Fatherhood Should Mean More Than Sperm Donation

On June 26, 2019, The New York Times Magazine published “A Family Portrait: Brothers, Sisters, Strangers.” The piece consists of a photo essay by Eli Baden-Lasar, a student at Wesleyan University, with accompanying text by Baden-Lasar as told to Susan Dominus.

Baden-Lasar was conceived “with the help of an anonymous sperm donor” and raised by a lesbian couple. The photo essay is the story of his attempts to connect with his 32 half-siblings.

No, that’s not a misprint. He really has 32 half-siblings. And they are just the ones he knows about.

Baden-Lasar was told as a child that his father was a sperm donor. He was given a photocopy of a questionnaire that the man had completed; he used to carry the form with him, “taking it to school and studying it occasionally… It was a way to help [him] understand [himself].” At age 19, Baden-Lasar accessed the “sibling registry” of the sperm bank that had been used to conceive him. When he did so, he found that his biological father was also the biological father of 32 other children. Displaying remarkable persistence, Baden-Lasar—a talented photographer—met and photographed all 32, visiting 16 states in the process. It turned out that one had been a classmate of his.

Baden-Lasar spoke with each of his half-siblings about their biological father, who “represented this absence we all had in common.” One of his half-siblings obtained a copy of an audio interview with the man that had been recorded by the sperm bank many years ago. At the end of the interview, the man was asked if he had anything to say to his potential future children. He responded, “‘I wish them all the luck.’”

At one point, Baden-Lasar asserted that his “mothers” had not considered the possibility that he might have half-siblings. He said, “I think they were just so focused on thinking about the new family they were creating that they never stopped to think about the implications of the huge, inadvertent social experiment they were joining.”

Disastrous trends like the Sexual Revolution, divorce, and designer babies could be summarized using a very similar sentence: “We were so focused on thinking of ourselves—of fulfilling our personal desires—that we never stopped to think about the consequences of our actions for the next generation.”

It is a tragedy and a disgrace that a child’s only connection with his biological father should be a photocopied questionnaire or a recorded interview. Fatherhood should mean more than sperm donation. May God have mercy on us.