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A thought-provoking study examines the lives of people fathered by sperm donors

June 14, 2010 |  3:50 pm

Experts estimate that at least 30,000 American babies are born each year to mothers who were artificially inseminated by a sperm donor. With the fertility industry subject to such light regulation in this country, it’s not easy for researchers to study the health – physical or mental – of these children as they grow.

Sperm But researchers affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin were able to find 485 adults who said they were fathered by sperm donors. The researchers – including one who doesn’t know the identity of the sperm donor her parents used to conceive her – assessed the group’s feelings about growing up without their biological fathers. Their views – and their personal histories – were compared to 562 adults who were adopted when they were infants and 563 who grew up with both biological parents.

In many respects, the offspring of sperm donors are not doing well. Here’s how the researchers summarized the findings of their study, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor:”

We learned that, on average, young adults conceived through sperm donation are hurting more, are more confused, and feel more isolated from their families. They fare worse than their peers raised by biological parents on important outcomes such as depression, delinquency and substance abuse.

Nearly two-thirds agree, “My sperm donor is half of who I am.” Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them they wonder if they are related. Almost as many say they have feared being attracted to or having sexual relations with someone to whom they are unknowingly related.

Approximately two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins. And about half of donor offspring have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even when parents tell their children the truth.

However, despite those reservations, the researchers found that  20% of those surveyed had already participated in some sort of assisted reproduction as adults, either as sperm/egg donors or as surrogate mothers. That compared with only 1% of the adults raised by their biological parents and 0% of those who were adopted.

The full report (whose title comes from a T-shirt) was released online by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future. Two of the authors wrote a thoughtful essay on their findings that was posted Monday on Slate. You can also read an executive summary and list of 15 major findings.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Vials of frozen sperm sit in tanks at California Cryobank in Westwood. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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