Son of sperm donor advocates children's right to know fathers

November 27, 1990|By Kathy Kaiser | Kathy Kaiser,Knight-Ridder News Service Jean Marbella of The Sun's Features staff contributed to this article.

BOULDER, Colo. -- At the age of 28, Greg Wiatt was living in Boulder, messed up and abusing drugs.

He had been a gifted student in his Midwestern school, with an IQ of 167. But the disparity between him and his father, who had an IQ of 90, and was shorter and thinner than his tall, strapping blond son, was causing acute anxiety for the boy.

The feelings intensified as Greg got older. His parents drifted apart and eventually divorced. When his father had a stroke, Greg became his sole guardian. Greg Wiatt's pain increased: a mixture of anger, confusion and guilt because he couldn't take care of his father and because he, Greg, was successful in life while his father was "simple-minded."

So when his mother called him in Boulder to tell him she had something to confess, he guessed what she was going to say: that he was adopted. What she did tell him was even more startling: That the man he knew as his father, a "troublemaker" in his youth, had been forcibly sterilized and that Greg Wiatt was the product of donor insemination.

But far from ending the turmoil in Greg's life, it started him on a whole new quest, first to find out who his donor father was and if he, Greg, had any blood siblings; and, secondly, to become a spokesman for the rights of children fathered by anonymous sperm donors.

"The knowledge of DI [donor insemination] made me confused," he says.

Mr. Wiatt found out that he had more in common with his genetic father than his "social" father. The family doctor, who arranged the artificial insemination, provided this description of his genetic father: "a broad-minded sort of guy who could put one over on you if he wanted to, real intelligent, sharp dresser, real compassionate."

Mr. Wiatt was shocked: "He was describing me."

After thinking it over for a while, he asked the doctor for a name to go with the description, which he wrote down and carried in his pocket for a year. Later he got an intermediary to call his father, who was now a professor in Virginia. The professor replied that he needed to think about it, but assured the intermediary that he had no hereditary problems.

When Mr. Wiatt didn't hear from the professor, he wrote him a letter. The reply came in the form of a letter from an attorney saying that, after reviewing case law, he wanted to let Mr. Wiatt know that his genetic father had no interest in seeing him.

But Mr. Wiatt's search didn't stop there. He found out through the family doctor's office that he had five genetic sisters, four through sperm donations. Mr. Wiatt also found out that he had attended high school with one of the girls and had been attracted to her.

The issue of siblings unknowingly marrying or procreating gains importance as the number of DIs, currently about 250,000, increases. Mr. Wiatt feels that a donor offspring should know the name of his or her father, thus decreasing the chances of an accidental coupling with a genetic sibling.

On the other side is Dr. William Schlaff, of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, who says sibling marriages are statistically unlikely.

But Mr. Wiatt's concerns go beyond that one issue. He has recently started a group, Helping Offspring Pursue Ethics. HOPE, which acts as a clearinghouse for information on DI, opposes the "closed practice of surrogate fatherhood" and calls for legislation prohibiting DI unless it is "done in an honest and open and highly regulated manner."

Such ideas run counter to the way the medical establishment, including fertility clinics, operate in the United States, which promise anonymity to sperm donors. In Baltimore, three hospitals that have sperm banks -- Johns Hopkins, University and Greater Baltimore Medical Center -- say they keep their donors' identities secret from recipients and the resulting offspring. Doctors said they've never had a request to reveal the identity of a sperm donor.

Dr. Howard Siegel, director of the GBMC laboratory that includes a sperm bank, said the confidentiality protects all parties involved.

"We want to make sure the donor doesn't later claim the offspring. This lets them know they do not have parental rights to the offspring," Dr. Siegel said. "And this protects the donor as well. The donors go into this program . . . thinking they're doing something humane, they're donating something to an infertile couple that otherwise could not have children, and they don't wish to have the responsibilities of parenting these offspring."

Mr. Wiatt, meanwhile, has started writing a book about his experience (titled "Deceptive Conceptions"). He said he is often asked why he is so obsessed with the fact that he was born of a donor father and why he bothers to continue seeking his biological family.

"I only have one [known] genetic link -- my mother," Mr. Wiatt says. "It's an animal instinct, wanting to know" -- where you come from and if there are others out there like you.

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