February 14, 2007

Sperm donor 150 reads in the paper that his children are looking for him.

And 15 months later, he contacts them. Why did he wait that long? The 50 year-old-man, Jeffrey Harrison, was afraid of disappointing. He hadn't made that much of his life, and yet he'd been so popular as a sperm donor:
Once one of the sperm bank’s most-requested donors, with a profile that described him as 6 foot and blue-eyed with interests in philosophy, music and drama, Mr. Harrison, 50, lives with his four dogs in a recreational vehicle near the Venice section of Los Angeles.

“I make a meager living,” Mr. Harrison said, taking care of dogs and doing other odd jobs.
A daughter's actual reaction: “He’s sort of a free spirit, and I don’t care what career he has."

It's hard to read the article without thinking whether he would have made more of his life if he'd spent all these years with his children, but there's nothing to blame him for. He donated sperm when he needed to make money, and he helped women who wanted children give birth to human beings who would not otherwise exist. He had no option to live with this family, so he is nothing like a father who estranges himself from a family. One wonders what effect it had on his mind to know there were children of his out there that he could not know (until recently). I would think most sperm donors feel vaguely good about it, but maybe it makes them feel sad and lonely sometimes, especially if they don't find their way into a family of their own.

Here's the original article he read:
For Danielle, of Seaford, N.Y., contact with her half-sibling JoEllen has helped salve her anger at what she describes as "having been lied to all my life," until three years ago when her parents told her the truth about her conception. It has also eased her frustration of knowing only the scant information about her biological father contained in the sperm bank profile - he is 6 feet tall, 163 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. He was married, at least at the time of his donation, and has two children with his wife. He likes yoga, animals and acting.

For JoEllen, whose two mothers told her early on about her biological background, it helps just to know that Danielle, too, checks male strangers against the list of Donor 150's physical traits that she has committed to memory.
I wrote about this article at the time. Here's what I said (which I'm reading after writing the text above):
If you were a sperm donor, originally intent on remaining out of the picture, but you knew that a large group of your children had sought each other out and formed powerful love bonds, would you have a change of heart? What if there were dozens of your kids out there, and they all got together and started to see themselves as a big family, with you as an absent presence? Would it make you sad? Would it make you lonely?
It's interesting to me that the words "sad" and "lonely" came to mind for me then and now.

44 comments:

Pogo said...

Re; ...but there's nothing to blame him for. "

I disagree. Whether animated by altruistic or capitalistic motives, siring children without any responsibility to them is not a good thing. Separating procreation from parenting is a tragedy. Adoption ameliorates the more painful separation of mother/father from child, but that is an unwanted necessity.

To do this for money, or fame, or a misplaced narcissism, or even to be helpful is a short term goal with unwanted long term side effects including contributing to the disintegration of the family. Yes, even if the child grows up in a nuclear family (witness the reasons given for the search by the kids in the first place.) Not good.

Sean said...

I don't think there's anything to blame the sperm donor for, but there surely is something to blame in a system that permits transactions which cause such unhappiness and confusion. I know Prof. Althouse has this theory that each life created is a positive good, but lives created in circumstances so tawdry and destined to lead to unhappiness are not a positive good. It would be better if the commercial sperm industry was regulated out of existence.

MadisonMan said...

lives created in circumstances so tawdry and destined to lead to unhappiness are not a positive good

I don't think you can say for certain that a life conceived in Dickensian tawdriness (and I'd certainly like to know what's tawdry about sperm donation?) will be destined to lead to unhappiness. It might give a starting trajectory. But that's it.

If the commercial sperm industry is regulated out of business (on what grounds, I wonder?), where will women go who seek anonymous sperm? It's not like they'll just stop.

Pogo said...

Re: "...where will women go who seek anonymous sperm?"

I believe that is a desire that should remain unfulfilled.

TMink said...

My triplets began their life (ducking) as extra embryos for another couple's in vitro fertilization. That couple then donated them to people like my wife and me, people who wanted children but could not produce them.

So when I go to the annual fertility clinic zoo party, I scan the crowd looking for their brothers and sisters. I imagine that there are some, but I ahve never seen any children that look like them. It must be interesting searching for your father in that way. Did the children have a father?

I was also adopted, so I know that I have (or had) biological parents. Interestingly, I have more thoughts about having other brothers and sisters than my bio parents. My parents, God bless them, are dead. But they are and were and will be my parents. My sister, also adopted, had a keen interest in finding her parents. But then she and my mother did not get along so well.

So I wonder about his children, and their need to find him. Is it out of loss, or deficit, or some healthy, integrated reason?

Trey

MadisonMan said...

I believe that is a desire that should remain unfulfilled.

People do not behave like I want them to either. If only I were God.

Ann Althouse said...

"Anonymous sperm"

So you want a world in which every sperm had a name? Are there enough letters in the universe?

Justin said...

Are there enough letters in the universe?

I see no reason why each sperm has to have a unique name. Even fully-grown humans don't have that luxury.

Meade said...

Personals From the Past

Jeff
Age: 27
Height: 6'
Eyes: Blue
Interests: philosophy, music and drama
Occupation: Odd jobs doer; Bodily fluids donor; Dog befriender
Last time had sex: Last month
Location: California Cryobank donation room
Seeking: Gorgeous model(s) blinded by my brilliance, completely uninterested in creating a family or the responsibilities which go with it, ready to run away with me to Jamaica. (And pay all expenses.)

Ann Althouse said...

Justin. True enough. Many names can be re-used. For example, I think "Wiggles" would be a nice name for maybe a trillion of the li'l guys. I sort of like "Swimmy" too. And "Tadpole"... "Tad," for short.

MadisonMan said...

How about Shermy? Shermy the Spermy.

There could be a huge -- HUGE -- market for memorial plaques.

DBrooks said...

It's unusual for me to agree with madisonman, but I do this time. I think describing sperm donation as "tawdry" is a stretch, and donating sperm so that a couple unable to conceive on their own is able to have a child doesn't necessarily contribute to the disintegration of the family. Just as adoptive parents can be exemplary, devoted, and committed parents, so can these parents. Are there adopted children who are disenchanted, unhappy, and who search for their biological parents in an attempt to fill a void in their lives? Certainly, and I'm sure those cases exist in children fathered through sperm donation. I don't think that reality argues against adoption or sperm donation, both of which are a positive in general for the childless.

I must admit that knowing I had fathered children I most likely would never meet or know would make me very sad and empty, but, as madisonman said, I am not God, and I can't tell others how to feel about their choices.

DBrooks said...

One other thing occurs to me. In sperm donation, unlike adoption, at least the child shares the mother's DNA. On that level, there is a greater biological connection than there is in adoption. I know that's important for some people, but not for all. Both my wife and nephew are adopted. There relationships with their parents and families couldn't be any stronger or more binding, no matter how they came into this world.

Sean said...

If masturbating in a medical facility for money doesn't strike you as tawdry, then I can only say, "De gustibus non est disputandum." It seems pretty tawdry to me. Is that how you like to picture your father?

In response to madisonman, outside of certain narrow limits set by the Constitution, a democratic majority has the right to prevent any conduct it finds objectionable, e.g., paying wages that are too low, charging rents that are too high, ingesting psychoactive substances, having sex for money, etc. It has nothing to do with being God.

William Timothy said...

I don't know that I agree with sean, but I will say that I don't think I could ever become a donor in that sense. It would bother me immensely to know that I possibly have children out there. Maybe there is a maternal to my paternal instinct, but if the knowledge of having children (beyond the actual three I have now) would be agonizing. I would have to know them. And love them. And take care of them.

Where I sort of agree with sean is this: fathers are constantly being told that they really don't matter anymore. While custody rights are better than they were 20 years ago (no quite so automatic to the mother), they are hardly equal.

Welfare systems created the ability for fathers to be absent.

The man's choice to decide to be a father ends after his decision to have sex. The woman's choice is much later. She can terminate/overide the man's decision by her "choice".

While the dumb woman has become passe in pop culture, it is still ok to show the father as the bumbling doofus. It is amazing how many commercials play this as if it were an original idea.

So the sperm donation industry reinforces the idea that even when it comes to having children, men aren't really required to be there.

I'm not saying it should be illegal. But I don't have to love it.

I'll admit to becoming a bit misty-eyed at the "reunion" of this "father" with his "children". I don't know why, but it seemed sweet.

Pogo said...

Plenty has been written about abuse of the spem donor system, including the Genius scandals, the owner that substituted his sperm for all samples, and the fact that men who donate sperm for money are often the same ones who donate plasma for money: i.e. drug and alcohol abusers. The info prospective parents read about them is quite often bogus. Basically, it's a form of prostitution. While libertarians are okay with that, I am less accepting.

The larger issue is the infertility problem. Why is it higher? Think "hormones in the environment". Maybe we should address that rather than asking drunks to lie and get paid for their sperm, and then lie to parents about the yoga-practicing artist they just 'adopted'.

Not every desire must be fulfilled.

P.S. In school, the sperm we studied was called "Sparky the Sperm".

Justin said...

For example, I think "Wiggles" would be a nice name for maybe a trillion of the li'l guys.

I would go with more inspirational names, like Phelps or Klete.

MadisonMan said...

Is that how you like to picture your father?

Does anyone picture their father as he is ejaculating the sperm that creates them? Talk about off-putting. Sorry I couldn't write it in latin for you.

Joe Baby said...

Interesting. They seek him. And maybe Him, too.

Yes, a life is a good thing, and each one is a touch of hope upon the world. But there's still a difference between arriving via adoption or in vitro, and these offspring seems to feel it in their bones.

I didn't always agree, but separating the procreative and unitive leads to other (greater) inequities...and it's only by the crutch of our post-modern, silly sensibilities that we conclude a child is entitled to health care but not to a father.

Yet we trample on, approaching the conclusion that in vitro is a right and should be covered via insurance.

It's a poverty when a child has no father.

Ann Althouse said...

Madison Man: I remember when, as a child, I first realized that was where I came from. I was dumbfounded. It took me a long time to get used to that as a reason for my existence. It's humiliating! I can see why people need religion just to get over that image.

DBrooks said...

Once again, I agree with madisonman. My apologies to him. Sean--Does the image of your mother bent over a couch with your father going at her doggy style seem less "tawdry" to you? Not all of us were fortunate enough to be conceived in the soft glow of candlelight while violins played in the background. I don't see where some guy masturbating into a cup in any way lessens the potential love and bond between the new parents and their child--which is really the important part of the transaction. If George Washington had been conceived through sperm donation, or in an act of depraved promiscuity, I don't think his life or his achievements would have been diminished by the means of his conception.

Pogo said...

Re"...the potential love and bond between the new parents and their child--which is really the important part of the transaction."

A man who fathers multiple children without caring for them is a dangerous thing. Look at the rising multitude of single moms. Is the potential love and bond between the new parent and her child really the important part of the transaction?

Is there no downside at all for Donor 150 siring perhaps 150 or even 1000 kids he won't ever care for? None at all? Why do you suppose these kids are looking for their "real" dad at al, if the only important thing is loving parents?

As there is significant anthropologic research in mammals confirming the lower male parent attention to children that may not be or are not his own, why do you think humans escape this? Do they?

Think it through. If it's entirely good, then why give a damn if young men sire numerous "shorties" among numerous moms, never to raise even one? Aren't single moms just as good as married moms?

And heck, we haven't even raised the issue of abortion, because alot of these embryos end up being killed off. Or is that too small a detail and the potential love and bond between the new parents and child is really the important part of the transaction, not 50 wasted embryos?

MadisonMan said...

Why do you suppose these kids are looking for their "real" dad at al, if the only important thing is loving parents?

Curiosity. Wondering why they look like they do. Trying to understand family medical history. Seeking another male influence in their lives if their own father is missing, absent, or dead. Rebelling against their own parents and trying to hurt them. Seeking to be known and understood by as many people as possible. Any or all of these reasons. Some of which have nothing to do with their parents.

Why do you think they're seeking Mr. Sperm Donor?

OT: I switched to blogger2 today. Posting as MadisonMan -- and not my google sign in -- is much harder than before.

Pogo said...

Re: "Why do you think they're seeking Mr. Sperm Donor?"

The very reasons you cited. These are the same as in an adoptee's agenda in such a search. But adoption has always been felt to be the best outcome for a bad situation. No one seriously suggests that people should have babies for the express purpose of adoption.

And the infertile seek an end to the misery they seek by enlisting someone anonymous. All I'm saying is that it is the height of irresponsibility to father a child and neglect him, especially on purpose.

If you disagree, then you would similarly have to be okay with urban teens having many kids via many moms (because single moms are just as good, no?)

chuck b. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chuck b. said...

I can't imagine feeling the need to know your biological parents if you were raised by people who weren't.

My parents divorced before people commonly did that politely and I knew very little about my mother, grew up without any interest in knowing more about her, and felt the ordinary sympathy for my half-brother when I heard she died two years ago.

My dad remarried and as far as I'm concerned, I had a mother who raised me. I suppose it's a different thing that what these women in the post are going through. But I just can't relate.

chuck b. said...

I love that my little picture has that half-a-head planter to go with this post. "Poor Chuck. He's really only half a person."

Justin said...

Pogo said...

All I'm saying is that it is the height of irresponsibility to father a child and neglect him, especially on purpose.

Sperm donors do not neglect their children. They father children for the express purpose of allowing someone else to care for them.

...(because single moms are just as good, no?)

Yes, they are. Your implication is either that single mothers are not good mothers or that single mothers are not "good" in general. Either way, I disagree. A woman's skill at motherhood is not necessarily affected by the death or abandonment of the father.

Pogo said...

Good enough, justin.

Then there can't be anything at all wrong with young men having as many kids as possible and never caring for them at all.

It's clear you're not acquainted with Daniel Moynihan's work, which decisively refutes your claim.

Zeb Quinn said...

I for one I agree with Sean. Conception beginning with papa whipping his wire into a sterile receptacle for beer and cigarette money is a way more tawdry image to feature than imagining your mother and father going at it in whatever position you might want to fantasize about. At least it's a coupling, a physical act of passion, lust, and, gosh, who knows, maybe even love.

And I agree with Pogo. Not every wish, desire, or want needs to be fulfilled. But that's not the way of the world in these matters, so we can expect to read more tales from the sperm bank and about unusual conception techniques in the future, and my guess is that this one is tame. They'll likely get much weirder as time goes on. That seems to be the way of the world too.

Sloanasaurus said...

Parents are the people who raise children, not the birth mother or the donor of an egg or sperm.

Modern liberlism places too much emphasis on biology and less on parenting.

The only benefit a biological connection offers is a slightly better chance that parent and child will "get along" in the future. Other than that it is meaningless.

bearing said...

Ann, why do you persist in calling him a "donor" and in writing that he "donated" his sperm?

By all meaningful definitions he is a seller of sperm. The term "donor" is deliberately used by promoters of this practice to deflect attention from the fact that it's a lucrative business, not a charity, that they run.

Surely you value precision more than obscureness here.

Justin said...

Then there can't be anything at all wrong with young men having as many kids as possible and never caring for them at all.

You are being very imprecise. If the "young men" you are referring to are sperm donors whose "kids" are going to loving families, then I see nothing wrong, even though they are "never caring for them at all". The "kids" are going to a family that will care for them. The fathers are not abandoning them. If, however, you are referring to young men having kids and leaving them to be raised by a single mother with no one else to care for them in their place, then you are talking about is abandonment, and it is inexcusable.

The distinction is important.

It's clear you're not acquainted with Daniel Moynihan's work, which decisively refutes your claim.

I am not familiar with Daniel Moynihan's work. But I think you misunderstand my claim.

I believe it is best for a child to be raised by two loving parents. However, if the father dies, that doesn't suddenly make the woman a worse mother. It is certainly a worse situation for the child. But it does not degrade the woman's ability to be a good mother.

By saying that single mothers are not as good as married mothers, you are disparaging single mothers and making an unsound argument. Being raise by a single mother is better for the child than growing up with an abusive biological father.

My point is that a woman is not necessarily a better mother just because she is married.

Pogo said...

Re: "I believe it is best for a child to be raised by two loving parents."

If, as you claim, it's no better or worse to be single or married, what possible reason could you have to say that two parents are better than one? Either 2 is better than one, and one is worse than 2, or you're talking out of both sides of your mouth.

Re: "The distinction is important."

How is that possibly true, when you yourself claim that married moms and single moms are equivalent? That is, what does it matter what the motives are behind the "sperm donor", whether conquest or cash? Neither is interested in the end-product, so both are the same to me. And what does it matter if there is or isn't a Dad if, as you say, single = married moms?

You're trying too hard to avoid the glaring error when you say "A kid with 2 parents is better off but one parent is as good as two."
That's bullshit, just PC blather.

Justin said...

If, as you claim, it's no better or worse to be single or married,"

I did not make this claim. I'm making a distinction between the welfare of the child and the parenting skill of the mother. The ideal environment for raising a child requires two skilled parents (as opposed to abusive or uncaring parents). If one of those parents is absent, the skill of the other does not change. It does, however, make the environment less than ideal. As I said before, if a woman's husband dies, that does not make her a worse mother.

That is, what does it matter what the motives are behind the "sperm donor", whether conquest or cash? Neither is interested in the end-product, so both are the same to me.

I never claimed that the motives of the sperm donor mattered. You are equating a sperm donor with a father who abandons his children. That is obviously not the case. A sperm donor (through the agency) leaves his children in the care of a family who is capable of supporting them. The other father leaves his children with a mother who may or may not be able to support them. There is a distinction and it has nothing to do with motives and everything to do with results.

You're trying too hard to avoid the glaring error when you say "A kid with 2 parents is better off but one parent is as good as two."

No. You are avoiding the glaring error that I did not say 75% of what you claimed I said.

That's bullshit, just PC blather.

I'm not even trying to be PC. I'm just pointing out that you made a blanket statment that single mothers are bad mothers simply because they are single.

Pogo said...

Re: "you made a blanket statment that single mothers are bad mothers simply because they are single."

You just made that up!
Prove I said that. Post it.
What utter nonsense. You interpreted something to fit some PC BS you believe. Admit it.

Sloanasaurus said...

Pogo, I think the problem with your argument is that you are assuming that it is only single women who go in for the anonymous sperm donors. While it may be true that some single women decide on their own to get pregnant through this method, I have a feeling that such women are probably a very tiny minority and that most births through donor eggs or sperm are done with infertile married couples.

D Patrick Moyniham was referring to kids without fathers. A child of a donor egg or sperm or adopted child may have a father and mother, it's just that the father and mother are not biologically related.

Seeking out your biological parents is common but not so common as you think. I have heard that only about 1/2 of adopted children desire to meet or know their biological parents.

Pogo said...

Re: "you are assuming that it is only single women who go in for the anonymous sperm donors"

I did not intend to do so. It matters not whether couples or singles participate.

Rather, my argument is that men who sell sperm are suspect, for many reasons. And encouraging men to do this encourages the same behavior that inner city youths get castigated for: playing the field without responsibility.

It's destructive to society in toto, whether or not there are demonstrable benefits to the infertile.

Joe Baby said...

If only 1/2 of kids seek their biological parents, that's still 75 offspring from one guy who are seeking their dad.

Also, how often can one regional cryobank offer the same man's sperm before the lines get um, crossed, somewhere down the road? Especially considering that in vitro kids are likely appearing in the same strata of society.

MadisonMan said...

If only 1/2 of kids seek their biological parents, that's still 75 offspring from one guy who are seeking their dad.

I didn't read anything about the number of offspring produced. 150 was his name at the company.

Joe Baby said...

Pffftttt goes my argument.

Pogo said...

The likelihood of genetic disorders resulting from accidental intermarriages among sperm sellers' offspring is likely quite minor, and not a useful argument.

jas said...

If only 1/2 of kids seek their biological parents, that's still 75 offspring from one guy who are seeking their dad.

Besides, I have only heard that statistic in regards to adopted children. I have no idea what the stat would be for children from donors. I imagine the number would be much less.

Jana said...

In the medical industry, there is more ethical consideration to the concept of selling a kidney than there is of selling half a soul's DNA.

I believe most people would be aghast if there was an industry that encouraged people of limited means to sell one of their kidney's to the highest bidder, but to sell your offspring is not even a consideration.