There are an estimated one million children living in the United States who were conceived from either a donated sperm or egg.
For many families, donor technology is an answer to their prayers, but critics say the assisted reproduction industry in the United States is one of the least regulated in the world.
That's one reason why some children are born with serious and even deadly genetic diseases.
There are some things you need to be aware of before rolling the genetic dice with a sperm donor.
A mother and her son shared their story with America Now, but they asked us to maintain their anonymity to protect their privacy. The woman's child, who is now a teenager, was conceived by his mother's egg being fertilized by donated sperm.
The human body contains thousands of genes, which are pieces of DNA passed on from our parents.
Like the many parts of a puzzle, our DNA determines what we look like and tells us what, if any, genetic diseases we may live with or, perhaps, die from.
What if you didn't know half of your genetic inheritance?
That's what it's like for tens of thousands of children fathered by an anonymous sperm donor. Some of them are born with serious health conditions.
"I always felt something was off," said the teen who was conceived from donated sperm.
His mother says something was more than off. When he was born, she said her son appeared seemingly healthy, but soon, he was having wild tantrums and suffered from extreme social anxiety.
His mother couldn't find any clues about what was wrong by looking on the few pages of identifying information about the sperm donor except for the man's height, hair color and interests.
Finally, doctors attributed the child's condition to his DNA.
"We came back for the results and she [the doctor] said, 'I think what you're dealing with is Asperger's Syndrome,'" the mother recalled.
Looking back at the pages of documents pertaining to the sperm donor, there was no mention of the sperm bank screening for the genetic condition.
Ironically, the Food and Drug Administration mandates sperm be screened for infectious diseases like HIV, but there is no federal requirement for sperm banks to test for genetic diseases which may explain why babies from what appears to be healthy donor profiles are born with conditions like Cystic Fibrosis, heart defects, and even spinal muscular atrophy.
"Many of those children die before the age of two," said Dr. Bill Meyer, an obstetrician with Carolina Conceptions located in Charlotte, N. C.
Since there is no law limiting how many children a sperm donor can father or rules requiring a family or donor to report updated medical information to a sperm bank, an untested and undiscovered genetic disease could easily be spread to dozens of children.
For most families, the lack of regulation over sperm banks is a reality that many learn about too late.
"You're pretty desperate and you're not thinking as clearly as you might be at the beginning of the process," the teen's mother points out. "They're not just selling a product; they're selling hopes and dreams and future memories."
Future parents should know that some banks have now added genetic screening, but not all of them do this.
"I mean, it's a big commercial enterprise and you have banks that compete against one another," Meyer said.
Another option is for the mother to screen herself.
A simple saliva test can identify her as a carrier for almost 100 different conditions.
"If she is negative for all of those, then it really doesn't matter," Meyer said.
That's because it takes two recessive carriers to create most genetic conditions.
There's also the option of screening the embryos now fertilized with the donor's sperm.
Only those clear of a genetic condition are used.
For families well past that point and are now looking for any DNA information link to their donor, there is a helping hand online called the Donor Sibling Registry.
"It's an amazing network of people out there that want to support each other and know that we are all a family," said the teen's mother.
Searching by their donor ID number, she and her son have been able to find half-siblings around the country, some of which have the same genetic condition.
For families disheartened to hear that most sperm banks delete donor data after 10 years, the registry has become a social support system and online community to share medical information which is helping to fill in the pieces of the genetic puzzle.
"I had felt distant from everyone else, but when I met my siblings, it helped a lot, because I knew there were other people like me," the teen said.
For others, it's a chance to reconnect with their donors.
Donors who have registered are able to update families on their health.
Some of the donors have found almost 200 children sharing their DNA.
"Then, the question comes up, 'OK, when is enough enough?'" Meyer asked.
For every parent, how much information and testing they want is a personal choice.
Meyer warns that with genetics, there are countless variables and not all conditions can be traced back to a donor.
Largely, human life is always a roll of the genetic dice.
While there are preventative measures parents can take, there are those who say that even if the puzzle didn't turn out exactly as planned, they're grateful for every piece that was put into place.
"Thank you for donating so my parents could have me," the teen said.
Donated eggs pose the same risks as well.
There are hundreds of clinics offering reproductive technology around the country and doctors say most women come with a sperm bank in mind and, usually, its one they found online.
The following information is from Dr. Bill Meyer, an OBGYN & Reproductive Endocrinology Specialist at Carolina Conceptions in Charlotte, NC.
The following details are from our interview with the mother.
The following details are from our interview with the son.
The following information is from the Donor Sibling Registry:
The following information is from an article entitled "Are Sperm Banks Unethical?" published by Salon Media Group:
The following information is from the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity:
The following information is from an article entitled "In Choosing a Sperm Donor, a Roll of the Genetic Dice" published by The New York Times:
The following information is from an ABCNews online report entitled "Sperm Donor's 24 Kids Never Told About Fatal Illness":
The following information is from an online article entitled "Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis and Screening: PGD and PGS" published by Fertility Authority:
The following tips are from an article entitled "How to Carefully Choose a U.S. Sperm Bank" published by Choosing Single Motherhood:
The following information is from an ABCNews online report entitled "Your Saliva: A Crystal Ball to Your Offspring?"
The following information is from a Curiousity.com/Discovery Communications online article:
The following information is from an Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet published by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
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