The advances in scientific technology have had a myriad of unforeseen consequences. Among them is a case I am familiar with that raises lots of questions. The daughter of a good friend is married to Sam, who has always known that his mother was artificially inseminated with sperm from a bank associated with a university that claimed its donors were medical students. His mother bore two boys with sperm from the same bank. So the story begins.
Both Sam and his brother, George, were blond, blue-eyed, and extremely athletic. Last year George decided that he wanted to know more about his genetic origin, so he had a DNA test. He asked Sam to do this, too; although at first reluctant, Sam did have his DNA analyzed, and the two men discovered that they were, in fact, blood brothers. They had the same unknown father. Since they had always been close, this revelation was a confirmation of their brotherhood and seemed a wonderful outcome of their research.
They then decided to take it further and registered their DNA in a wider search, which first turned up a woman named Emily. Emily’s mother had been artificially inseminated at the same sperm bank, and apparently she had the same paternal donor. Then came Carl, a younger brother who also seemed to have the same unknown father.
How does one respond to this information? Sam and George never got along with the man who was married to their mother, who in turn did not feel any bond with the two boys. They were not part of a comfortable family. With the discovery of Emily and Carl, there was suddenly a new perspective on their family, and the four decided to meet. According to family sources, the coming together of these four people was fascinating, emotional, and uplifting. Among other things, they realized that, because there was a 10-year span in their ages, it seemed unlikely that the paternal donor was a medical student.
This little story raises lots of questions, not the least of which is, who fathered these brothers and sisters? The sperm bank is no longer in business, so it won’t be easy to find out, but having gone this far, the newly formed family is planning to continue their search to discover who worked there. Imagining these four people, now adults, coming face to face with a stranger whose Y chromosome they share would make a great dramatic scene—comic or tragic, who knows?
The next question has to do with the risk posed by using an unknown sperm donor, for who’s to say that two of these children couldn’t have met, fallen in love, and themselves had children? The chances probably are one in a million, but there are good reasons why very closely related people should not have children.
Another question. How many more offspring did the mystery man father? I’m guessing there are quite a few of them roaming the world.
And then there is the matter of family—just what is a family? My favorite part of this story is what my friend told me about this past Christmas dinner. Emily and her husband traveled from New York to have Christmas dinner at Sam’s house in New Jersey. Sam has two sons. Emily has never had kids, and she was delighted to suddenly have the possibility of children in her life. According to my friend, Sam’s mother-in-law, the family gathering included the following:
– Sam’s mother and a friend she brought along to lend support in this bizarre situation.
– Sam and his wife, Laura, and their two blond sons.
– My friend and her boyfriend.
– Emily and her husband.
– Laura’s brother, Simon; his wife, Tanya; and Tanya’s parents—her father is African American and her mother is Korean.
– Last but not least, Simon and Tanya’s son, Homer, who is a genetic mix of African American, Asian, and Caucasian (are you still with me?).
Laura is a chef and cooked a wonderful meal; according to Laura’s mom, it was a joyful occasion. Even Sam’s mother managed to relax.
DNA technology has changed the way we think about things and has offered undreamed of possibilities. We have set prisoners free, discovered family members; solved crimes; and, in some cases that might not be so positive, uncovered infidelities. We can even find out if we’re descended from Ghengis Khan, who, like the guy at the sperm bank, spread his seed far and wide.
And here’s the answer to the last question: Are we all related? Indeed, it would seem so.