By SARAH DINGLE.
Two sets of documents provide insight into the extraordinary number of siblings donor-conceived people can have, and the strange and, at times, heartbreaking experience of not knowing who they are. Sarah Dingle writes.
The handwriting is clear and quite precise. Mostly capitals. A curious way of forming the letter “Y”, with a rounded v. But it’s the numbers, not the letters, which matter.
Set out on two pieces of pink notepaper are the personal records of how many times a single man donated sperm around Sydney. For the record: 318 times. These rows on rows of handwritten dates, carefully annotated with all the obsessiveness of a trainspotter, are staggering.
So staggering, in fact, that we’ve decided to make a graph. Here’s what this man got up to in the 13 years to 1992:
And how many half siblings could there be, all born in Sydney, as a result of John’s activity? Thousands.
Damien Adams is a medical research scientist, and he’s also donor conceived.
“You could have something as little as dozens,” he says. (To most people, “dozens” of brothers and sisters is still a lot.)
“But it could be hundreds, and it could be thousands, depending on the quality of sperm he had, how many straws were made, how many times it was used. It’s indeterminable.”
That means possibly thousands of half siblings growing up in Sydney, maybe in the same suburbs, of the same age, perhaps going to the same schools, maybe even dating each other. Horrifically, some may even be marrying each other, and trying to have children of their own – completely unaware they are half siblings.
Ask yourself: is that fair? All just to protect John from being known as the author of his own actions?
John’s serial sperm donations occurred not in the distant past, but as late as the ’90s. (Indeed, John appears to have hit a purple patch in the year 1990, donating sperm on average once a week.) He donated not at backyard joints, but at large Sydney public hospitals, and with well-known fertility specialists.
Watch The Donor Detectives here. Post continues below.
Damien Adams says these days, there are now limits on the numbers of times a single man’s sperm is supposed to be used. But only half Australia’s states and territories have laws governing donor conception – and there are no national laws at all.
Clinics weren’t (and still aren’t) supposed to pay donors for their sperm, because it’s human tissue. What they were (and are) allowed to do was reimburse sperm donors for unspecified out-of-pocket expenses, like “travel costs”.
The fact that John apparently made more than 200 sperm donations to just two locations alone (Crown St Women’s Hospital, now closed, and a clinic in Macquarie St) is shocking. But on top of that he also donated at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Paddington Women’s Hospital, King George V Hospital for Mothers and Babies (now closed) and at Westmead.