In Vitro-Created Families Embracing Genetic Donors

February 27, 2009 11:02 AM
by Emily Coakley
Donating eggs and sperm can lead to meaningful relationships between the donor and family, or with children conceived with the same donor’s material.

Donors, Families Voluntarily Connect Online

A new, small study examined the relationships among children who were conceived with the same donor’s eggs or sperm but are raised in different families. The study involved 791 parents who joined the Donor Sibling Registry and voluntarily responded to an online survey. 

In the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, 40 percent of parents who had gotten in touch with their child’s donor reported being in continued contact with that person at least once a month. For siblings, 33 percent of respondents said they were in touch with the families of donor siblings at least once a month.

Parents also reported finding several donor siblings for their children. In one case, a child had 55 donor siblings.

“The study is exposing that some clinics are using the same donor for a lot of families,” Tabitha Freeman, the study’s lead author, told Reuters.

Researchers said the study results, “have implications for policy governing a donor’s right to anonymity, and could spur legislation limiting how many times genetic material from one donor can be used as a fertility aid,” Reuters reported.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority said one donor can create up to 10 families, but the number of children in each family isn’t specified. There are no U.S. laws governing how many children can be conceived with the same donated sperm or eggs.

Some survey respondents had mixed feelings about discovering large numbers of donor siblings. The study quoted one unnamed participant who said, “At first it was unsettling to know there were several siblings out there. I’ve gotten over that feeling. I enjoy hearing about the other kids. I have pictures of several on the refrigerator.”

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Background: Scrutiny of fertility clinics

Though the families who responded to the Center for Family Research study were largely happy with finding half-siblings and donors, there have been other episodes in recent years that show a darker side to using donor eggs and sperm to conceive children.

Cecil Jacobson, a Washington, D.C.-area fertility doctor, was convicted of 52 federal counts of fraud and perjury in 2001 after some patients accused him of falsely telling them they were pregnant. He also used his own sperm, telling patients it came from anonymous donors, in at least 15 patients, conceiving as many as 75 babies.

A major scandal erupted in Turkey a few years ago when it was discovered that a fertility clinic was using sperm that didn’t belong to their female patients’ husbands. In Turkey, donating sperm is illegal, according to a 2006 Asia Times piece. The doctors at the clinic were put on trial for the allegations, and the case led some to call for the legalization of sperm banks in hopes of eliminating “back-street practitioners.”

“State supervision of sperm donation is necessary to stop potential disaster in the future when a half-brother and -sister might meet and fall in love,” Dr. Riza Mete, who ran the Medical Affairs Office in the Southern Turkey city of Adana, was quoted as saying in Asia Times.

Related Topic: Octuplets’ birth spurs uproar over in vitro fertilization

Nadya Suleman, who last month gave birth to the second set of live octuplets born in the United States, has been harshly criticized after it was learned she is a single mom who already has six young children at home. Suleman had all of her children using in vitro fertilization, which has led some to call for more regulation for fertility clinics.

Reference: Fertility help and support


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