Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adventures in the sperm trade

Image of JoEllen Marsh and Jeffrey Harrison
courtesy of Redbird Media and Met Film
 ABC (Australia) recently screened a documentary called Donor Unknown: Adventures in the Sperm Trade. Interestingly this screened on their Compass (Faith and Religion) program, although the connection to religion was allowed to be implicit.

Donor Unknown begins with the story of JoEllen Marsh, a 20 year old from Pennsylvania who was raised by two mothers. JoEllen was conceived in the 1980s via donor sperm from the Californian Cryobank.

Having always been curious about her donor, she signs up to an online registry that connects donor-conceived children using the code she has for her donor, Donor 150. After some time, a half sister from New York, Danielle Pagano, makes contact with JoEllen and they begin communication and arrange to meet. At some point (it is not explained how) the New York Times picks up on this meeting and, in 2005, publishes a front page piece about donor siblings featuring the meeting of JoEllen and Danielle: Hello, I am your sister. Our father is donor 150.

The film then cuts to a man living a quiet, hippy-ish existence with his four dogs and a pigeon in a broken-down trailer at the shores of Venice Beach, California. Meet Donor 150. Jeffrey Harrison relates the story of having come across the New York Times article and being stunned to realise he was the donor for these girls. The chances that this man had several donor children out there were high: he had been a near professional sperm donor for several years in the 1980s, donating up to three or four times a week. Every week!