Depending on the type of donor you choose, your donor-conceived children may be at risk of incest. Consider the following scenario…
A woman walks into a bar.
She sees an attractive person at the other end of the bar; admires the lush, chocolate brown hair (just like hers), gets lost in the deep emerald eyes (also like hers), flashes her perfect straight teeth and sidles up for a conversation.
The recipient of her flirtatious moves pulls up a barstool and reciprocates with another set of perfect white teeth.
“Hi”, they utter simultaneously. They both giggle.
The players whip out their smartphones, and politely ‘bump’ them.
A discreet alarm sounds on both of the phones.
Two sets of identical green eyes widen; stare at each other. Shrieks of horror.
“Oops! We’re related.”
Hug. “Nice to meet you sister.”
Iceland paves the way with an ‘Incest Avoidance’ app
In Iceland, a large country (well, a bit bigger than Tassie at best) with a small population of less than 350,000 people, almost all of the people are descended from the same family tree. Book of Icelanders, or Íslendingabók, contains the nation’s genealogical information dating back 1200 years and was originally authored by an Icelandic priest. The subsequent creation of Book of Icelanders website in 2010 by entrepreneur, Friðrik Skúlason, and a geneology company, uses information from Book of Icelanders and involved mapping out all of the family connections in Iceland.
While it was not the primary intention to create an app which prevents relatives dating each other, the media focused heavily on what is otherwise known as the ‘incest alarm’ (as described in the scenario above). And given the small population of Iceland, this means that when you meet someone in a bar, the app may come in handy.
Does Australia need an incest avoidance app for our donor-conceived children?
With the dramatic rise in donor-conceived children being born today, do we need an Australian equivalent of the incest avoidance app? Is consanguinity, or intimate relationships between people who are related, a real concern? Of course, the current population of Australia is significantly higher than Iceland and comes in at about 25 million (give or take a few hundred thousand), so is it even possible to create one? Can our state and territory Births Deaths and Marriages registers, together with immigration data rally together to provide us with such a tool?
Currently we can’t even get it together to create a national register for Australian donor-conceived children, so such an app seems unlikely to appear on your smart phone soon.
And do we need it?
Donor-conceived children with large numbers of half-siblings
Many Australian fertility clinics use sperm banks from the U.S.A. where donors are actively recruited from universities with catchy slogans and promises of $US1000+ a month for viable deposits. The majority of the donors are young, good-looking, tall and have not yet started a family. And some of these sperm banks (one in particular) have extremely high family limits.
As a result, you don’t have to look hard to find stories about donor-conceived people who have 50, 100 or even 150 siblings. Australian couple, Renee and Sally (not their real names) have two children who now have 27 half-siblings. And the numbers are rising because some of the families are trying for second and third children.
“This is not something I signed up for”, says Sally. “I’m nervous about what will happen when my children become sexually active. Will they know if the person they meet is a half-sibling? I mean, not all parents tell their children they are donor-conceived. Can you imagine how horrendous that scenario would be! I feel very angry, and very disappointed in the [American] sperm bank.”
My daughter has in excess of 100 half-siblings and I feel the same way. I have managed to track down 9 Australian families, but 13 are unaccounted for. How many children does that entail? I don’t know. And where are the 13 other families? Are they staying silent because they have not disclosed to their children that they are donor-conceived for religious, cultural or other reasons? Or do they too, feel angry and disappointed and have simply bowed out of the action, just too overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation?
And what about known donors?
And we haven’t yet discussed known donors; the neighbour from across the street, the old family friend, or the guy you swiped right for on a social media matching site… These men, while many (I’d like to speculate the vast majority) have extremely kind and generous intentions, are not covered by any regulation regarding offspring numbers and family limits. Around the world we’re seeing the handiwork of some of these men, the term, ‘prolific’, being an understatement. There’s the American who’s been dubbed the ‘Sperminator’, travelling the globe to impregnate consenting women (sometimes in Target bathrooms), and who at last count had a few dozen offspring and plenty more on the way. Then we have the 62 year old English grandfather, Clive, who travels around the country in his van, ‘AKA White Van sperm donor‘, handing over a syringe full of fresh semen to women he’s arranged to meet; and Clive’s approaching the 100 offspring mark.
These men are making a lot of people happy (possibly not the donor-conceived offspring that result in the ‘union’; more on that in further posts), but should we be concerned? For instance, have they been screened for genetic, or other, disease factors with each individual recipient, and have they considered the possibility that their donor recipients are not disclosing their origins to their children? And perhaps more concerning, are they donating to people within a limited geographical area where half-siblings are likely to ‘cross paths’?
Are Australia’s donor-conceived children at risk of incest?
So are our adult children going to meet up in online dating forums, bars, nightclubs and at parties not knowing they are related to each other? Are they going to feel what’s known as ‘sexual genetic attraction’, an overwhelming physical attraction between close relatives who meet for the first time as adults? Might they enter into consanguinity unknowingly?
And while consanguineous relationships are still legal in Australia at the first cousin level – it is definitely illegal to marry your sibling. And what are the chances, really? In my daughter’s situation, there are 22 Australian families, some of whom have multiple siblings. Obviously, there are several variables involved such as the number of donor-conceived children in each family, the location of the siblings and the subsequent geographical spread, and so on. There’s also the fact that if, let’s say, the donor-conceived person seeking a relationship is 20 years old, this immediately eliminates the vast majority of the population who are children, older adults and the elderly.
Anyway, given my maths ‘know-how’ extends to rapid recitation of the times tables, I can’t actually provide a detailed statistical analysis of the situation, but even I can see that the odds are not huge; and certainly not on a par with Iceland’s significantly greater odds.
So do we need an incest app?
But is there still a risk of donor-conceived half-siblings forming consanguineous relationships?
Yes! There’s always a small risk.
So how can we prevent this type of scenario from happening?
What can you do to help your donor-conceived child?
I’m going to talk more about how to minimise the risk of large sibling numbers in another blog (coming soon!), but in the meantime, the most significant thing you can do to help your donor-conceived children avoid consanguineous relationships is firstly, tell them they are donor-conceived, and secondly, tell them about their donor-conceived siblings.
I’d love to hear from you!
Tell me what you think about the risk of incest for Australian donor-conceived children and adults, and how can we help them avoid it…