The latest UK figures on sperm donation reveal that the “top 500” donors have fathered 6,200 children between them, with 15 of these having more than 20 each. The figures illustrate a simple truth – legalising sperm donation is not a good idea, even if you ban anonymous donation.
Let's review the arguments against sperm donation. All else being equal, it's a good idea for children to have a relationship with their biological parents, where possible. The natural ties are important, should not be set aside lightly, and certainly not deliberately. This is a substantial part of the reason why civil marriage evolved as a social institution – to bind parents, and particularly fathers, to their children.
Now, obviously getting rid of anonymous sperm donation makes it easier for donor-conceived children to have some kind of relationship with their fathers. It's hard to have a relationship with someone when you have no idea who they are.
It's also very welcome for the reason that if children know their genetic heritage, they're less likely to get into a romantic relationship with one of their half-siblings by mistake, though the danger of this has by no means been averted – I don't imagine people will introduce themselves at bars saying “I was conceived through sperm donation, here's a picture of my dad, hope he's not yours too.”
I'm kind of appalled that I even had to write the last paragraph.
So, yes, it's good that anonymous sperm donation has been banned in the UK. But in terms of establishing a meaningful relationship with one's father – well, how meaningful a relationship can you have with someone if you're one of 20 donor-conceived children? If the donors go on to start a family, how will those children feel about the emergence of all these half-brothers and sisters? What if the father wants nothing to do with his offspring?
There are two ways we in Ireland could approach problems like this – attempt to legislate and regulate our way around each one of them, keep appealing to the complexity of life, and not allow anything to get in the way of the wishes of adults to have children.