Friday, September 9, 2011

Well this is weird

There are certain stories that catch my attention as what I refer to as "time-capsule stories", tales that tell something about our modern society that previous generations just couldn't possibly have imagined. This New York Times article is one of those stories.
Cynthia Daily and her partner used a sperm donor to conceive a baby seven years ago, and they hoped that one day their son would get to know some of his half siblings — an extended family of sorts for modern times.
So Ms. Daily searched a Web-based registry for other children fathered by the same donor and helped to create an online group to track them. Over the years, she watched the number of children in her son’s group grow.
And grow.
Today there are 150 children, all conceived with sperm from one donor, in this group of half siblings, and more are on the way. “It’s wild when we see them all together — they all look alike,” said Ms. Daily, 48, a social worker in the Washington area who sometimes vacations with other families in her son’s group.
As more women choose to have babies on their own, and the number of children born through artificial insemination increases, outsize groups of donor siblings are starting to appear. While Ms. Daily’s group is among the largest, many others comprising 50 or more half siblings are cropping up on Web sites and in chat groups, where sperm donors are tagged with unique identifying numbers.
Of course, this story is far from just a cultural curiosity. This type of one-father, many-children dynamic could have serious broader implications.
Now, there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.
“My daughter knows her donor’s number for this very reason,” said the mother of a teenager conceived via sperm donation in California who asked that her name be withheld to protect her daughter’s privacy. “She’s been in school with numerous kids who were born through donors. She’s had crushes on boys who are donor children. It’s become part of sex education” for her.
Ah, yes, "accidental incest". What was once the domain of Shakespearean fantasy has now become a strange reality in a world that Shakespeare himself could never have imagined.

This of course casts doubt on whether sperm banks should be more closely regulated (probably, even though I generally despise business regulation), and more generally how we should determine who can and cannot be the recipient of donated sperm (you tell me). Clearly, it's not a good thing for 150 half-brothers and half-sisters to be unknowingly running around, all of them by definition sharing an age group and a general location. In this kind of world, "accidental incest" is more an inevitability than a vague possibility, and that alone should be enough to give us chills (it certainly freaks me out a little bit).

But these are the times we live in, for better or worse. Every new technology brings with it a world of opportunity, but also a whole host of unintended consequences. If we're not always looking out for those consequences, we could find ourselves in quite the odd little Shakespearean world. What an odd article.

[New York Times]

No comments:

Post a Comment