It is likely that Ryan Kramer, co-founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, was the first donor conceived person to find the identity of their donor via DNA testing (and some detective work) but he is only the forerunner of what is a growing trend. DC Network has been contacted by a man who had recently come to the shocked conclusion that he must have been donor conceived, as his DNA did not tally with close relatives. He had been innocently researching the genus of his surname and took the 23 and Me test, only to be confronted by information he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. His mother has reluctantly confirmed his conclusion. A donor conceived adult I know traced a first cousin of her donor via the same test. Sadly and tantalisingly the donor, on being contacted by his cousin, has refused contact. Bill Cordray, now in his early seventies, was told by his mother when he was 37 that he was donor conceived. It is only very recently that, via DNA testing, he has discovered who his donor was (his mother’s doctor) and been found by the wife of a sixth cousin who lives in Norway, leading to connections with several half-siblings and other genetic relatives. These people are by no means the only ones who are making links to donors and others via access to modern DNA testing.
With the exception of Ryan Kramer, all the people referred to above are over thirty and you might say belong to a very different generation of donor conceived people. Their donors were anonymous and in an era of secrecy they did not discover their origins until either teenage or adult years. As more and more people put their DNA in the banks of companies like 23 and Me, searches are increasingly going to come up with sometimes unexpected and occasionally un-sought-after connections.
Egg and sperm donors in the UK have now been identifiable for ten years (see previous post). The first people conceived since 2005 will turn 18 in 2023. They will then have the right to ask the HFEA for identifiable information about their donor. What is completely unknown, and rarely talked about, is how many donors are likely to be traceable 18 years on, particularly as very few will have kept their contact information up to date. How many of these donors will really have thought through the implications of being identifiable? But the truth is that even if they did wish to disappear, DNA testing has made this virtually impossible.
What I am getting at is that it is not only donors from past times who may be traced via their DNA. There may be a paper trail for modern donors, but even without this, they have left their unique mark in their DNA, waiting to be discovered by curious people who have come into being as a result of their donation of sperm or eggs. And as Bill Cordray’s story confirms, these links cross national borders. It was the curiosity of a woman in Norway that led to connections with a distant cousin (of her husband) in the US. As more and more people around the world use DNA banks for health or heredity research, more and more donors and half-siblings are going to come to light.
This is great news for donor conceived people who are curious about their ancestry. It is less good news for parents who had been hoping to keep their child’s origins secret.
Not only should potential donors who do not wish to be found not donate http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-kramer/sperm-donors-who-wish-to-_b_7878688.html but parents, who do not wish to lose the trust of their children by holding secrets, need to face up to their responsibilities and be open with their kids. There is no hiding place.
I wrote this piece on a Friday afternoon and hey presto on Saturday morning Guardian Family had a front page article on cheap DNA testing – http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/15/who-do-you-think-you-are-diy-dna-test-jeremy-kyle