April 24, 2009
20, 50, 120: How Many Siblings Do You Have?
by Kim Moreland
“In the sixteenth century, members of the Hapsburg dynasty suffered deformities and severe and deadly health problems which were preventable. Trying to hoard the throne, members of the Hapsburg clan had intermarried. These incestuous relationships caused genetic malformations.
One would reason that in our enlightened era of medical advances, we would not be confronted with the same problems which plagued the incestuous Hapsburg dynasty, but I wouldn’t be so sure.
Fertility clinics are impregnating an excessive number of women with sperm from a single donor. Wendy Kramer used artificial insemination and brought to term a bouncing baby boy. She was curious to see if her child, Ryan, had any half-brothers or sisters. What Ms. Kramer found out horrified her—Ryan has at least 120 siblings.
So be careful who you fall in love with, because you the person you are with just might be a half-sibling. Ryan’s biological father, by far, is not the only one who has an inordinate number of descendants. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but yearly estimates are staggering. Elizabeth Marquardt from the Institute of American Values says there are anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 children conceived via sperm donation. A portentous vision of the near future looms, in which applications for marriage certificates (that is, if marriage as an institution isn’t redefined into extinction) will include a line for the donor’s number.
Besides the obvious medical issues which might occur if this state of affairs continues, John Burger warns in the The Human Life Review that fertility run amok has spawned other haunting problems—that of belonging. Here’s a legitimate question for any child to ask: “Who’s my father?” Children are intently curious about their parentage. Yet the anonymity of fertility clinics and sperm banks demands that children ignore one half of their heritage.
Ryan Kramer’s yearning to know his father is starkly evident in his remarks. He says, “When I would look in the mirror, discover something new, a new interest I had, a new talent or something like that, I could always relate what I had in common to my maternal side of the family, but on the other side of it, there were all these characteristics that I noticed about myself that obviously didn’t come from my mom’s side of the family. And always, my curiosity was driven by wanting to see the source of all those parts of myself in somebody else.”
Worse is the stinging pain of rejection. The men who help create these children do not necessarily want a relationship. The biological father of one woman told her that he didn’t want a relationship. She expresses the problem with this technology: “We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth—the right to know who both our parents are.”
Reproductive technologies have come a long way since the first test tube baby. However, just because a procedure can be done doesn’t mean we should use it. Writing about the theology of infertility, Wilberforce Fellow and bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell warns readers that “reproductive technologies are not value-neutral.”
And sperm (and egg) donations create an inequality in the family’s parent/child relationship. As Mitchell writes, “These [artificial] arrangements create a situation where the parents are not equally related to a child they bring into the world for just such purposes.”
In this fallen world, sometimes couples cannot conceive. As painful as infertility can be, using these technology might have unforeseen repercussions, generations from now.”