The 21st Century 'Family'

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Digest September 9, 2011

The definition of "family" has become a hotly contested issue in recent years, as evidenced by, among other things, the same-sex marriage debate and the polygamous family featured in the reality show "Sister Wives." Now a New York Times article, "One Sperm Donor, 150 Children," highlights another phenomenon. The title says it all: one man's donation to the local sperm bank resulted in the birth of 150 children. Another man learned that he had fathered 70 children, despite the fact that the sperm bank had promised him a "low number." But the article's real focus is the growing trend of the donor children using the Internet to find and connect with one another as family.

There is currently no legal limit to the number of children that can be fathered by one donor. Thus, for example, as more women have chosen to have babies in this way, the chances have increased that their offspring could unknowingly become romantically involved with a half-sibling. There is also the fear that illnesses could be spread faster through the population. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has recommended only 25 such births per 800,000 people, while other countries, such as France, England and Sweden, have already placed restrictions on the industry.

In the meantime, parents are taking matters into their own hands. Many tell their children to memorize their donor's confidential identification number so they can make sure they're not dating a sibling. In 2000, the Donor Sibling Registry was created so that children of donors can connect with each other, or simply see how many half-siblings they have. "Family," it seems, has an ever-changing definition -- but is that always for the better?

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