This weekend CBS Sunday Morning profiled Todd Whitehurst, a forty-nine year old computer scientist who was meeting four of his sperm donor conceived children for the first time. Whitehurst, who began donating his sperm while an undergraduate at Stanford, is the biological father of 22 known donor children (in addition to two other children from a previous marriage).
The news segment offered a sunny portrayal of a donor father who was eager to meet his children—and siblings eager to meet their father and one another for the first time in their lives. In fact, Whitehurst arranged the meeting (camera crew in tow) and a weekend long getaway on Cape Cod for the newly met family members to spend time together.
But such stories are the exception in the world of donor conception. Most sperm donor conceived children spend much of their childhood and adult life in a state of bewilderment and mystery as they seek to understand their own stories of origin, and in many cases pursuing endless empty leads on a quest to track down their biological father. These donor children spend their extra money and time in an effort to discover the person with whom they share half of their DNA so they can fulfill a very natural human instinct: to know their parents.
Whitehurst began donating his sperm in response to advertisements in Stanford’s student newspaper—a prime spot for sperm bank recruitment. The fact that college students who are eager to make a quick buck are lured into a practice that will take advantage of youthful naiveté to then go on and produce an entire generation of children is just one of the many egregious wrongs of this enterprise.
As the CBS segment rightly highlighted, the reproductive industry does little to help sperm donor conceived children find their fathers. The industry understands well that they are reliant on anonymity to keep their practice alive and to protect their donors. But such “protection” comes at the cost of children who spend much of their lives longing and wondering about a father they will never know—and lack the advantage of a national news network eager to chronicle their story, their suffering, and their experiences. Theirs are the silent stories that won’t likely have a happy ending, yet reveal the most about this flawed practice that is increasingly normalized.