Bringing sperm donor skeletons out of the closet

"Sperm donor papa," as I lovingly call him, has produced at least a baker's dozen of kids, including myself. You could be related to me - you'd just never know.

In fact, most children conceived by donor sperm are not aware of it and will never find out about their true genetic origins. Heterosexual couples are often afraid a donor will take a father's place or that someone will find out their hushed and carefully hidden secret, which may remain only in some papers hidden in a dusty old chest somewhere. They should realize, however, that this is the new millennium, not the 1950s. I'm tired of secrets.

Why does this matter? From a solely medical standpoint, concealing a person's genetic identity can have damaging - even fatal - repercussions. Parents who don't tell their children about their true genetic origins are being unethical and irresponsible, not to mention selfish.

Studies conducted by Cambridge University have shown that children who learn about their conception from the very beginning are the most well-adjusted, psychologically speaking, and harbor no resentment toward their parents.

Many donor-conceived people (DCP), however, find out through shady means - perhaps a parental divorce, someone's slip of the tongue or a, "Whoops! It's time for that organ transplant, but there are no genetic matches to be found."

I have been told that half of what makes me me is the equivalent to a blood donor's gift of hemoglobin. Fellow DCP and I have been told we should simply be grateful to be alive, and that we have no right to want to know where we come from, why we hate math but love to factor, or why we were relatively bald for the first year and a half of our nascent lives.

When people compare sperm donation to donating blood, they don't realize that, while a sperm donor isn't a dad, some of his personality traits are heritable: his looks, his interests - even his mannerisms and quirky sense of humor. The role of nurture can't be overlooked, but what about nature's part in the creation of a truly whole human being?

DCP deserve to know whose frozen sperm was sent halfway across the country to impregnate their mothers. At a point, the desire to know warps into a need to know, and to deny anyone such a basic right is simply inhumane.

Lack of knowledge about your genetic family often creates a void and a sense of loss. This void can be filled by the connections you make with newfound donor siblings. These ties are real and they are powerful. Anyone who denies this simply does not understand.

I'm not saying that sperm donation is bad; on the contrary, I think it's a wonderful way to help many women realize their dreams of having children, whether they are single mothers by choice, lesbians or traditional mommies with infertile husbands. Men who choose to become sperm donors (or women who become egg donors) are giving many excited parents the gift of life, the gift of a child.

Now for a shameless plug: Maybe you should ask your parents if you're donor-conceived - you might be surprised by the answer you get. And if you are - and want to search for half-siblings or a sperm donor - check out the Donor Sibling Registry at donorsiblingregistry.com

Danielle Pagano is a sophomore English major who inherited her sperm donor papa's extraordinary sense of humor.

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