When JoEllen was 7, her two mothers showed her the donor profile of her anonymous biological father: age 28, Caucasian, 6”, blue eyes, light brown hair. A year ago, at age 20, JoEllen used the online Donor Sibling Registry to connect with more than a dozen of her half-siblings. The New York Times picked up the story, and Jeffrey Harrison, living alone with four dogs and a pigeon in a broken-down RV in a Venice Beach car park, got a hold of the story. Jeffrey donated sperm three or four times a week, totaling 500 times, during the 1980s and 1990s to help pay the rent—and JoEllen and her half-siblings were the result. The documentary Donor Unknown tells the story of the new kind of ‘family’ that results when Jeffrey decides to give up anonymity and meet his children. As several countries start to ban donor anonymity, there is a booming industry in the U.S. of reproductive tourism and shipping eggs and sperm abroad. Should the U.S. put children’s rights over adult’s, as critics argue, and ban donor anonymity? Given the fear of half-siblings meeting romantically, should there be a limit to the number of times a person can donate egg or sperm? Should parents be obligated to tell their children if they have a donor parent? Patt talks to JoEllen, Cryobank co-founder and director, and a bioethicist to explore these questions.
JoEllen Marsh, protagonist of the documentary Donor Unknown
Vardit Ravitsky, assistant professor of bioethics, University of Montreal
Cappy M. Rothman, MD, co-founder and medical director, California Cryobank, largest sperm bank in the US