In the past few months, while inviting guests to my podcast Venus Rising, I realized that I have failed to bring listeners an important voice, the voice of sperm donors. We have heard from donor-conceived adults: Barry Stevens, Nick Isel, and Matt Doran. We have brought you the voice of Gail Pascoe, an Australian mother who utilized sperm donation to conceive her child and we have had the pleasure of hearing from Liz Scheier and Maggie Eastman, both women who “donated” their eggs in the hopes of earning money and helping create families.
The fleeting thought came that maybe sperm donors don’t want to be heard? I found that thought ridiculous and went to google in search of answers. I wanted to know what sperm donors were saying. I found an article written in 2015 where one Australian sperm donor, Mr. Smith, stated that being a sperm donor was “isolating”. He went on to add that “donors seem to be the ones who are in the shadows”. Mr. Smith used his experience to help create a support group providing information and community to donor dads.
I also found two brand-new documentary films on YouTube, both posted in November 2021. The first, How Ethical is Sperm Donation?, features the self-proclaimed “sperminator,” Ari Nagel. I have to admit, I cringed and squirmed throughout the whole documentary. Not because it was a bad film, but because the idea of a serial, DIY sperm donor spreading his seed throughout the globe with complete disregard grossed me out. Ari has been “donating free-range” for quite some time and has 97 biological children and counting. All he asks from his recipients is that they cover his travel. One recipient strangely bragged that she does “all the heavy lifting” while Ari is the “fun guy”.
My internal and moral gut reaction to Ari aside, the film, like me, does seem to be a bit skeptical of sperm donation. The film interviews Erin Jackson, a donor-conceived adult, from the resource group called “We are Donor Conceived” and she states if Ari was “listening to the voices of donor conceived people he would have stopped a very long time ago.” Who is Ari to the children he is helping create? He’s a sperm donor, yes, but also a biological parent. A biological parent that a child may want to know.
This brings me to the second film I stumbled upon called Finding My Father: What Are the Rights of a Donor-Conceived Child?. This film features Lauren Burns, an Australian donor-conceived person who put in years of detective work to find her own biological father after finding out she was donor-conceived at 21.
Lauren and other donor-conceived adults talk about wanting “access to family history” and having “anxiety about identity”. Lauren states that it’s “important that I know where I come from, so she [her daughter] can know where she comes from as well.” I wonder what they would think about the mission of Ari Nagel. I digress.
In Australia, starting in 1988, Victoria allowed donor-conceived people to apply for information about their donors and vice versa, but this only applied to children born after 1988. Lauren was born in 1983. Narelle, another donor-conceived person in the film, was also born before 1988. Narelle was diagnosed with colon cancer, a disease that didn’t run in her maternal family tree.
Obviously, one of the biggest problems with not knowing your own biology is not knowing your medical risks. Had Narelle known her biological father, she might not be dead. It took the loss of a life for legislation to change. With the help of Lauren and other donor-conceived people Narelle’s law was passed allowing all donor-conceived persons the right to apply for information about their donor regardless of previously assured anonymity. A win for donor-conceived persons in Victoria.
Fortunately, Narelle did have an opportunity to meet her biological father just 6 weeks before passing, and he lovingly and passionately states that he would have “moved heaven and hell to get to her” had he known she existed sooner. Another sperm donor with a voice that should be heard.
As we learn from both documentaries, sperm is becoming an increasingly coveted commodity. This high demand is threatening the work and legacy of Narelle and her comrades. New laws are trying to make assisted reproductive technologies more accessible. Specifically, the legislature is attempting to make access to gametes (like sperm) cheaper and easier. How? By decreasing regulation and increasing supply. Lawmakers and fertility clinics in Victoria and around the globe need to listen to the voices of donor-conceived people who desire to know their biology and are crying out for this practice to end. Lauren is fearful that her country is “repeating the mistakes of the past” and that “the next generation will be without meaningful connections to their biological family.”
In another, much older, article I found during my search, Why I Regret Donating My Sperm, author Michael Linden writes, “from the donor’s perspective, the fundamental lie is, that apart from being the source of a much-prized commodity, once his job is done he simply doesn’t count. And worse, by some perverse corollary, with regard to the fate of his children, it is assumed that he really doesn’t care.”
I have my answer. Sperm donors care and they want to come out of the shadows to tell their stories. One brave enough to share his story with me on Venus Rising. Listen to Edward tell his story on Venus Rising!
- Kallie Fell, MS, BSN, RN, started her professional career as a scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center utilizing a Master of Science degree in Animal Sciences with an emphasis on Reproductive Physiology and Molecular Biology from Purdue University. While assisting in the investigation of endometriosis and pre-term birth, Kallie simultaneously pursued a degree in nursing with hopes of working with women as a perinatal nurse. After meeting Jennifer at a conference, Kallie became interested in the work of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and started volunteering with the organization. It is obvious that Kallie is passionate about women’s health. She continues to work, as she has for the past 6 years, as a perinatal nurse and has worked with the CBC since 2018, first as a volunteer writer, then as our staff Research Associate, and now as the Executive Director. In 2021, Kallie co-directed the CBC’s newest documentary, Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender? Kallie also hosts the popular podcast Venus Rising and is the Program Director for the Paul Ramsey Institute.
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