Are Ova Donors Encouraging Incest?

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During the process of selling some genetic material, I found myself tapping into a social anxiety I couldn't quite understand. A few people around me–including one ultrasound technician–were worried that two of my spawn, born to different mothers through anonymous donations, would meet and fall hopelessly in love. Not knowing that they were genetically related, they would go on to reproduce. I thought this, um, statistically improbable. But for at least one member of the House of Lords, this possibility is enough to require all mothers who use donated sperm to disclose that fact:

A couple discovered after they had married that they were twins who had been split up at birth and adopted by separate families, according to a member of Britain's House of Lords.

British peer David Alton recounted the story to parliament last month to support his argument that artificially conceived children should be told who their biological parents are…

Alton said he had heard the story of the separated twins from a High Court judge who had dealt with the case.

"They met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction, and the judge had to deal with the consequences of the marriage that they entered into and all the issues of their separation," he said.

"I suspect that it will be a matter of litigation in the future if we do not make information of this kind available to children who have been donor-conceived," he said.

Note that this situation did not involve sperm or egg donation. And, given the lack of names here, the argument amounts to: "My judge friend told me about this thing that happened one time." I guess that's enough to make a new law in Britain at this point. 

Hat Tip: Bill Piper. 

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  1. If the Lords know about anything, it’s congenital idiocy.

  2. If people are of the same genetic makeup, it makes sense that they would have similar personalities and would potentially meet and reproduce. Its highly unlikely but more likely than if you consider the process of couplehood to be completely random in a given sample.

  3. Twins are different. They say that twins develop an extraordinary bond to each other in utero. When these unknowing twins met each other in adulthood, they probably felt “like they had been missing each other their entire lives”, and their confusion over that led to their…ummm…difficulties. There is no reason to expect that half-brothers and sisters from sperm donation are going to have a similar problem.

  4. JimmyDaGeek pointed the Urkobold to this story this morning, but he never posted it. In fact he disappeared for most of the day. We finally found him…in Stevo’s bunk.

    Weird fella, that uber-troll. Odd tastes.

  5. I can see their first date:
    “I have a birthmark on me bum that looks just like Lord Alton.”
    “What a coincidence! Me, too!”
    Sounds like the couple he gave as an example didn’t even have children.

  6. At first I read this as saying that all mothers who had donated sperm would be required to disclose the fact. Probably much more sensible that the real proposal.

  7. Gene splicing leading to unintential relations between people who are related is the central plot element of “Code 46” starring Tim Robbins.

    Unfortunately the movie is slow, and talky, but it is interesting to see a real life problem so soon after the movie was made.

  8. Technology could solve this problem. If genetic tests can tell who the father of a baby is why couldn’t the same technology be used to determine if by some freak accident we are not brother and sister?

  9. British peer David Alton recounted the story to parliament last month to support his argument that artificially conceived children should be told who their biological parents are…

    Thus effectively killing anonymous donation.

  10. I was adopted.
    suddenly I have the overwhelming urge to take a sample of my wife’s hair and have it tested against my own.

  11. British peer David Alton recounted the story to parliament last month to support his argument that artificially conceived children should be told who their biological parents are…

    Thus effectively killing anonymous donation.

    Couldn’t they avoid this (non-)problem simply by maintaining a database of who the biological parents are and, without disclosing the parents’ identities, simply checking the database when two anonymous donor kids want to marry and returning only and answer of “OK, you’re not related” or “stop, you are related”?

  12. Anonymo,
    Why keep a database. A same generation sibling will share many genealogical markers. If prospective couples are that worried about it, perhaps they should simply have their DNA tested for similarities prior to marriage. $100 for the test and takes about 3 weeks to come back.

    Course, it would be a death blow to Vegas Love Chapels but it’s all for the greater good.

  13. I was adopted.
    suddenly I have the overwhelming urge to take a sample of my wife’s hair and have it tested against my own.

    I am too. I had a friend tell me that I should only sleep with people in my own adopted family; they are the only sure bet it won’t be incest.

  14. The way I see this, there’s a chance of unintentional incest to which many people are susceptible. Sperm/egg banking is one factor that increases this risk. As the Lord unwittingly pointed out, adoption is another. There are others, too: what about geographical mobility within regions of low population density? What about one-night stands that lead to pregnancy? Intermarriage within a caste or exclusive religious/ethnic community also increases the probability; regulating this tendency are a variety of traditional institutions which may be disrupted by persecution and diasporation.

    However, while the risk of incest is greater than the Lord realizes, concretely, it is only the risk of a risk. Incest does not lead invariably to genetic abnormalities, particularly with only one generation of inbreeding. It merely carries with it a relatively higher risk. So when we consider the danger here, there are two relatively low probabilities that, considered together, indicate a much lower probability than either of them separately.

    Liberty can and should be weighed against the risks it engenders. But if we’re going to use the same kind of risk calculus for incest that we would use for, say, terrorism, the effect of a long-lost brother and sister reproducing is somewhat less grave than that of a bomb going off in a public place. Just as only some measures–falling short of all possible measures–restricting liberty would be permissible to prevent a bombing, only some measures–falling somewhat further short of all possible remedies–are appropriate to prevent incestuous unions.

  15. “Intermarriage within a caste or exclusive religious/ethnic community also increases the probability; regulating this tendency are a variety of traditional institutions which may be disrupted by persecution and diasporation.”

    Good point! It is time to do away with the monarchy due to the risk of genetic abnormalities! Right?

  16. As far as I understand it, the risks from a little bit of one-off consanguineous relationships is rather low. I don’t anticipate a lot of flipper babies coming out this. On the farm we’d back-breed rabbits with desirable traits all the time, and aren’t all pure-breed animals the outcome of some sort of original inbreeding? It seems like it only becomes a problem when it happens again and again over several generations.

    On the other hand there is a creepiness factor if you ever found out your spouse was your sibling decades into your marriage…

  17. “British peer David Alton recounted the story to parliament last month to support his argument that artificially conceived children should be told who their biological parents are…

    Thus effectively killing anonymous donation.”

    Anonymous donation died a death some time ago in the UK. This couple’s problems arose because of the old laws. Now adopted children have the right to be told they are adopted and to seek information about their biological parentage when they become adults.

  18. “As far as I understand it, the risks from a little bit of one-off consanguineous relationships is rather low. I don’t anticipate a lot of flipper babies coming out this.”

    Well, there where a few flipper babies…

    …THEY”RE WHERE ONLY A FEW FLIPPER BABIES.

  19. But isn’t that due to thalidomide anyway? I don’t think that was due to inbreeding.
    http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/thalidomide/first.html

    Founder effect may be what you are thinking of though
    http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/a-z/Founder_effect.asp

    For the ultra-interested in this you may want to consider Pitcairn Island as a counter case which may be due to the extreme variation in the original population (British males and polynesian females).
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,883297,00.html

  20. A series of legal rulings in which anonymous sperm donors were required to pay child support, including years of *back* child support, are what killed anonymous donation in the UK. Commentators claimed this would make no difference, but men aren’t quite as stupid as the culture makes them out to be. In effect, if you can find out the man’s identity (a task with some difficulty) you can hit him up for money. Though a rule like this is late to the party, it should complete the final destruction of the donation industry. If there’s no bar at all to finding a donor’s identity, every donor is going to be hit with a child support order, hardly the financial bargain a donor is looking for.

    US child support rules have a similar strict liability regime. As long as the father can somehow be identified, even if he was previously anonymous or the sperm was obtained through rape or theft, he *will* be charged with a child support order if the mother asks for it.

  21. How come all the eHarmony couples look like they were siblings separated at birth? Is “deep dimensions of compatibility” just face recognition software?

  22. And, given the lack of names here, the argument amounts to: “My judge friend told me about this thing that happened one time.” I guess that’s enough to make a new law in Britain at this point.

    Well yeah, that’s how they banned guns.

  23. Why is this suddenly a concern now? Children have been adopted without knowing the identities of their biological parents for centuries. There has always been the remote possibility that siblings could meet and procreate. If anything, that probability should be falling, not rising.

    Let’s assume that adoption rates have remained more-or-less consistant over the years.

    This is a generous assumption for 3 reasons:
    1) Improved contraception and abortion technology would serve to reduce the probability of bearing unwanted offspring;
    2) The probability of a woman dying in childbirth has been immensely reduced, resulting in fewer orphans; and
    3) Changing societal norms would have make it less likely that an unwed mother would be pressured to give up a child for adoption.

    As such, I would expect that the percentage of the population raised by adoptive parents has declined in the last century… but absent any data, I’ll just assume it’s remained constant.

    Carrying on…

    As the world’s population has grown tremendously, while becoming more urbanized and geographically mobile, should not the probability of inadvertantly hooking up with a long-lost sibling have decreased significantly?

    In pre-industrial times, most people wouldn’t have travelled beyond a 100 mile radius of their place of birth. Wouldn’t it be much more likely to encounter your biological sibling in the next village over yonder, than in, say… a city of millions… or in any of the dozens of cities of across the country… or any of the hundreds of cities around the world?

    Maybe someday Google will help lost siblings reunite (in a non-incestuous manner), by letting users search for specific DNA sequences.

  24. A couple discovered after they had married that they were twins who had been split up at birth and adopted by separate families…

    Damn, that’s a shitty situation to be in. Does anyone know what the couple decided to do after this, uh, discovery?

  25. Even if these kids born of donated eggs were to grow up and marry each other, so what? If they have a disabled baby what is the difference between them having a disabled baby and the millions of disabled babies born every year by non related, but genetically incompatible couples? What I don’t get about these kinds of laws is that they are to prevent a non problem even in the worse case scenerio.

  26. There is nothing wrong whatsover with any kind of incest involving consenting adults. It is simply an old-fashioned taboo and prejudice little difference than homophobia and racism. Who cares who anyone fucks? What are you guys, the Religious Right?

  27. Unsung Genius,

    Leaving aside the legality of incest, which is certainly a moot point, keep in mind that we don’t know whether this couple would’ve consented to their marriage had they known that they were in fact biological twins, though their decision not to provide any further information tells me they likely would have not. Incest (at least of the kind involving the closest blood relations) is and has been illegal for all these years not just because it is an old-fashioned taboo, but also because 99% of the population understandably find it creepy. Also, if you can’t differentiate our attitude towards incest from such prejudices as homophobia and racism, you most likely can’t see the difference between tradition (and environment) and nature.

  28. Johnny be fair and Johnny be kind and wants me for to wed
    And I would marry Johnny but my father up and said
    Oh, it’s sad to tell my daughter what your mother never knew,
    But …

    http://www.chivalry.com/cantaria/lyrics/johnny_be_fair.html

  29. Oh daughter didn’t I
    teach you to forgive and to forget.
    Your father might have
    sowed his oats but
    still you needn’t fret.
    Your father may be
    father to all the boys
    in town but still….
    He’s not the one who sired you
    so marry who you will.

  30. Dogzilla, eHarmony does not match people outside of their own race. Seriously.

  31. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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