Father Figure: The Children of Donor 401

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Learning the Facts

Kimberly, however, was disconcerted. "I turned off the television so I could sort it out," she says -- but not before noting the name of the Web site where the seven mothers had found one another. She eventually learned that her three youngsters were among approximately 25 -- all under seven -- known to have been fathered by one man who had sold his semen to Fairfax Cryobank, a repository based in Virginia. The women had selected him from among more than 100 donors at the facility, all identified only by the numbers with which the clinic had labeled them.

Because the bank had promised Donor 401 anonymity, it has never publicly revealed his name. "That information is strictly controlled," says Suzanne Seitz, a genetic counselor and Fairfax spokeswoman. "He signed an agreement as part of our anonymous donor system, and patients used him knowing he would remain so." Aware that some parties to a donor-assisted pregnancy -- the children, the mother, even the donor -- might eventually wish to find one another, the clinic also offers a consent program for men who agree to be contacted by offspring when they reach 18. However, says Seitz, few have signed up for it.

It's difficult to predict how many vials of semen it will take for a woman to become pregnant, but generally it's about six, says Sherron Mills, founder and CEO of Pacific Reproduction Services, in San Francisco and Pasadena, California. Women routinely buy extra vials in case they have trouble getting pregnant or later decide they want related children. Clients usually keep their excess vials at the bank so it can ensure they're stored properly and the sperm stays viable; women who end up with more vials than they need typically sell them back to the bank.

Donor 401 was popular, and at press time Fairfax had sold out of his sperm. A man often stops donating for what Seitz calls lifestyle reasons: Perhaps he has relocated or he has married or formed a relationship that does not let him meet abstinence standards (the fewer ejaculations a man has, the higher his sperm count, so some abstinence is necessary).

Continued on page 3:  Piecing It Together


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