The Case of the Serial Sperm Donor

In 2015, Vanessa van Ewijk, a carpenter in the Netherlands, decided that she wanted to have a child. She was 34 and single, and so, like many women, she sought out a sperm donor.

2015年,荷兰木匠凡妮莎·范埃韦克(Vanessa van Ewijk)决定要个孩子。她当时34岁,而且是单身,所以,像许多女性一样,她挑选了一名捐精者。

She considered conceiving through a fertility clinic, but the cost was prohibitive for her. Instead, she found an ideal candidate through a website called Desire for a Child, one of a growing number of online sperm markets that match candidate donors directly with potential recipients. Van Ewijk was drawn to one profile in particular, that of Jonathan Jacob Meijer, a Dutch musician in his 30s.

她考虑过通过生育诊所怀孕,但诊所的费用对她来说太高了。取而代之,她在一个名为“想要个孩子(Desire for a Child)”的网站找到了理想的候选人。该网站是数量越来越多的线上精子市场之一,它们让候选捐精者与潜在受精者直接进行般配。范·埃韦克尤其被30多岁的荷兰音乐家乔纳森·雅各布·迈伊(Jonathan Jacob Meijer)的简介所吸引。

Meijer was handsome, with blue eyes and a mane of curly blond hair. Van Ewijk liked how genuine he appeared. “I spoke to him on the phone and he seemed gentle and kind and well-behaved,” she said. “He liked music, and he talked about his thoughts on life. He didn’t come on strong in any sense. He seemed like the boy next door.”


About a month later, after some back-and-forth, she and Meijer arranged to meet at Central Station, a busy railway hub in The Hague. He provided her with his sperm, and in return she paid him 165 euros, about $200, and covered his travel costs. Months later she gave birth to a daughter — her first child and, Meijer told her, his eighth. (Meijer declined to be interviewed for this article but did answer some questions by email, and stated that he did not grant permission for his name to be published.)


In 2017, when she decided to conceive again, she reached out once more to Meijer. Once again he met with her and, for a similarly modest fee, provided a container of his semen; once again she became pregnant, and gave birth to a boy.


Even before then, however, van Ewijk had learned some unsettling news. She had connected on Facebook with another single mother who also had used Meijer as a donor, and who told her that, according to an investigation in 2017 by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, he had fathered at least 102 children in the Netherlands through numerous fertility clinics, a tally that did not include his private donations through websites.


Van Ewijk wanted her children to be full siblings, so she still wanted Meijer to be the donor. Nonetheless, she was alarmed. The Netherlands is a small country, home to 17 million people; the more half-siblings there are in the population who are unknown to one another, the greater the odds that two of them might meet unwittingly and produce children of their own — children with a heightened risk of carrying hereditary defects.


Furious, van Ewijk confronted Meijer. He admitted that he had produced at least 175 children and conceded that there might be more.


“He said, ‘I’m just helping women make their biggest wish come true,’” van Ewijk recalled. “I said: ‘You’re not helping anymore! How do I tell my kids that they could possibly have 300 siblings?’”


She may have only known the half of it.


The first child of in vitro fertilization was born in 1978, and in the decades since, sperm donation has become a thriving global business, as fertility clinics, sperm banks and private donors have sought to meet the demand of parents eager to conceive.


As an industry, however, it is poorly regulated. A patchwork of laws ostensibly addresses who can donate, where and how often, in part to avoid introducing or amplifying genetic disabilities in a population. In Germany, a sperm-clinic donor may not produce more than 15 children; in the United Kingdom the cap is 10 families of unlimited children. In the Netherlands, Dutch law prohibits donating anonymously, and nonbinding guidelines limit clinic donors to 25 children and from donating at more than one clinic in the country. In the United States there are no legal limits, only guidelines from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine: 25 children per donor in a population of 800,000.

但是,该行业监管不力。一系列法律表面上看来针对谁以什么样的频率在何地捐赠的问题做出了规定,这在一定程度上是为了避免在人群中引入或扩大遗传残疾。在德国,一名诊所捐赠者的孩子不能超过15个。在英国则是最多10个家庭,孩子数量不限。在荷兰,法律禁止匿名捐赠,不具约束力的指导方针将诊所捐赠者限制为25名儿童,并且只能在该国一家诊所捐赠。在美国,没有法律限制,只有美国生殖医学学会(American Society for Reproductive Medicine)的指导方针:在80万人口中,每个捐赠者可以有25个孩子。

Regulation is even more scarce internationally. There is little to stop a sperm donor from donating at clinics in countries other than his own, or at global agencies like Cryos International, the world’s biggest sperm clinic, in Denmark, which ships semen to more than 100 countries.

国际上的监管更加稀缺。没有什么能阻止捐精者在本国以外的诊所或在位于丹麦的全球最大的精子诊所Cryos International这样的全球机构进行捐赠,该诊所向100多个国家运送精液。

“There’s nothing in the U.S. or anywhere that would keep a donor from donating at more than one sperm bank,” said Wendy Kramer, a co-founder and the executive director of the Donor Sibling Registry, an organization in the United States that supports donor families. “The sperm banks claim that they ask the donor if they’ve donated anywhere else, but nobody knows if they really do.”

“在美国或任何地方,没有什么可以阻止捐精者在一个以上的精子库捐助,”美国支持受捐出生者家庭的组织“受捐出生者手足登记中心(Donor Sibling Registry)”的联合创始人兼执行董事温迪·克雷默(Wendy Kramer)说。“精子库说,他们会询问捐精者是否在其他地方有过捐精,但这是没有办法核实的事情。”

And few if any laws govern private donations, of the kind that van Ewijk and Meijer arranged through the internet. Through these gaps, several cases have emerged of donors who have fathered scores of children or more, and of grown children discovering, often through social media, that they have not just a handful of half-siblings but dozens of them.


In 2019, the Dutch Donor Child Foundation, an advocacy group that facilitates legal and emotional support for donor-conceived people and their families and helps search for biological relatives, determined through DNA testing that Dr. Jan Karbaat, a fertility specialist who died in 2017, had secretly fathered at least 68 children, born to women who visited his clinic near Rotterdam.

在2019年,荷兰受捐出生儿童基金会(Dutch Donor Child Foundation)通过DNA测试确定,于2017年去世的生育专家扬·卡尔巴特(Jan Karbaat)博士秘密生育了至少68个孩子,这些孩子的母亲都去过他在鹿特丹附近的诊所。荷兰受捐出生儿童基金会是一个倡导组织,为受捐出生者及其家人提供法律和情感支持,并帮助寻找血缘亲属。

At least one sperm donor in the Netherlands, known as Louis, is thought to have more than 200 offspring, many of whom are unaware of one another. Six years ago Ivo van Halen, a 36-year-old Dutch information technology consultant, learned that he was among them. Since then, he has managed to connect directly with 42 of his half-siblings.

在荷兰,至少有一个被称为路易(Louis)的捐精者,其后代有200多个,其中许多人彼此都不知道。现年36岁的荷兰信息技术顾问伊沃·范海伦(Ivo van Halen)六年前得知自己就是其中之一。从那时起,他设法与他的42个同父异母手足直接取得联系。

“It’s been a shock to learn how to integrate 42 brothers and sisters into your life,” van Halen said in an interview. “There are no books on how to do that. Our group is at 70 known children already, and getting new matches every month.”


Some of his half-siblings have encountered each other multiple times on Tinder, the dating app. One half-brother, Jordy Willekens, who lives in The Hague, matched online with four half-sisters. “Once, I swiped on a sister and she swiped right on me at the same time,” Willekens said.

他的一些同父异母的兄弟姐妹在约会应用Tinder上偶遇了许多次。居住在海牙的同父异母兄弟乔迪·威利肯斯(Jordy Willekens)与四名同父异母的姐妹在网上配上对。威利肯斯说:“有一次,我向右划了她的照片,她同时也向右划了我的照片。”

The group keeps a list of potential siblings to refer to before going on a date. Willekens, who is now in a relationship, said he had been very careful when dating: “I have a very trained eye by now.”


Some sperm donors, like Karbaat, donate surreptitiously and illegally, leaving their identities and the scale of their activity to be discovered many years later by their offspring, often as a shock.


Other donors are openly profligate. Ari Nagel, a math professor in New York, donates exclusively online and directly with recipients; he has been nicknamed the “Target Donor” because he sometimes meets women in public spots, such as Target stores, to hand off his sperm. He told The New York Times that he had 76 biological children. Simon Watson, a donor in the United Kingdom who regularly updates his Facebook site with photos of his offspring, told the BBC in 2016 that he had at least 800 children around the world.

其他捐精者则公开地大肆捐赠。纽约的数学教授阿里·纳吉尔(Ari Nagel)仅在网上与受捐者直接联系;他被称为“塔吉特(Target)捐精者”,因为有时他会在例如塔吉特商店这样的公共场所与女性见面,交出他的精子。他告诉《纽约时报》,他有76个亲生孩子。英国的捐助者西蒙·沃森(Simon Watson)定期在Facebook页面上发布其后代的照片,他在2016年告诉英国广播公司(BBC),他在世界各地至少有800个孩子。

Meijer appears to have adopted both approaches, registering at more clinics than is recommended while also donating privately.


In 2017, after confronting Meijer, van Ewijk notified the Dutch Donor Child Foundation that he had many more children than he had initially revealed, and that he had been donating sperm at several clinics. The group already knew of him, from other mothers with the same complaint.


The foundation soon determined that Meijer had privately fathered at least 80 children in the Netherlands, in addition to the 102 that the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport had identified through 11 clinics in the country. The government ordered all Dutch sperm clinics to stop using Meijer’s semen.


The issue of serial sperm donation has been recognized in other countries as well. Christina Motejl, a lawyer in Berlin, is a member of Donor Offspring Europe, a network of organizations of donor-conceived adults in Europe. She said that the group was concerned about donors who travel around Europe trying to father as many children as possible.

其他国家也认识到连续捐精的问题。柏林律师克里斯蒂娜·莫特伊(Christina Motejl)是欧洲捐精者后代(Donor Offspring Europe)的成员,该组织是欧洲受捐出生的成年人组织的关系网。她说,该组织对在欧洲旅行的捐精者试图生出尽可能多的孩子感到担忧。

“It’s kind of disgusting in a narcissistic way,” she said. “No sane person would want 100 children or more. The big question is why? These men want confirmation that they’re a great guy and everybody wants them.”


A mother in Australia who purchased Meijer’s sperm through Cryos and had a child said she was disturbed by how many children he turned out to have. (She asked that her name not be used, for privacy reasons.) She and 50 or so other mothers who used his sperm have formed a group, Moms on a Mission, to try to get him to stop donating.

澳大利亚的一位母亲通过Cryos购买了迈伊的精子,并育有一个孩子,她说她为他有那么多孩子感到不安。(出于隐私原因,她要求不要使用她的名字。)她和其他50多个使用其精子的母亲组成了一个小组,“肩负使命的妈妈”(Moms on a Mission),试图让他停止捐献。

Their goal is to connect with as many other parents as they can, to find out the true number of offspring he has produced, so that their children can contact each other as they get older. Many of the mothers wonder how their children will ever be able to have a relationship with their biological father when he has so many other children. The group also advocates for the creation of an international database of sperm donors.


“That way these men can’t just donate whenever they want and create all these children in the world without parents even consenting to the fact,” the Australian mother said. “I can’t imagine what our son is going to think when he finds out.”


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