The man with 120 children
By Hélène Buzzetti. April 20, 2009.
[This is an approximate translation of the original Canadian article in French: L’homme aux 120 enfants
“Sperm donors are unknowingly creating dozens of children.
The human version of the prolific Starbuck bull exists. He is an American from Virginia with curly blonde hair, blue eyes and a medium complexion. So far, the Internet has made it possible to trace 120 of his children.
Polygamy? Nope! Like thousands of other young men, he donated sperm over the years at a fertility clinic. And it seems they used it without reservation.
If you are tempted to think this is an exceptional story, don’t be. If you can believe Wendy Kramer, sperm donors frequently create 30, 40, even 50 children. Mrs. Kramer knows what she’s talking about. She is the founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, a voluntary register allowing sperm and egg
donors and the children who were born to communicate with each other and exchange medical information.
In 2000, her fertility clinic told her that the sperm used to inseminate her 10 years earlier had since been used by other women successfully. Her son, Ryan, thus had other people related to him. The clinic refused, however, to provide more details, citing respect for donor anonymity. Because of this lack of cooperation, Kramer launched a call on Yahoo: ³What if one of them wants to know?²
Her initiative generated little response until some American media became interested. ³Things quite simply exploded!² recounts Wendy Kramer in a telephone interview with Le Devoir. The number of those registered on the site went from 40 to 24,000! A large majority are children born through
these anonymous donations, or their parents, but there are also 925 donors.
Each sperm donor is given an identifying number by their clinic, a code which is then given to the infertile parents. Members use this code to register on Kramer¹s American site, adding the brief description of the donor offered by the clinic. By cross referencing the data, the children can
find out how many others were born from the same donor, and the donors can discover the number of their anonymous offspring, etc. Then, it¹s up to them to choose the level of contact that they wish to have: some will exchange anonymous messages, others will set terms under which to meet. If they are uncertain, some will wait for DNA test results.
Up until now, the site has enabled 6,383 people to be connected, of which approximately 400 are part of sibling groups where the donor has been identified.
A family tree with tentacles
Ms. Kramer has no way of knowing what proportion of those who¹ve used sperm banks and egg donations her 24,000 members represent, but they come not only from the United States, but also Canada, France, Australia, South Africa, Israel, BoliviaŠ Nonetheless, the numbers so far are mind-boggling
Thus, 120 children have discovered they all share the same prolific father from Virginia, still unknown to them since he has not registered on the site. There are numerous other groups with dozens of individuals. And there is Ben, a young man of 31 who had to set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep
track of the information about his offspring. So far, the site has enabled him to trace 60, all of whom are 6.5 years or younger! ³I¹ve traced them to Montreal, Toronto, New York, California, Oklahoma, Chicago and Washington state², this American — who lives New England and does not want to be
identified — said in an interview with Le Devoir.
Ben donated sperm at Fairfax (one of the largest sperm banks in the world) from 2000 to 2003, when he was a university student. ³I did it partly because I had two cousins who had great difficulty conceiving and ended up adopting. Also, in large part, I won¹t lie to you, because the financial aspect was very appealing.² He remains discreete about that aspect. It is not unusual for clinics to pay $50 or more for each donation.
At no time did the sperm bank mention the number of children that might be created Š and Ben admits to not having asked either. It was a little bit out of curiosity that led him to register on Wendy Kramer¹s site, but also because he knew that many infertile parents were looking for more medical
information about their donor. ³At the beginning, when I discovered that I had approximately 60 children, I felt overwhelmed², he recalls. He has only met two, a couple of three year old Canadian twins. ³Their mother offered to
travel to my neck of the woods and I agreed to meet her. She told the children that I was a friend, that¹s all.²
Not more than ten…
To Wendy Kramer, her site demonstrates the total irresponsibility of the fertility industry. ³Sperm banks have no idea about the number of children that one donor can create. It is very disturbing for a parent who comes to
the site and discovers that their child has 20, 50 or 70 half-brothers and sisters.²
She recounts having tackled this subject with a sperm bank manager who couldn¹t understand why she was worried. ³He said to me: ŒSince these children don¹t live in the same area, what¹s the problem?¹ That shows you the enormous gulf which separates the fertility industry from the families it creates. This man is unwiling to recognize the psychosocial ramifications of knowing your biological father has 50 children.²
So far, her son has discovered 6 half-sisters. He met two of them. He is happy about that, concedes his mother, but doesn¹t know what he will think if he finds more. Several members left the website when they discovered the extent of their biological family. That was what happened to half of the
children from the Virginia donor — the result of panic. ³None are willing to speak with the media.²
According to Mrs. Kramer, several donors feel misled. ³The clinics tell them they will have no more than 10 children. They lie!² They also don¹t take into consideration the risks of undetected genetic diseases that come that come with one man reproducing on such a large scale. ³It¹s all a question of
money. Assisted reproduction is a $3B industry in the United States. Do you really think that a 19 year old young man will continue to donate sperm if he¹s told he will have 100 children ? This is really a mess.²
Ben is not as categorical and admits not knowing what to think. ³When one speaks about sibling groups of 30, 40, 60 or 100 people, people¹s reaction is that is completely insane. Maybe so, maybe not. Considering that this only affects a very small percentage of the population, maybe it¹s not so
bad. But I believe there should be a certain form of control.² Ben suggests that the acceptable limit could vary according to whether the sperm bank exports its products throughout the world or, on the contrary, only to a small market.
The situation is no different in Canada, where for several years now, fertility clinics have used almost exclusively American sperm. Besides, Ms. Kramer¹s website counts among its registrants 660 Canadians, of which 285 are related to others on the site.
In 2004, Canada adopted a law on assisted reproduction which was to regulate the practices of fertility clinics, in particular to limit the number of offspring that one donor can create.
[Editorial note from the Infertility Network: This is not true; in fact, the Canadian Assisted Human Reproduction Act,
http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/A-13.4 does not limit the number of offspring per donor.]
But, as revealed in Le Devoir in 2005, the law is not being applied because the regulations have never seen the light of day, with civil servants taking an abnormally long time to develop them. Now that Quebec is disputing the constitutionality of the law in the Supreme Court, the process of developing regulations has been completely suspended.
Those interested can consult the Donor Sibling Registry at the following address: http://www.DonorSiblingRegistry.com
To leave a message or to register as a donor or a child, it is necessary, however, to become a member, at the cost of $50 per year or $100 for a lifetime membership.”