By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I think that gamete [egg and sperm] banking is by its very nature a nonprofit activity,” says Maxey. Harshly attacking the industry’s profit motive, Maxey says, “It is only a misguided perversion that has allowed it to become an industry, and that industry should be abolished. That industry is the only strong advocate for donor anonymity. The malfeasance that has already been perpetrated under the guise of donor anonymity is what we are slowly but steadily bringing to light through our genetic testing.”
(Last year, Maxey told ABC News that he began donating his own sperm in the 1980s and guesstimated that over the course of 16 years he may have produced more than 200 children. However, Maxey cannot prove his figures, which he uses to paint disturbing imagery of the sperm banks he ?now opposes.)
Dr. Rothman defends the industry, saying, “We’ve been trying to create an industrywide donor tracking system, but it’s expensive and we’re trying to get other sperm banks to buy in as well. Either way, we’re hoping to have something in place by the middle of next year.”
But there’s an important caveat in Rothman’s avowed support for a donor tracking system, which would put an end to the destruction of former donors’ records: Their names would remain anonymous to parents. Donor tracking would be used only internally, to allow sperm and egg banks nationwide to keep track of how often and where donors sell their sperm and eggs, and, as they age, to monitor donor health issues that can’t currently be tracked.
As such, donor tracking would be the middle ground between current practice and an outright ban on anonymity, as in Great Britain. Many industry watchdogs feel a tracking system doesn’t go far enough, while others feel Rothman’s sentiments — despite the fact that he publicly applauded Wendy Kramer’s efforts and initiated talks to partner with her enterprise (these talks, as of yet, are inconclusive) — are mere lip service.
Either way, when it comes to donor tracking, California Cryobank may be sailing alone.
Recently, William Jaeger, vice president of Genetics and IVF Institute in Virginia, another of the nation’s biggest banks, told The New York Times that mandatory donor-identity disclosure “would devastate the industry.” Kramer has found similar attitudes elsewhere. “I’ve spoken to the directors of all the major sperm banks and they don’t all think like Cappy,” she says. “Even though my site is based on mutual consent, Northwest Andrology [one of the other major players] is very much against what I do.”
She contends that Northwest Andrology, whose www.beatslabor.com Web site features a photo of a fat wad of $100 bills and touts the news that donors earn up to $16,000, is so opposed to unveiling the donor names that “They’ve threatened donors on my site, making them take down their information. They’re hell-bent on preserving anonymity.” Northwest Andrology, based in Spokane and Missoula, refused to comment.
Because of the secrecy, an even more insidious problem is brewing just below the surface: a growing concern within industry watchdog groups that it’s only a matter of time until two donor-siblings meet and mate without realizing that they share the same father or, in the case of egg donations, mother.
“No one on the sperm-bank side wants to talk about it,” says Kramer, “but there are over 1 million donor children in the world, and I know of several cases where unknowing siblings have ended up going to college together and having the same groups of friends. The industry says accidental incest is a statistical impossibility, but from what I’ve seen, it’s only a matter of time.”
And indeed, Kirk Maxey told ABC News last year that most of the hundreds of families who allegedly used his sperm came from within a 150-mile radius of his location, prompting him to worry about incest when donors are allowed to remain anonymous.
This is a problem that has long cut to the heart of our fears. Sir James Frazer was the first to demonstrate the universality of the incest taboo, in his 1910 study Totem and Exogamy. But it was the famed anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss who elevated the incest taboo from a basic component of our subconscious minds to the “fundamental step because of which, by which, but above all in which, the transition from nature to culture was accomplished.”
He called the incest taboo a deep structure, unvarying and ubiquitous. Simply, incest is bad for the gene pool. Sleep with your brothers and sisters, and pretty soon mutations arise. If that pattern of intimate relations with intimate relations continues for more than a few generations, pregnancy becomes impossible. The line dies out. Incest isn’t just a cultural taboo; it’s a biological taboo. More than that, Lévi-Strauss realized that the prohibition forces us to breed outside the nest, and this commingling of families provided society with its most basic building blocks.
To ensure that this basic building block is not violated, sperm banks have long maintained a policy of limiting the number of women who can receive the sperm of a single donor. Britain has legally set a limit at 10 women; Denmark at 25 women.