Study shows problems for adults conceived by sperm donation

06 11 2010 Sveta Pratten Alana Sveta and Olivia Pratten.

A recent report by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future indicates that adult offspring of sperm donation struggle with questions of identity as a result of not knowing their biological father. Fr. Thomas Berg, who specializes in bioethics, told CNA that the practice of sperm donation has “grossly underestimated” the human need to connect with one's biological parents.

The report, “My Daddy’s Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation,” was co-investigated by Commission members Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval D. Glenn and Karen Clark.

“Many people think that because these young people resulted from wanted pregnancies, how they were conceived doesn’t matter to them,” said Marquardt.

“But 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,” explained Clark.

The study is the first representative, comparative examination of the identity and well-being of the adult offspring of sperm donation.  It is estimated that 30,000-60,000 children are born every year through sperm donation in the U.S. alone.

The study found that young adults who were conceived through sperm donation exhibit higher rates of confusion, isolation, depression, delinquency and substance abuse than those who were raised by their biological parents.

Two-thirds of the donor-conceived adults agreed with the statement “My sperm donor is half of who I am.”  About half reported being disturbed that money was involved in their conception. 

More than half said that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related, while nearly half said they have feared being attracted to or having sexual relations with someone to whom they are unknowingly related. 

In addition, two-thirds of the donor-conceived participants affirmed the right of donor children to know the truth about their origins, and about half have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even when the children are told the truth.

The report offered 19 recommendations to leaders in the areas of law and health; media and popular culture; parents and would-be parents; and civic, social, and religious leaders in the U.S. and around the world.  Raising questions of the ethics, meaning and practice of donor conception, the recommendations ask society to consider, “Does a good society intentionally create children in this way?”

Donor-conceived Alana Sveta tells her story on  She describes how she often tells people that her father is dead so she will not have to tell them the truth about being conceived by a sperm donor, a fact that she considers “creepy” and “disgusting.”

“It embarrasses me,” she said.

Sveta said that other donor children feel the same as she does, but have remained largely voiceless.  “It’s just that we, the children, haven’t been empowered to vocalize our issues yet. The needs and concerns of our mothers and their partners have trumped and stifled our own,” she said.

Olivia Pratten agreed.  “Unfortunately, many of the physicians who run the fertility clinics continue to ignore or dismiss what we say as being a 'bitter few,'” she said.  “As this study proves, we are not a few.”

Pratten, conceived via an anonymous sperm donor, explained on that she has yearned to know more about her father since she was told of her conception at age 5.  “I never saw him as a sperm donor,” she said.  “To me – instinctively – he was my biological father.”

Speaking of the flaws inherent in the system itself, she said, “When the parents using the technologies are called the 'consumers,' that means the resulting children are the 'products.'”

In an interview with CNA, Fr. Thomas Berg, Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, explained that he believes “this will be a very hard-hitting study.”

“It raises all kinds of issues,” he said. “I think this is one of those 800-pound gorillas that's been sitting in the room for a couple decades now.”

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Fr. Berg said he was not surprised by the findings of the study.  “It makes a lot of sense to me,” he said.  “The need for connection with the biological parents is a much more powerful kind of thing than many people realize.” 

He explained that the assisted fertility industry has “grossly underestimated the need that people have to make that connection” and the result is “a huge gaping hole” in the self-understanding of those children conceived without such a connection.

“Human beings need to be grounded,” said Fr. Berg. “We need a story that tells us who we are and where we came from.  The human person can't develop fully and normally lacking that narrative.”

For children whose history is tied to an anonymous sperm donor, “there is just necessarily a huge part of that foundation that's missing,” he said.  “Part of the 'Who am I?' question never gets answered.”

“I think there's something about self-identity which is just disturbingly left unsettled for children who come into the world through sperm donors.”

Responding to the study finding that about half of the individuals questioned were disturbed that money was involved in their conception, Fr. Berg said society is reaping the fruits of the way “we have commodified life.”

“That just speaks volumes,” he told CNA. “These poor children have come to the realization that they themselves, from the very beginning, were treated as objects, about which there was monetary consideration.”

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To prevent causing further harm, we must eliminate the possibility of people coming into the world through sperm and egg donations, said Fr. Berg.  This will require an entire change of mindset, as society must “rediscover the genuine God-given meaning of sexuality, marriage and family.” 

Renewing our understanding of this three-fold relationship is essential, he explained.  “The whole meaning, richness and importance of that for culture has been utterly disregarded.”

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