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The donor detective

Thousands of children conceived by anonymous sperm donation still have no right at all to know their biological fathers. But they are turning to DNA sites to track them down— and one woman has made it her very personal mission to help

Every morning at 5am, Wendy Kramer fires up her laptop in the tiny mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, to read and swiftly respond to requests for help from around the world.

“I’m 15 years old, and last summer I found out (by accident) that I was conceived with a sperm donor,” reads one. Another says: “Don’t know much except the hospital in which I was born (and most likely received my donor sperm from the same hospital). I found out by accident and my mother refuses to tell me much.”

“This isn’t what the medical community wants you to hear,” says Kramer, “but it’s happening all the time.” The world’s multi-billion-dollar fertility industry is portrayed as a benign facilitator of dreams. For decades, it has neatly reconciled a number of different rights—the right of parents to have a child, the right of a donor to be anonymous and the right of a clinic to make money selling sperm. But for Kramer, an elegant former accountant in her 50s, somebody else’s rights have been trampled along the way: those of the donor-conceived children.

“Not only should they be part of the conversation,” she says, “I feel they should be at the very forefront of the conversation. And that’s an idea whose time has come.”

This simple conviction, together with a certain cheerful indomitability, has made Kramer the sharpest thorn in the side of the male-dominated industry. She fights for the rights of the children conceived by sperm donation—and egg or embryo donors too—to know who their biological parents are, regardless of whether the original donation was made on condition of anonymity.

The organisation she set up to do just that, the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), has 63,461 members and has so far connected 16,779 individuals around the world with their donor parents or half siblings, including around 200 from Britain. While regulations vary from country to country, the idea of donor-conceived children tracking down and perhaps contacting their “anonymous” biological relatives starkly contradicts what donors and recipients have been told by fertility clinics and banks around most of the world. But, says Kramer, “there’s no such thing as anonymity.” It’s an argument she makes with the confidence of a woman who has the tide of technology on her side.

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About Prospect Magazine

InProspect's May issue: Tom Clark explores how British politics has ended up in crisis and suggests that a proper constitution could have avoided the current chaos and may well be necessary now to avoid the same problems in the future. Elsewhere in the issue: Kevin Maguire profiles Labour deputy leader Tom Watson who says that “if needs must” he would join a government of national unity. Max Rashbrooke examines Jacinda Ardern’s government in New Zealand and the ways the country is being transformed, ultimately suggesting that it could be an example for Britain to follow. Also, Stefanie Marsh follows the work of a donor detective who is helping children conceived by anonymous sperm donation to find their biological parents and Francesca Wade shows how Virginia Woolf is inspiring a new generation of women writers.