Donor Conceived Adults Studied
Special Report - June 15, 2010
Adults who were artificially conceived with the assistance of a sperm donor suffer more from problems of mental health and substance abuse, struggle more with questions of identity, and have higher rates of delinquency than their peers raised by adoptive or biological parents, according to a study by the Institute for American Values. Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval Glenn, and Karen Clark (herself a donor conceived adult) authored the study, which was released on May 31 and titled My Daddy’s Name is Donor. Clark argues that despite societal nonchalance about the production of children via sperm donation, “this study reveals that when they are adults, sperm donor offspring struggle with serious losses from being purposefully denied knowledge of, or a relationship with, their sperm donor biological fathers.”
This study is the first to compare the well-being of donor conceived adults, based on a broad range of indicators, to those raised by adopted or biological parents. A group of 485 donor conceived 18 to 45-year-olds were compared with 562 adopted parent-reared and 563 biological parent-reared adults in the same age range. Some of the study’s major findings showed that:
- Many donor conceived adults struggle with their identities and origins“Sixty-five percent of donor offspring agree, ‘My sperm donor is half of who I am.’”
- Family relationships, for the donor conceived, are more frequently fraught with confusion (who really is a part of his/her family) and distrust (has his/her mother been honest about “important matters”).
- Donor conceived adults express more frequent fears of accidentally forming incestuous relationships with their often dozens or hundreds of unknown half-siblings. (Sperm donors can and have been parents to literally hundreds of offspring, who are likely to interact in societal circles accepting of the practice of sperm donation.)
- Donor conceived adults were more likely to have been subjected to family transitions, which include upheavals associated with parental death, divorce, and marriage.
- Adults who were raised by their biological parents were significantly less likely to experience delinquency, substance abuse, or mental health problems, such as depression, than their donor conceived counterparts. Those raised by adoptive parents were less or equally troubled in comparison with the donor offspring.
The study’s co-investigators expressed the hope that “We aim for nothing less than to launch a national and international debate on the ethics, meaning, and practice of donor conception, starting now.” In many cases, insemination by a sperm donor is an international affair, with would-be mothers traveling internationally to find less expensive and more permissive atmospheres for the fertility treatment, according to the study. According to the study, an estimated 30,000-60,000 children a year are born as the result of insemination with donated sperm in the United States alone.
The authors conclude: “In no other area of medicine does the “treatment” have such enormous potential implications for persons who themselves never sought out that treatment (that is, the donor offspring). In ethics, one possible guideline is to ask not ‘Are more harmed than not?’ but rather ‘Is anyone harmed at all?’ A significant minority, at least, of donor offspring seriously struggle with losses related to the circumstances of their conception and birth. We must confront the question: Does a good society intentionally create children in this way?”
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