Such children struggle with a unique anxiety: What if I fall in love with my half-sibling?


Kevin Moloney/Getty ImagesThirty-two invitro fertilized children gather at the Swedish Medical Center in 2003 in Denver. The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Center gathered the children from each of its 16 years of work in the field. Guests included Payton Kline, 4 1/2 months, the 5,000th invitro fertilized baby born at the center. – Kevin Moloney/Getty Images

Alana S. was just 8 years old when her parents told her they would be getting a divorce. Her father made an effort to gain custody of Alana’s older sister, but not Alana. This would become Alana’s first of many painful lessons in what it is like to be a child of a sperm donor.

Alana’s “social father” — the term used to describe a man who functions as a child’s father but is not the biological parent — was an infertile man, and shortly after marrying Alana’s mother, they adopted a young girl from South Korea. Five years later, they attempted to adopt again, but their application was denied. Rather than starting the process over, they settled on the sperm-donor route, as it was “quick, expedient and cheaper.” The result: Alana S.

“My mom was my parent, and my father was just around,” Alana recalls, while describing her childhood. “There was asymmetry to the biological relationship.” Despite Alana’s sister not being her father’s biological child, Alana remembers a distinct difference in the way he treated the two of them.

“At least he was a part of the entire adoption process for her,” she said. “It was different with me.”

Today, Alana, 25, dedicates herself to Anonymous Us, an organization she launched in January to provide an outlet for donor-conceived children to connect and have an open discussion about the realities of artificial reproductive technologies (ART) and the resulting family fragmentation. Many of the 70-plus contributors to the group’s website provide journal entries detailing their personal histories. While some have criticized the unwillingness of the contributors to reveal their identities, the website counters this by stating that “though anonymity in reproduction hides the truth, anonymity in storytelling will help reveal it.”

149 Half-Siblings

In a 2010 report, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor,” from the Institute for American Values, Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval Glenn and Karen Clark note that “an estimated 30,000-60,000 children are born each year through sperm donation, but this number is only an educated guess. Neither the industry nor any other entity in the U.S. is required to report on these vital statistics.” A Sept. 5 article in The New York Times, “1 Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring,” profiled a family that realized their donor-conceived son had at least 149 half-siblings and this number would likely be growing.

The fertility industry in the United States is a vast enterprise, grossing more than $3.3 billion each year. Despite its size and influence, there is little regulation. Sperm donors are not required to register their donations, and few donor or patient records are kept. As the 2010 report observed, “The fertility industry is increasingly a cross-border phenomenon. No one knows how many children are being conceived in one country and born in another.” In fact, 46% of donor offspring agree with the statement When I’m romantically attracted to someone, I have worried that we could be unknowingly related.

The result of these artificial reproductive technologies is proving devastating for the family. Catholic family scholar and founding president of the Ruth Institute Jennifer Roback Morse notes that “creating a child through such a method is a completely impersonal act. All children are entitled to be loved into existence, and God wants us to participate in that personal love.”
Calls for Regulations

Church teaching is also clear on this matter. According to the Catechism, “Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques … infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other” (2376).

“The idea that one can become a parent without an encounter with a person is changing the way women think about marriage and family,” Roback Morse explains. “This is an attempt at entanglement-free familyhood.” Additionally, such a method sets up and supports a system where fathers have no responsibility to care for their children, as in the case of Alana, who regularly asks herself and her readers, “In what world is it okay to abandon your child for $75? In what world is it rewarded?”

Within the past couple of years, scholars and legislators have discussed imposing tighter regulations and initiating investigations into the current practices and ethics of donor conception. Most of the proposals call for a required donor registry and a cap on the amount of times a man can sell his sperm.

Roback Morse, however, is of a different opinion: “No one dies from infertility. While it can be devastating, this is not a life-threatening illness. No one is entitled to these services. Shut them down, and don’t miss the opportunity to call them inhuman and immoral.”

This article was posted April 28, 2010, at The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.

I volunteered to harvest eggs for a friend, whose ovaries had ceased producing eggs in her early 30’s. She bought donated sperm from a California university sperm bank several years prior to my egg harvest and was being counseled about infertility options. This was not an “eggs for money” contract. I volunteered without a compensation obligation. (more…)

by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D

Valid “Life-style Choice” or another example of Dumb Sex?

The trend toward single motherhood by choice is unmistakable in both the US and Canada. A new organization, Single Mothers by Choice, runs workshops for would-be single mothers, offering other single mothers as instructors and role models.1 But is this new development really anything to celebrate? (more…)

by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D

Legalizing same-sex “marriage” is not a stand-alone policy, independent of all the other activities of the state. Once governments assert that same-sex unions are the equivalent of marriage, those governments must defend and enforce a whole host of other social changes. (more…)

by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

First published at on August 29, 2005.

Reproductive freedom is usually a code-word for abortion on demand. But the right to terminate a pregnancy is only the right to say “no” to having a baby. Full reproductive freedom would include the right to pregnancy on demand, analogous to abortion on demand. A California case in which a lesbian couple is suing an infertility clinic suggests we may be closer than we think to establishing a right to have a baby. And far from being an advance for women’s liberty, this development would be a disaster for everyone’s freedom. We need to look closely at the public relations case in favor of the lesbian couple’s claim to see why. (more…)