Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sperm from Donor 401

I recently heard about a man in California known only as number 401. He was a sperm donor who stopped assisting laboratory-style reproduction 2 years ago. He was the perfect Arian and his DNA was in high demand from women seeking blonde-haired, blue eyed children of German extraction who tan well.

His sperm is so popular that when a woman recently discovered she had 17 unused vials of his DNA sitting in her garage, she offered it up to wishful 401-mum wannabees and was subsequently offered thousands for her collection, as if it were a rare Picasso or the Mona Lisa itself.

Number 401 has fathered at least 11 children who are part of a super family of women, mostly single, who keep in touch over the internet. They say they have less interest in knowing who the man is than in knowing each other, but their children are young and there is no doubt in my mind that this group of 11 will one day seek out their father. Number 401 will be confronted by a group of children knocking on his door, wanting to be let in to the secret that is his identity.

The women seem to be living in a state of denial if they think this will not happen. Louisa Weix, 43, mother of 401 spawn, was quoted as saying “Some doors are better left closed”, but does she get to make that decision? For now, while her child is too little to do anything independently of her she can make such bold statements, but in recent years there have been a few people track down their biological, sperm-donator fathers through records kept on the internet. With the power of 11 children working together to find whatever details they need, it’s only a matter of time. It WILL happen.

I often wonder, and my thoughts on the topic are generally unpopular and perhaps a little antagonistic, if some people reproduce for rather selfish reasons without much thought to their offspring. I hold the fairly cynical opinion that many parents truly believe their DNA is somehow superior and, therefore, worth replicating. Ask any parent and they will adamantly deny it, but how many times have I heard new parents declare that their child is above average and then try to demonstrate through a show of their progeny’s amazing ability to colour match. Or how many times have I heard prospective parents planning the future of their sure-to-be brilliant bundle of joy.

I worked with a kind of crazy guy whose wife was pregnant. He pondered one day what he might do if his unborn girl turned out to be less than a genius. I suggested he might love her and support her in whatever interests she wished to pursue in life. He wasn’t happy about the prospect. Ok, so he was an extreme case but I use him as an example because I suspect the same thought has occurred many, many times to many, many, many different people, waiting for their perfect combination of genes to arrive and make their big, bright mark on the world.

I’ll return now to the 401 children whose mothers keep in touch with each other, sharing baby photos and developmental stories. Can you imagine the competition? What’s going to happen when one child clearly outranks the others in mental capacity, or when another shows an aptitude for sport? When they’re a little bit older, one starts taking drugs and another ends up in Jail, while another one becomes a public prosecutor after graduating early at the age of 19 and the oldest of the lot opts out of the race to go live on a commune.

Children are not toys or robots. They are people, unique and individual, not an expression of a set of genes or a showcase of a successful blend of DNA. I wonder why women are scrambling to get their hands on the stash of unused 401 vials that recently turned up. Don’t they want their child to be completely unique? Don’t they want their child to be someone with their own, distinct personality who will grow up to be truly one of a kind? With all the evidence before me, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that no, these woman would actually prefer a clone and I wonder if they’re the norm rather than the exception.

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