Donor Unknown

Tonight I watched Donor Unknown, a documentary about donor insemination.  I find the ethical parallels between adoption and donor insemination fascinating.  While the film was focused more on the individual stories, it also explored the culture of cryobanks and their motivations–which I think should be a film unto itself.

On the documentary website you can also find a transcript of a live chat, which included a medical sociologist, several bloggers who are conceived through DI or are parents of children conceived through DI, as well as the director of the documentary.  A common theme that emerges is the idea of secrecy versus openness, and the connotations of shame and stigma that surround that secrecy.

Similar to the conversations that took place in the adoption community around closed vs. open adoptions, people in the DI community are grappling with how to have these conversations…how to support the need for people to have information about their biological heritage while protecting donors’ wishes to remain anonymous (which, outside of the U.S. is a moot point, because anonymous donation is not permitted).

One of the participants in the live chat, Stephanie, is a Christian blogger, who found at at age 32 that she was donor conceived.  She had no idea before she was told, and for years, believed that donor insemination was at odds with her Christian faith.  Imagine having to come to terms that your very existence is due to a procedure that violates your core religious, moral, and ethical beliefs.

This has really hit home for me, again, that secrecy around adoption, or donor insemination, or any other assisted reproductive technology, hinders healthy human development.  It doesn’t matter how one is conceived, humans have a drive to understand where they come from.  This knowledge does not necessarily negate the love and respect they have for their families, but it feels a deep need that we have to understand ourselves in all our complexity. To deny this fundamental information to an individual is to deny access to their full identity.

The documentary itself was well-done.  I think it highlights some of the ethical challenges of the unregulated donor system in the U.S., as well as the diversity of individual experiences.  I was struck by the physical similarities among the donor children profiled, but also their personality quirks…they way they combed their hair back, the way they walked, their passion for animals and dance and music…it’s impossible to watch a film like this as an adoptee and not feel a sense of wonder at the connection that they felt, even having grown up across the country with different families.

There was one scene in particular, that flashed quickly from individual to individual as they described in one or two word phrases their similarities. It’s one thing to see this between a birth parent and reunited adoptee…but to see it among several people conceived by the same donor was a little overwhelming, and I found myself choked up at the magnitude of this discovery they were making about themselves and each other.

In a nutshell…if you get a chance, you should watch this film.  It asks lots of questions about family, ethics, identity…and makes clear that there are no easy answers.


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