed), then they can face serious questions about being abandoned and unwanted and no more than biological specimens.

I believe that, until studies can be conducted that verify or refute the potential psychological harm done by anonymous sperm donation, that it should be halted--by law.

It is an affront to the human rights of children thus born, and an affront to one inherent dimension (the biological dimension--which is not a sterile one, but also a spiritual one) of fatherhood.