Study finds lasting problems for those conceived through sperm donation

WASHINGTON – Those who were conceived through sperm donation are more likely to experience depression, delinquency and substance abuse than their counterparts who were adopted or raised by their biological parents, according to a new survey by the New York-based Commission on Parenthood’s Future.

The survey – touted as the first representative, comparative study of the experiences of donor-conceived adults – also found greater confusion about their own identity among those conceived through sperm donation, along with significant isolation from their families and widespread concern that they might be related biologically to someone they could date.

A report on the findings, called “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation,” was published June 3 and is available online at The report said sperm donation “has been practiced widely in the United States and around the world for decades,” with an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 children born each year through sperm donation in the United States alone.

The study looked at a representative sample of 485 adults between the ages of 18 and 45 who said their mother used a sperm donor to conceive them, as well as comparison groups of 562 young adults who were adopted as infants and 563 young adults who were raised by their biological parents.

“We learned that, on average, young adults conceived through sperm donation are hurting more, are more confused and feel more isolated from their families,” the report said. “Donor offspring are significantly more likely than those raised by their biological parents to struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse and depression, even when controlling for socioeconomic and other factors.”

Although the Catholic Church considers sperm donation to be morally objectionable because it separates the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse, 36 percent of the donor-conceived respondents said they had been raised as Catholics and 32 percent said that continued to be their religious preference.

Karen Clark, a co-investigator for the study with Elizabeth Marquardt and Norval D. Glenn, said it is important for Catholics to be aware that “the donor-conceived are within your congregations, probably hiding within the Catholic community because of the shame associated with” sperm donation.

Clark, who is not Catholic, has a personal reason for wanting the views of donor offspring to become better known. She herself was conceived from a sperm donation – a fact she did not know until she was 18 and the father who raised her had died.

“I grew up in a family where it was hidden, shameful … and I don’t want to see (others) experience that kind of stigma and shame,” she told Catholic News Service in a June 9 telephone interview. “At the same time, I don’t want to normalize the process of creating an intentional disconnect” between children and their biological parents, she added.

In addition to its effects on the well-being of the children conceived, Clark said sperm donation creates societal problems because it “commodifies human life” and confuses family relationships.

“We all have room in our hearts and in our families for all kinds of people in all kinds of capacities,” she said. “My (biological) father cannot replace my dad, but my dad can’t replace my father either.”

Asked whether she was involved in a search for her biological father, Clark said the matter was too personal for specifics but said it was “a positive work in progress.”

She said she did not think that “we are getting enough voices out there of children who are hurting – they’re getting lost in the debate.”

“I don’t see enough debate out there about the pros and cons” of sperm donation and other reproductive technologies, Clark said. “I am hoping that the report will build more awareness of the downsides and will spark more open, fair debate.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.