Procreative compounds: popular eugenics, artificial insemination and the rise of the American sperm banking industry
Cynthia R. Daniels
A contemporary visitor to one of the largest sperm banks in the United States would find a dazzling array of seminal products available for purchase. The storage room of New England Cryogenics–in “home run” distance from Boston’s Fenway Park–contains more than 165,000 vials of sperm representing the best that American men have to offer. (1) Consumers can peruse donor catalogs listing the race, ethnicity, height, weight, hair color, hair texture, skin tone, facial structure, IQ, hobbies, talents, and interests of the men whose sperm is for sale. The semen that is selected can then be purchased for about $165.00 per “straw” with additional charges for shipping and handling. In the U.S., tens of thousands of children are conceived each year through artificial insemination with semen purchased from sperm banks. (2)
Both sperm donors and their “donations” are subjected to stringent forms of testing and screening to insure not only their health, but also the marketability of the product they produce. At most sperm banks, donors may be rejected if they are too young (under 21) or too old (over 35); if they are too short (under 5’8″) or too tall (over 6’2″); if they weigh too little or too much. They may be rejected if they are adopted or have parents who are adopted because of an inability to obtain a complete genetic and family history. Other reasons for exclusion include having had sex with another male, with a woman who has had sex with a bisexual male, or with more than a maximum number of sexual partners. A family history of as many of one hundred different diseases or physical disorders can likewise rule out potential donors. (3) Once accepted as a donor, a man can be rejected if he fails one of the monthly blood and urine tests administered to check for drug use, HIV, and a range of other infectious diseases. As one newspaper article noted “being accepted as a sperm donor can be as difficult as entering Harvard.” The data suggest otherwise. It is easier to get into Harvard. (4)
Once past the battery of tests, donors are numbered and categorized by race and ethnic origin. Donors at the largest and most successful sperm bank in the world, California Cryobank, are “hand printed.” A biometric identification device records a three-dimensional measurement of the donor’s hand which is used to confirm the identity of the donor for future visits, or as Cryobank puts it, “to ensure that the man standing at the donor desk really is donor #500.” Samples in vials are then both numbered and color-coded by racial categories: predictably, white caps for Caucasian; black for African-American; yellow for Asian, red for “all others.” (5) Sperm banks then sell the seminal product through catalogs which feature glossy photos of virile men. In short, in contemporary society, sperm is a commodity, alienated from its producer and yet sold as the embodiment of that producer’s particular traits.
A prescient description of sperm banks appeared in a 1938, tongue-in-cheek article in American Mercury, in which the author forecast “staggering” social possibilities should artificial insemination ever become widely adopted. He envisioned a land “stocked with an assortment of bottled procreative compounds available to women on demand,” thus making it possible for “a few feminists or Lucy Stoners [to] resort to the scientific substitutes out of pure spite, or as a declaration of biological independence.” (6) The development of sperm cryobanking into a multi-million dollar industry in the United States over the past twenty-five years suggests the author’s forecast was at least partially correct. Purchasers of “procreative compounds” can select sperm that comes from donors who match partners or from those who embody idealized versions of men–taller, handsomer, smarter than the average. Vials of sperm selected by purchasers, like sperm donors once selected by doctors contain, figuratively, the cultural ranking of particular traits. Selections are made, in part, on the basis of nonheritable characteristics and so reveal prevailing social hierarchies and the operation of what we call populist market eugenics. We define this as the belief that certain human traits can be “purchased” through the careful selection of sperm. We note that the traits which appear to be most in demand in the contemporary sperm banking industry reflect not just the desires of consumers to have offspring who physically resemble them, but to have offspring who will be at the top of prevailing social hierarchies. Implicitly, if not explicitly, populist market eugenics rests on the simple faith that such hierarchies are rooted in genetically transmitted material. (7)
This article traces the role of populist eugenics in shaping artificial insemination with donor sperm (AID) from doctor-dominated AID practiced from the 1920s through the 1960s through the rise of the modern cryobanking industry which supported a consumer-dominated AID in the late twentieth century. It begins by examining the development of AID and the eugenic interests it provoked and then turns to the rise of the modern sperm bank, exploring the growth of the industry and the ways in which it markets the “traits” of donors, playing to popular notions of heritability that have no scientific standing. Scholars have discussed eugenics as a social movement resting on the unproven scientific claim that, by controlling the breeding of those deemed unfit or genetically defective and encouraging the breeding of the fit, the quality of the population could be improved. Much of the research has focused on negative eugenics through its effects on such things as the segregation of the “feebleminded” in institutions, passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted the admission of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, and the enactment of state laws preventing the unfit (those deemed insane, idiotic, and epileptic for example) from marrying and/or mandating their sterilization. (8) Positive eugenics too has received scholarly attention, with examination of particular attempts to educate people about Mendelian laws of inheritance through such things as “Fitter Families” and “Better Babies” contests at state fairs in the 1920s and 30s. (9) During these events, contestants submitted eugenic histories, underwent medical examinations and took and IQ test–a process that foreshadowed the selection of sperm donors.
A subsequent form of popular eugenics evolved with the development of AID through the 1920s, 30s and 40s as individual doctors and individual couples employed eugenic theories to create families. For physicians, eugenics often centered on creating smarter babies through the selection of intellectually accomplished donors who were said to be making a contribution to the nation’s gene pool. In the early twentieth century, it was noted that middle-and upper-class families were having far fewer children than their lower-class counterparts. By serving as sperm donors, professional men were thought to be increasing the proportion of genetically well-endowed individuals within the population. For families, the eugenic impulse was often tempered by the imperative to “match” the looks of the donor and father but, wherever possible, to produce offspring smarter and better looking than nature might have allowed. In examining the history of AID in the twentieth century, we can better understand how populist eugenics operated in the medical world and in private homes. Rather than understanding eugenics as a political movement led by those with a conservative agenda or a misguided faith in the power of science, we can see it as a movement that meshed with popular beliefs about heritability, good breeding and healthy families. In their quest to overcome childlessness within a society that viewed children as emotionally fulfilling and as markers of a household’s status, families could not help but try to select the characteristics of their children by employing the best that medicine had to offer.
There are, of course, significant differences between artificial insemination by donor sperm as practiced in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century and the purchase and use of sperm from cryobanks in recent decades. AID was a highly secretive medical procedure of questionable legal status in its early years. Only families deemed acceptable by doctors had access to this technology and it was up to physicians to find the donors, who were typically selected for their physical resemblance to the husband and for their educational and professional attainments. The modern cryobanking industry developed after legal questions about individuals conceived through AID had been answered and well past the time when assisted reproductive technologies were available only to those designated as acceptable by a small cadre of physicians. The development of other, more advanced techniques for assisted reproduction, changes in popular ideas about families and family formation, the rise of feminism, and challenges to the cultural authority of medicine pushed decision-making about AID out of the hands of doctors and made it a consumer-driven process. Nevertheless, the eugenic ideals that permeated the development of AID in the first half of the twentieth century have continued in modified form. In the current sperm banking industry, those purchasing straws of semen select donors with “musical abilities,” high SAT scores or particular religious convictions the way physicians in the 1930s chose donors of phlegmatic temperament.
The expansion of the genetic sciences in the past twenty years and development of the Human Genome Project have served to reinforce popular belief in the heritability of both physical and social traits. Scientists now commonly search for the genetic markers of diseases and employers conduct genetic tests on prospective employees even as Congress debates whether such testing should be forbidden. Along with such genetic screening have come assertions that things like alcoholism, shyness, criminality, aggression, altruism and risk-taking propensities are genetic in origin. As a culture, we appear to place more faith in the science of genetic causality than at any time since the peak of the eugenics movement. Some have argued that this renewed and misplaced faith represents a more subtle, but equally troublesome, form of eugenics. As Troy Duster concludes: “to put it metaphorically, when eugenics reincarnates this time, it will not come through the front door, as with Hitler’s Lebensborn project. Instead it will come by the back door of screens, treatments and therapies. Some will be admirably health-giving, and that will be the wedge. But sooner or later, each will face the question of when to shut the back door to eugenics.” (10) Sperm banking, we suggest, has one foot firmly planted in the “old” eugenics and one foot in the new, more benign “backdoor” eugenics.
Seminal Merchants and Proxy Fathers: The Development of Artificial Insemination with Donor Sperm
In the United States, artificial insemination developed along two tracks. One involved the treatment of female infertility in married women through the placement of her husband’s sperm into her cervix–a procedure today referred to as “artificial insemination by homologous” (by husband) or AIH. The other track used donated sperm for the treatment of male infertility, or artificial insemination by donor (AID). AIH occurred first and, although controversial because it violated standards of female modesty, was nonetheless reported in the medical literature. J. Marion Sims described experiments in uterine insemination in the 1860s, including his repeated inseminations of six women. Only one case resulted in a pregnancy which was later miscarried. The treatments were typically instituted because the patients suffered from malformed cervixes which blocked the entry of sperm into the uterus. (11)
AID developed in response to male infertility. First used in 1884, it was not described in the medical literature until twenty-five years later, and by an observer rather than the physician who undertook the procedure. Addison Davis Hart, whom historian Elaine Tyler May believes was the sperm donor, wrote that Philadelphia physician William Pancoast administered donated semen to a wealthy, anesthetized Quaker woman who had been under his care for the treatment of infertility. Upon discovering the husband to be azoospermic (having no spermatozoa in the semen) Pancoast arranged for the wife to be chloroformed under the pretext of undergoing a minor surgery and he then inseminated her with the sperm of the allegedly “best looking member” of his medical class. The insemination proved successful and the woman was never told how she became pregnant. (12) Hart’s reference to the fact that doctor chose the best looking donor suggests that even at an early date, AID was seen as offering an opportunity to create a better baby. The fact that the insemination was kept secret suggests that practitioners were reluctant to tread upon the shaky moral and legal grounds on which such a procedure rested.
Prior to the 1930s few cases of AID were reported in the medical literature. Duluth, Minnesota physician, R. T. Seashore, reported finding only twenty-four articles in the American medical literature. He provided the twenty-fifth when he reported his own case. In this instance, a couple married for six years became parents with his assistance, which included drawing up legal papers and finding a donor as well as performing the procedure. “To all appearances,” he noted “they are a happy father and mother and betray no evidence of regret on their part,” a statement that perhaps indicates something of the uncertainty physicians felt about the practice. (13) Other physicians writing about AID in the 1930s focused their discussion on the most effective techniques–including the collection of semen, the nutrient medium in which it was to be maintained, and the choice of equipment to be used when injecting it into the patient–and on the legal issues involved in the procedure. (14)
Physicians implicitly argued that AID was a therapeutic option that had to be carefully controlled. Doctors had to use astute judgment in determining who required treatment and, of those needing help, which families could endure the strain inevitably produced by AID. They also had to be willing to engage in a morally suspect and legally questionable act. Sperm was procured by choosing an appropriate donor and asking for a masturbation sample for pay. When doctors placed the semen in the recipient they took the risk of creating a pregnancy outside of marriage. Secrecy thus benefited the physician, the woman receiving the sperm, any child born as a result of the procedure (who were called “artificial bastards” by some critics) and the husband whose infertility needed to be masked from public view. (15) By choosing a donor whose physical characteristics resembled those of the husband, the needed secrecy could be maintained. At least one practitioner used sperm from the blood relative of the husband; most others preferred donors unknown to the couple in order to avoid emotional complications. (16)
The commonplace assumption that children resembled their parents became, in the hands of early practitioners of AID, a mandate to match not only the physical but the social characteristics of sperm donors with the men they would make into fathers. Popular beliefs that “racial” identity involved both physical characteristics and personality infused the practice of AID with a pseudoscientific mandate. New York physician and eugenics advocate Frances I. Seymour tried to match husbands and donors by temperament and background so that a “phlegmatic German” would not be bringing up a “quick, fiery-tempered Italian youngster.” (17) Another physician, following the policies of Seymour and her colleague Alfred Koerner, chose donors between 30 and 35 and of proven fertility, arguing for careful matching lest parents “who are both sandy-haired Scots” be embarrassed by presenting “to the world a dark-eyed Spanish brunette.” (18) More critically, it was imperative to choose sperm not only from men whose temperaments matched those of the putative father but whose accomplishments equaled or bettered them. Seymour, leader of the National Research Foundation for the Eugenic Alleviation of Sterility, Inc. preferred middle-aged men with college degrees, professional standing, and a record of success “from both a monetary and a scientific viewpoint.” Calling AID “eugenics in practice” she believed that it allowed for the creation of offspring “as near as humanly perfect as our scientific knowledge can produce.” (19) Others too embraced the eugenic potential of AID, among them Seashore, who noted it provided an opportunity to practice good eugenics and needed to be used “only in those who are apt to improve society.” (20) An Oregon practitioner explained that the couple receiving the sperm should be “of a high moral and intellectual type, financially able to give the child the educational advantages demanded of their social station.” He reported approvingly that the “Seymour group requires a minimum I.Q. of 120 in all receptive mothers.” (21) The selection process described by many early practitioners was, in some ways, reminiscent of Plato’s “Republic” in which the elite guardian classes engage in “judicious mating” between men and women of the same “natural capacities.” (22)
An alternative view of the uses and practice of AID came from Alan Guttmacher, famed Johns Hopkins obstetrician and gynecologist who, along with some allies, challenged the claims and findings of Seymour and Koerner, as well as their motives. At a time when there were few effective treatments for most causes of infertility and AID failed more often than it succeeded, Guttmacher found helping infertile couples become parents “among my most satisfying medical experiences.” (23) Guttmacher purchased sperm from his medical students, who underwent Wassermann tests (for syphilis), and were examined about their history of venereal diseases and their heredity. He also noted “their size, coloring, religious origin and racial stock.” Guttmacher argued for keeping fees low and performing inseminations as a “personal medical service, the contribution of an aesculapiad to the happiness of some wretched, worthy, sterile couple.” (24) But, to the degree that doctors saved AID for the “worthy” they were at least tacitly following the eugenic ideal.
In 1941 Seymour and Koerner published the results of a survey of 30,000 physicians who sent in 7,000 replies testifying to successful pregnancies in over 9,000 women, 3,649 of which resulted from donor inseminations. (25) Guttmacher responded with a stinging critique of their findings, all but calling them frauds. He questioned the numbers of successful pregnancies they reported, finding fantastical claims, arithmetical inconsistencies, and exceptional statistics throughout their report, adding that others in the field had also taken exception to their findings. (26) Despite substantial doubts among experts about the extravagant claims of Seymour and Koerner, the popular press reported their findings in ways that made AID seem, if not widespread, then at least a popular choice. The sheer numbers of babies reportedly born by AID may have lifted the taboos and challenged existing legal and religious criticism of the practice.
Accounts of AID in the popular press suggest that in the midst of the Great Depression with marriage rates falling, birth rates in steep decline, couples seeking effective techniques of birth control and growing numbers of women seeking illegal abortions, Americans began to contemplate openly new ways of overcoming infertility. Magazine articles about AID helped to normalize what some viewed as an immoral medical act, promoting acceptance of those resorting to AID and of those born as a result of its use. Woven into these reports were periodic discussions of the eugenic benefits of AID. In 1938, Time magazine profiled a sperm donation center established at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Its founder, physician Ivy Albert Pelzman, was described as carefully assessing the heredity and background of his donors–a list of fifteen men drawn “mostly from medical students and interns who are glad to get the $25 fee per insemination.” Pelzman, like his peers, was pleased when AID succeeded and when, thanks to successful matching, the child had the appropriate physical characteristics. He proudly reported that in one instance a Chicago woman who bore two children conceived with AID heard from her friends that they “look just like their father.” The article concluded with a description of the donor list that mentioned Pelzman offered sperm not only from blondes, brunettes and redheads, but also Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Physical traits such as hair color were heritable; religion was not. The fact that Pelzman bowed to his clients’ interest in matching donor and husband by religion suggested that the public and the press, as well as medical professionals, understood inheritance more broadly than scientists would define it. (27) Having been taught about better breeding in school classrooms, at county fairs and in popular writings, Americans looked to practice it when they were forced to depend on new reproductive technologies in order to become parents. Later, scientific advances would help nurture the eugenic possibilities of AID, as the practice came to be seen not only as a way of responding to male infertility but as offering a means of preventing medical problems. As an article in Collier’s entitled “Born to Order” explained, artificial insemination would not just be employed by “free-thinking, scientific-minded intellectuals” but by “conservative, solid citizens” and for medical reasons, such as Rh incompatibility. (28)
The development of screening tests to identify carriers of particular traits or fetuses with particular inherited conditions was a singular achievement in twentieth century medicine. Sheldon Reed, a geneticist who coined the term “genetic counseling” in 1947 characterized his work in medical genetics as “a kind of genetic social work without eugenic connotations.” But in relieving individual suffering, the practices of medical geneticists would contribute profoundly to the idea that human beings could control the quality of the children they produced and indeed, some of the earliest proponents of medical genetic screening advocated its use for “biological race betterment.” (29) Even where medical genetics was not understood by its practitioners as supporting a eugenics program, its development clearly spurred popular imagination. Families turning to AID understood that they were making a reproductive choice that offered the potential to create better babies through the careful selection of sperm donors.
Popular literature contributed to this perception. A Literary Digest article, summarizing the medical and legal arguments of Seymour and Koerner and titled “Eugenic Babies,” described how they two rejected professional donors as semen salesmen and relied instead on educated middle aged men of good health and family history and “an interest in genetics.” (30) A more jocular tone and a more skeptical approach to eugenics came in the American Mercury article described earlier in which the author considered whether “Lucy Stoners” might want to use AID to bypass “Dame Nature.” Referring explicitly to the work of Seymour and Koerner, the author asked, perhaps facetiously, whether the wife who hesitated to “bear and heir for a lord and master whose I.Q. is low may choose to conceive by implantation from Genius Vial 70703-B, double strength.” Despite the humor aimed at the less than perfect husband, the author employed the language of eugenics elsewhere in the article discussing how “it would be difficult to imagine a greater medical error than to allow a couple of dark-skinned Mediterraneans to become the ostensible parents of a Nordic blond.” (31) The terms “Nordic” and “Mediterranean” were favored racial categories of eugenicists and of those who supported immigration restriction and feared the “mongrelization” of the races. Obviously, it was the job of the physician to make sure such “mongrelization” did not occur.
As the medical and popular literature of the 1950s and 1960s made clear, consumer expectations helped shape medical practice and clinical findings even as physicians retained control over reproductive technologies. Families no longer accepted barrenness as an “act of God” and increasingly sought medical intervention when it occurred. An article in Time magazine reported there were “at least 10,000 test-tube children in the U.S. (some doctors estimate as many as 40,000)” and by 1960 Newsweek offered the figure 50,000 or more. (32) However, as AID became more common and with the magazines calling the children born from AID “the most loved children” growing attention had to be paid to the unresolved legal and religious questions raised by the practice. (33)
Until laws conferred paternity upon the husband and kept the wife from being charged with adultery in cases of divorce or in requests for child support, physicians sometimes sought to obtain signed approval from all parties involved before undertaking AID. The author of an article in a 1940s medical journal reported conferring with the Bureau of Legal Medicine at the American Medical Association and their determination that AID was not illegal because it had not been prohibited by law. The Bureau also suggested that the husband of the woman receiving the insemination undertake adoption proceedings for any child born to her. The finding was widely repeated in the medical literature. (34) Religious rulings could not of course be issued by the AMA. The popular press followed the controversy in England after the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a commission to examine artificial insemination and ruled that the procedure was acceptable when the husband was the donor but not when conception evolved from “extramarital donorship” because it would be a breach of marriage. (35) The press also reported the ruling of the Catholic Church that techniques that helped the husband’s semen move from the vagina into the uterus were acceptable, but AID and AIH that involved the collection of sperm via masturbation was not. (36)
Despite legal questions and religious objections, AID became a popularly accepted if religiously contested treatment for infertility by the middle of the twentieth century. Controlled by individual physicians who selected donors and determined which couples might be eligible for such intervention, the practice of matching the physical and social characteristics of donors was firmly in place to both disguise the child’s paternity and the husband’s sterility and, where possible, to produce “superior” offspring. The unstated medical guidelines of AID incorporated both a scientific understanding of heritable traits and a kind of hoped for positive populist eugenics, and both remained critical elements as the practice moved from physician to consumer control and as new techniques for preserving semen began to be developed.
Frozen semen, distant donors, and dreams of a “seminal Fort Knox”
As new technologies led to the substitution of fresh donor sperm with vials of frozen sperm, the collaboration of physicians and patients broke down. The power to select donors increasingly rested not with the paternalistic physician but with the consumer who handed over the credit card to pay for the product. However, populist eugenics remained a powerful force in this transaction, as it had been in the private inseminations conducted decades earlier. Purchasers continued to select semen according to non-heritable traits of the donors (as well as heritable ones) and, playing to this interest, sperm banks sold their product by advertising the characteristics of donors. What consumers wanted to buy was more than a means of remedying nature’s unfairness, they wanted to buy what they perceived to be the best that nature and science could, together, provide.
Populist eugenics drove consumers; scientific interest in eugenics propelled those who managed the technology. At a roundtable conference on the integrity of frozen spermatozoa held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. in 1976, J. K. Sherman discussed briefly the benefits of germinal choice with benefits extending beyond the infertile couple to “fertile couples wishing to improve upon the genetic constitution of their offspring.” (37) The term for this practice was “eutelegenesis” a word coined in 1935 by Herbert Brewer writing in Eugenics Review. (38)
Donor insemination would not reach its full medical or market potential until the development of techniques that allowed human sperm to be frozen and then thawed and used. Cryopreservation of sperm came in to use in the cattle industry during the 1950s (producing, by 1972, more than 100 million calves from frozen bull sperm). (39) During the 1930s, 40s, and 50s scientists had experimented with various methods of preserving human sperm through freezing, including the use of dry ice and liquid nitrogen. But human sperm proved more fragile than that of bulls, often losing its ability to impregnate an egg in the cold storage process. The problem was unsolved until 1953 when two reproductive physicians, reported the births of four children conceived with frozen semen. With the safety of frozen human sperm assured, the opportunity to create human sperm banks arose, although questions remained about the safety of the practice, whether pregnancy rates were the same for fresh and frozen sperm, and whether freezing damaged the genetic material. (40)
Like their predecessors, some reproductive and genetic scientists involved with sperm banking perceived the tremendous potential of the technology for purposes of “positive eugenics.” In 1965, Nobel prize winning geneticist Hermann Muller, who viewed traditional eugenics as reactionary and flawed, promoted the use of frozen sperm as one element of what he termed “parental choice.” Techniques of donor insemination, he argued, could be used to “rationalize” human reproduction. He explained that “the means exist right now of achieving a much greater, speedier, and more significant genetic improvement of the population …” The obstacles to such improvement, he asserted, “were purely psychological ones, based on antiquated traditions from which we can emancipate ourselves …” Muller advocated the establishment of banks “of stored spermatozoa … derived from persons of very diverse types, but including as far as possible those whose lives have given evidence of outstanding gifts of mind, merits of disposition and character, and physical fitness.” (41) With the specter of nuclear destruction haunting the postwar world, Muller, who discovered that radiation caused heritable changes in reproductive cells, proposed the creation of a “seminal Fort Knox” to store the semen of men about to be exposed to radiation. From there, the next step would be “completely planned fatherhood,” as a means of avoiding paternity by those with a “dubious genetic endowment.” In addition to worrying about the unleashing of the atom, Muller, feared that modern medicine was keeping alive the “bearers of defective genes.” (42)
Many in the field of reproductive medicine shared his hopes and fears as well as his fascination with the eugenic potential of sperm banking. A 1966 article in Science Digest quoted University of Michigan physician S. J. Behrman, Director of the Center for Research in Reproductive Biology regarding the potential of frozen sperm “The day when we can preserve the sperm, the life cells, of an Einstein or a Beethoven for reproduction in future centuries is a long way off. Someday it should be possible to identify the chromosomes responsible for certain characteristics and produce a child with exactly the characteristics desired.” (43) Behrman, a pioneer in the field of cryopreservation, favorably quoted Muller and advocated the use of cryopreservation for purposes of positive eugenics in a lecture delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (44) As one listening physician affirmed in response, “We need shed no tear over the lost lineage of the azoospermic husband,” one presumably rendered infertile by processes of “natural selection.” (45) The human race would replace aristocratic lineage and hereditary monarchy with the new lineage of positive genetic planning–planning guided by “thoughtful scientists and clinicians” willing to develop semen freezing to the full extent of its potential.
Indeed, there was talk of creating a sperm bank for geniuses. And the fantasy soon turned to reality. A promoter of popular eugenics, millionaire entrepreneur Robert Clark Graham, created a sperm bank for Nobel Laureates and other designated men of genius–the Repository for Germinal Choice–in 1971. (46) Interestingly, the highly controversial organization met with lukewarm support from C. O. Carter of the Eugenics Society in London, who found fault with the scientific theory underlying this concept. Most offspring, he pointed out, would regress to the mean of the highly selected donor and the presumed “more moderate intelligence of the mother.” (47) The same point–regression to the mean–was acknowledged by one of the donors, Nobel Prize winner William Shockley, who had been disappointed in his own children who had regressed to the mean because their mother lacked his intellectual endowment. (48) Nevertheless, supporters and clients of sperm banks held out hope that at the very least, the children born as a result of AID would resemble those who lived in the fictional town of Lake Woebegon where all the children were above average. Early popular accounts of children born through AID had made just such a claim. (49)
Despite the enthusiasm of sperm banking progenitors, most medical practitioners continued to use fresh semen for artificial inseminations during the 1960s and early 1970s. Thawed semen still produced lower rates of conception and the general public viewed the practice with suspicion, despite claims that children conceived using frozen sperm were not only healthy, but of superior “stock” to those conceived naturally or, more precisely, that they had fewer birth defects. (50) By 1977, decades after the opening of the first sperm bank only 1,000 had reportedly been born from frozen sperm. (51) A 1978 article in the American Fertility Society’s journal, Fertility and Sterility, noted that “the early enthusiasm for using frozen semen has been tempered…. The ideal method for freezing gametes has not yet been found, and the commercialization of sperm banking has not developed….” (52)
Nevertheless, reproductive scientists continued to work on alternative methods of freezing and thawing sperm in order to improve rates of conception and make frozen sperm more competitive with fresh. In the mid-1970s reproductive physicians developed a “cryofreezer”–an “easy-to-operate, precise, sperm-freezing instrument” which could freeze “pellets” of sperm in a mere 20 minutes. (53) By the end of the decade, techniques had been developed to successfully cool semen with liquid nitrogen down to a temperature of-196 degrees centigrade. In medical journals, leaders in the field of cryopreservation declared: “Thawed semen produces babies” and that “instances of conception occurring from semen preserved longer than 10 years have been recorded.” (54) In addition, they argued, “the safety of thawed semen for clinical insemination exceeds that of fresh semen. The literature indicates that abnormal spermatozoa are killed by the freezing-thawing process. Thus, only the fit and healthy sperm survive.” As a result, they argued, there were lower rates of spontaneous abortion (less than 8 percent, compared to the norm of 10-15 percent) and dramatically lower rates of birth defects (less than 1 percent, compared to the norm of 6 percent) when frozen sperm was substituted for fresh sperm from the father. (55) Nature no longer trumped science
Although sperm banks demonstrated their scientific usefulness, their commercial potential was slow to be recognized. In 1976, Joseph Feldschuh, medical director of IDANT, the world’s largest sperm bank, lamented that the enterprise, which once had six branches in different cities, had lost money and reduced its services. (56) Eventually, the value of sperm banks began to be acknowledged in the medical community and with continuing public demand for AID, the bottom line for commercial efforts improved. Sperm banks arose to store indefinitely thousands of specimens in a single location. Customers grew to include men wishing to deposit “insurance sperm” before undergoing chemotherapy or vasectomies or before going off to war. Then, after the discovery of HIV/AIDS, freezing came to be seen as providing greater safety to consumers, because it allowed for testing for infectious diseases both at the time of deposit and six months later. (57) Additionally, frozen sperm offered purchasers access to the same donor for repeated inseminations. And, significantly, frozen sperm banks allowed purchasers, whether couples or single women, to order products from men possessing particular characteristics. Decisions about what kind of sperm to buy meshed personal concerns, populist eugenic beliefs and scientific findings that together constructed the quest for a better baby than nature could create.
“Like Bird’s Eye Peas”: The Sperm Banking Industry
What kind of worm
Would chill his sperm
And, like a demon
Save his semen,
‘Til time is free
What human weed
Would freeze his seed,
Like Bird’s Eye Peas,
So the Junior League
To avoid fatigue,
Can spawn its fetus
Without coitus? (58)
The marketing and sale of semen kept alive eugenic ideals by allowing consumers to select donors with particular traits. To a significant degree, the selling of sperm was like the selling of any other commercially marketed product; advertised goods were swathed in imagery that promised what could not be bought. In this regard, the convertible sold with reference to the sex appeal of the driver, the beer marketed as a way to have a good time with members of the opposite sex, the clothing that promised to attract a good-looking partner, and the sperm hawked as having come from a Harvard man, were similar. However, while few consumers may have believed that dressing right or owning the swiftest vehicle would deliver what the advertisements promised, the eugenic message of sperm banks was transmitted to buyers who may not have understood (or wanted to know) that human beings were more than the sum of their genetic parts and that many valued characteristics–such as religious background–were not genetically determined.
In 1969, there were ten sperm banks in the U.S. (59) Twenty years later, the number had grown to 135. (60) Nevertheless, many physicians persisted in using “fresh sperm”–a product that had become increasingly dangerous. A Congressional Office of Technology Assessment report in 1988 found that about 11,000 physicians were practicing artificial insemination on their patients, with most physicians buying fresh donor sperm from medical students, residents and other physicians. (61) Their continued reliance on fresh sperm resulted in a reported six cases of HIV infection in the United States between 1986 and 1989. (62) By the mid 1990’s, physicians in Canada and Australia had also reported HIV cases from donated fresh sperm. (63) In the wake of this news and with growing concerns about the worldwide AIDS pandemic, demand for cryopreserved sperm–sperm that could be held “on ice” until donors tested clean for HIV as well as other infectious diseases–increased.
Concerns about HIV combined with the development of relatively simple equipment for sperm freezing and storage in liquid nitrogen tanks to make sperm banking a growth industry. However, while sperm banking services grew, the industry remained unregulated and unorganized. In 1995, a survey conducted by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) found sperm banks in all 50 states, with more than ten each in the states of Texas and California. Three years later, a researcher estimated that there were “between 50 and 150” sperm banks in operation (depending upon how broadly one defined sperm banking services). A number of problems made such estimates difficult to confirm. Some studies defined sperm banks as any facility that collected and stored sperm. Others included banks which provided insemination services, but which used imported sperm from other storage facilities. (64) In addition, no single professional association represented the sperm banking industry and while the AATB provided accreditation for a fee, only seven banks nationally were accredited. (65)
Oral history interviews with leading sperm bank directors indicated that the industry underwent a process of increasing corporate concentration from 1995 to 2001. The expense of recruiting donors and screening them for HIV and hereditary diseases raised the costs of business and drove small operators, such as individual physicians’ offices, out of the market. (66) The contraction in the number of suppliers and the growth in the size of the remaining sperm banks reshaped the industry. By 2001, only 28 sperm banks (defined as facilities which collect, store and offer sperm for sale) were operating in the U.S., based on information collected from the Sperm Bank Directory, the American Association of Tissue Banks, the Association for Reproductive Medicine, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The 28 banks were located in 16 different states, but most highly concentrated on the east and west coasts and in the upper mid-west. All shipped specimens nationally, with some requiring shipment to physicians only and others shipping to private individuals (for home insemination) as well. (67) Only one sperm bank was non-profit (the Sperm Bank of California, founded in 1982 as an offshoot of the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center). Three sperm banks, all in California, explicitly stated that they served non-traditional families and lesbian couples. A fourth bank, Hereditary Choice in California, specialized in “genius sperm.” Donor lists were solicited from all 28 sperm banks and all but one provided the requested list. (68) Of the 27 banks providing donor lists, specimens from a total of 1298 donors were available nationwide. Three of the 27 banks had more than 100 donors and two others had 90 or more donors available. (69) These five banks together supplied almost half (46 percent) of all donors available nationally (593 of 1298).
Sales and business practices in the sperm banking industry resemble those of other retailers. The largest banks offer fully-articulated product liability and return policies: no returns for unused product and credit issued to buyers if sperm falls below minimum sperm counts, arrangements for shipping via private carriers, credit card purchasing, and marketing via the internet. Two sperm banks offer sex pre-selection services. (70) Fourteen sperm banks provide “matching” services, selecting donors who appear to look like the father-to-be or extended family members of the recipient family. Several sperm banks pay donors in checks made out to cash. No 1099 tax forms are issued, presumably to protect donor anonymity. Like a new Chevy, donors come with time limit and vial limit warranties: at most banks, “five years, or … fifteen hundred (1,500) acceptable vials,” whichever comes first. (71)
In their come-ons to buyers, sperm banks appeal simultaneously to popular eugenic hopes and the desire to match the characteristics of husbands and partners. Because they make available thousands of stored donor samples, purchasers can select from many possible combinations of characteristics. And those described in the catalog suggest what clients may be looking to acquire. Descriptive traits such as height, weight, hair color, eye color, and blood type are listed in all 27 donor catalogs examined. In addition, 23 banks provide information about “skin tone” (dark, olive, medium, light or fair; or in some instances “tanability”). Nineteen banks provide information about “hair texture” (wavy, straight, curly). Such traits are presumed to be heritable, that is, transmitted through genes, although there is no guarantee that a blue-eyed, blonde-haired donor, even when coupled with a blue-eyed, blonde-haired mother, will produce a blue-eyed, blonde-haired baby. In a process reminiscent of the discredited science of phrenology, Fairfax Cryobank in Virginia provides a detailed analysis of the “facial features” of donors, compartmentalizing the face into eyes (set, size, shape and shade), the nose (size, width, length), the chin (prominence, cleft), the forehead (high or low hairline), and the overall shape of the face (square, oval or round). Some banks provide information about “dentition” of donors, with reports of impacted teeth or the donor’s need for braces as a child. Some provide video or voice recordings or pictures of donors as babies.
Donor lists also categorize donors by a range of other traits, chief of which are race, ethnicity and/or “ancestry.” The sperm banks use a wide variety of categorizations under the broad terms of race and ethnic origin: standard racial categories of Caucasian, African American, Asian, etc.; the country or region of origin of the donor’s family and ethnic identification. Some conflate religion (primarily Jewish) with race and/or ethnicity. In donors of mixed ethnicity or race, donor charts often indicate the relative proportion of such mixing (i.e. 50 percent Japanese; 50 percent English). (72) Of all donors listed in the 27 catalogs, 80 percent are identified as Caucasian, 8 percent as Asian, 5 percent as African American, 5 percent as “other” or mixed race, and 2 percent as Hispanic. (Table 1)
These percentages are not reflective of current general population percentages in the United States. Caucasians and Asians are overrepresented, while African Americans and Latinos and those of “mixed” race are underrepresented. For instance, African Americans make up approximately 12 percent of the population, yet represent only 5 percent of all donors. Asians make up 4 percent of the population, yet are 8 percent of the donor list. In addition, population statistics by age suggest that the Latino and Black populations in the U.S. have a greater proportion of people of childbearing age, with mean population ages of 30 and 33 respectively, compared to the mean age of 39 for Caucasians. (73) One might think that these rates reflect disproportionate rates of infertility among different racial groups, but infertility rates are relatively equal across racial groups. Sperm bank directors report that they reflect consumer demand, shaped by various cultural factors.
In addition to physical traits, sperm banks also provide information about a range of social traits, of questionable genetic significance. For instance, 23 sperm banks provide information about a donor’s years of education (years in college, highest degree), sometimes including college major, college grade point average or SAT scores. Some of the largest banks require that donors be college students or have completed a college degree at a 4-year major university. Cryobank reports that the majority of their donors come from UCLA, USC, Stanford, Harvard and MIT. (74) Two sperm banks sell specimens specifically designated as “Doctorate Donors” for donors with advanced degrees (JD, Ph.D., M.D.), charging more for such semen (at Fairfax Cryo $265 per straw vs. $195 per straw of semen from “ordinary” donors). (75) Hereditary Choice, specializing in sperm from high IQ donors, provides detailed reports of SAT and GRE scores, musical ability, academic achievement and social characteristics of donors (distinguished professor of chemistry at a major university; editor of major international journal; quietly charismatic; college track star). Ten of the banks list the religious affiliation of donors (Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, and Christian Science). (76) Clearly, contemporary views of heritability are populist market eugenics in a new form. Such views drive the marketing and advertising of sperm and that marketing, in turn, feeds fantasies about offspring and about the power of modern science to satisfy consumer demands. (77)
Fairfax Cryobank in Virginia provides the hat size of donors, along with the donor’s list of “favorites”–favorite pet, car, movie, song, play, food and color. Some other sperm banks provide detailed character profiles, including extrovert/introvert scales of behavior. Some categorize body type as “ectomorphic (thin), endomorphic (heavy) or mesomorphic (muscular).” (78) Others provide hand-writing samples from donors. (79) At the University of Utah Medical Center’s “Adopt a Sperm” Program, donors are required to have a “pleasant personality,” as judged by the center’s staff. Only one bank provides information about the sexual orientation of donors, because it is the only bank to accept semen from gay men. (80) These patterns indicate a populist market eugenic at work, as purchasers make selections based on information about nonheritable as well as heritable traits. (81)
Standards for selection of sperm donors go well beyond screening for health and potency, ensuring that donors match particular cultural ideals of masculinity. Tall donors are preferred over short. With men under 5’8″ rejected out of hand by most sperm banks, donors are well over the average adult male height of 5’9″. (82) Gay donors are turned away not just because they are deemed to be at “high risk” for the transmission of HIV through semen, but because they fail to meet heterosexual cultural ideals and thus are not “marketable.” All donors are screened for HIV at the time they donate and every month thereafter. All donated semen is quarantined for six months before it can be sold while such screening tests are performed on donors. Even a single “protected” sexual contact with another male or with a woman who has been with a bisexual male, can rule out a donor for his lifetime.
Those who most clearly match the ideal Euro-American standard are most highly prized by both commercial sperm banks and potential recipients, like “Paul,” the slender, blond-haired, blue-eyed, college graduate with a history of military service (and time in the Boy Scouts) who estimates that he has fathered 40 children. Not unlike the glossy images of women in “girly” magazines, portraits of donors sell not just sperm, but “manhood,” in a full range of “colors.” Male models posing as donors in the promotional literature of commercial sperm banks represent various mixtures of the most prized traits: tall, handsome, well-educated, athletic, and most importantly, virile. In many respects the modern donors are the fictive great grandsons of the middle-aged men with college degrees, professional standing, and a record of success who were chosen as sperm donors by Seymour and Koerner.
According to sperm bank directors, the compartmentalization of human traits in sperm bank catalogs reflects consumer demand. It is the customers who demand to know the SAT scores, hobbies, hat sizes, or “tanability” of donors. The director of a sperm bank in the Northeast characterized the consumer selection process in this way:
“If I have someone who is 4’7”, chances that this donor will be
picked is very rare because the majority of people would like people
who are tall. There are very few people who call here and say I want
to make sure the donor is under five feet because my family is under
five feet. If he’s overweight, people will reject that automatically
as well, even if the husband is overweight. They also want someone
who’s educated. You could have a non-college graduate who is very
bright, but that’s not going to be their choice.” (83)
In the early decades of AID, the medical profession fostered popular eugenic beliefs by selecting sperm donors whose physical traits matched those of the husband and whose social background and personal achievement were deemed superior. By the close of the twentieth century, consumer demands, based on misguided beliefs about heritability, shaped the operations of sperm banks. What links the contributors to the modern cryobank to the medical school students offering fresh semen is the belief in what was once called eugenics. Seen from this perspective, eugenics is not simply what its political proponents argued–a tool for bettering society; it is understood as a means of fulfilling individual desires in line with socially determined values.
Eugenics practices of the early twentieth century emphasized differing reproductive claims of the “fit” and the “unfit.” Current sperm banking operations mirror, in modified form, such claims, now filtered through the presumably “neutral” mechanism of the marketplace. The attributes used to market “high quality” sperm–attributes of racial purity, physical prowess and intelligence–also become (or remain) idealized. Sperm banking and the popular eugenics of its clients combine to perpetuate the myth that desirable human traits are transmitted genetically, not socially, and that the traits most characteristic of certain races and social classes are the most desirable universal human traits. Sperm donors who are tall are more valuable than those who are short; the privately educated are privileged over those who attended vocational institutions; the fair-skinned are privileged over the dark; the fine-haired over the nappy. It is not just that consumers are disproportionately wealthy, well-educated or fair-skinned (although consumers are disproportionately white) and thus choosing donors like themselves. Within racial and ethnic categories, donors who “sell” reflect the idealized traits of the privileged white upper class–the tall, fair, slender, and “well-educated.” In purchasing such semen, sperm banks and consumers engage in the commodification of social ideals. And too, they are counting on science to produce a superior product to the one that nature might offer.
The ideals and faith that sperm banks to repsond to are not late twentieth century developments. They were part of AID from the very beginning. Physicians articulated the eugenic potential of AID and began the process by selecting donors of particular intellectual and social standing. The press, in turn, embraced the eugenic possibilities of AID because of prevailing faith in the science and because of the activities of medical specialists who promoted its advantages over “Dame Nature.” Medical and popular faith that AID offered infertile couples both a solution to their individual problem and a means of bettering society pushed aside doubts about the legal status of the resulting offspring and overcame the moral uncertainties clouding the transaction. Offered the opportunity to select donors, doctors practiced office eugenics in obtaining sperm from donors whose contribution promised a “better baby.” Later, practicing populist eugenics, consumers sought the same thing. In the case of sperm banking, eugenics was not simply an ideology imposed by an elite group nor a set of policies aimed at curtailing the reproduction of the unfit, it was a tool for presumably creating an ideal child by relying on what science, medicine, technology and ideology had to offer.
Table 1 Racial Breakdown of Donors and U.S. Population
Racial Categories Numbers Percentages U.S. Population Percentage
White 1038 80 71
Asian 106 8 4
Mixed 62 5 NA
Black 62 5 12
Hispanic 30 2 12
All 1298 100 99
U.S. Population percentages are estimates for November 2000, based on
the 1990 U.S. Population census available at
We gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Judith DeVries and Audra Wolfe.
1. Vial numbers are based on a visit to New England Cryogenic Center, Inc. by Cynthia R. Daniels (CRD), October 24, 2001. Approximately half of the vials of stored sperm are not available for purchase because they were deposited as “insurance” sperm by men undergoing chemotherapy, beginning work in a hazardous industry, going off to war, or traveling during their partners’ ovulation cycle. Interviews cited throughout the paper were conducted by phone, in person, or via email as indicated by CRD.
2. There is currently no agency or private organization collecting statistics on the use of artificial insemination in the U.S. This estimate is derived from the following report, calculated in the following way: A 1995 survey involved 6.7 million women aged 15-44 who had a current fertility problem. Of these, 42 percent sought fertility services. Of those who sought fertility services, 12.7 percent used artificial insemination. Calculated as such, approximately 357,000 women used artificial insemination. This includes both insemination with husband’s sperm as well as donor insemination. Use of service doesn’t tell us the number of children actually conceived as a result. See Elizabeth Hervey Stephen and Anjani Chandra, “Use of Infertility Services in the United States: 1995,” Family Planning Perspectives 32 (2000): 132-37.
3. See, for example, Xytex Corporation, “Donor Screening Guide,” 2000.
4. Sheryl James, “Chosen Few; Being Accepted as a Sperm Donor Can Be as Difficult as Entering Harvard,” St. Petersburg Times 16 October 1989; Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe (LNAU). The acceptance rate at Harvard is 11 percent, while according to anecdotal reports from sperm banks, acceptance rates may be as low as 5 percent. The James article profiles a Florida sperm bank. For a similar account of a New Jersey sperm bank, see Linda Lynwander, “New Jersey Q & A: Albert Anouna; Where the Business is Reproduction,” New York Times, 30 September 1990, LNAU.
5. California Cryobank, Inc., Donor Information, from www.cryobank.com, 2001. All others includes East Indian, Mexican, American Indian, Latin American, South and Central American, Samoan, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and racial mixes. California Cryobank, Inc., Racial Identification System, www.cryobank.com/racial.html, 2001.
6. Anthony M. Turano, “Paternity by Proxy,” American Mercury 43 (1938): 418-24.
7. For a discussion of current popular interest in eugenics, see Dorothy Nelkin and M. Susan Lindee, “The Revival of Eugenics in American Popular Culture,” Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association 52 (1997): 45-46.
8. Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Berkeley, 1985); and Diane B. Paul, Controlling Human Heredity: 1865 to the Present (Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1995).
9. Alexandra Minna Stern, “Better Babies Contests at the Indiana State Fair: Child Health, Scientific Motherhood and Eugenics in the Midwest, 1920-1935,” in Alexandra Minna Stern and Howard Markel, eds. Formative Years: Children’s Health in the United States, 1880-2000 (Ann Arbor, 2002), pp. 121-52. See, also Lynn Curry, Modern Mothers in the Heartland: Gender, Health and Progress in Illinois, 1900-1930 (Columbus, OH, 1999), pp. 99-119.
10. Troy Duster, Backdoor to Eugenics (New York, 1990), p. x.
11. Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner, The Empty Cradle: Infertility in America from Colonial Times to the Present (Baltimore, 1996), pp. 64-68.
12. Elaine Tyler May, Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness (New York, 1995), p. 67.
13. R. T. Seashore, “Artificial Impregnation,” Minnesota Medicine 21 (1938): 641-44.
14. On techniques see, for example C. Travers Stepita, “Physiologic Artificial Insemination,” American Journal of Surgery 21 (1933): 450-51; and Walter R. Stokes, “Artificial Insemination,” Medical Annals of the District of Columbia 7 (1938): 218-19. On the law, see Frances I. Seymour and Alfred Koerner, “Medicolegal Aspects of Artificial Insemination,” Journal of the American Medical Association 107 (1936): 1531-34.
15. Seashore, “Artificial Impregnation,” p. 643.
16. Stepita, “Physiologic Artificial Insemination,” p. 450. Seymour and Koerner argued that use of a family donor could lead to problems if the mother transferred her affections to the donor. Seymour and Koerner, “Medicolegal Aspects,” p. 1533.
17. Frances Seymour, “Eugenics in Practice: Cross Artificial Insemination,” Marriage Hygiene 3 (1936): 46.
18. Abner I. Weisman, “The Selection for Donors for Use in Artificial Insemination,” Western Journal of Surgery, Obstetrics, and Gynecology 50 (1942): 144.
19. Seymour, “Eugenics in Practice,” pp. 43-48.
20. Seashore, “Artificial Impregnation,” p. 641. For others who favored careful selection of couples and eugenic interests, see Weisman, “Selection of Donors,” p. 142; Marie Pichel Warner, “Artificial Insemination,” Medical Woman’s Journal 51 (1944): 19; and Leon Israel, “The Scope of Artificial Impregnation in the “Barren Marriage,” American Journal of the Medical Sciences 202 (1941): 52-58. Israel chose semen from men of “good character,” and “favorable heredity” who had no evidence of having had either gonorrhea or syphilis.
21. Grant S. Beardsley, “Artificial Cross Insemination,” Western Journal of Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology 48 (1940): 95.
22. David J. Galton, “Greek Theories on Eugenics” Journal of Medical Ethics 24 (1998): 264.
23. Alan Frank Guttmacher, “Practical Experience with Artificial Insemination,” Journal of Contraception 3 (1938): 76.
24. Alan F. Guttmacher, “A Physician’s Credo for Artificial Insemination,” Western Journal of Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology 50 (1942): 358-59.
25. Frances I. Seymour and Alfred Koerner, “Artificial Insemination; Present Status in the United States as Shown by a Recent Survey,” Journal of the American Medical Association 116 (1941): 2747-49.
26. Alan F. Guttmacher, “The Role of Artificial Insemination in the Treatment of Human Sterility,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 19 (1943): 573-91. For another critique, see Clair E. Folsome, “The Status of Artificial Insemination, A Critical Review,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 45 (1943): 915-27.
27. “Proxy Fathers,” Time 26 (September 26, 1938): 28.
28. Hannah Lees, “Born to Order,” Collier’s 117 (April 1946): 56.
29. “Eugenic Babies: Medical Science Finds a Way, Even with Sterile Husbands,” Literary Digest (November 21, 1936): pp.23-25.
30. “Eugenic Babies: Medical Science Finds a Way, Even with Sterile Husbands,” pp.23-25.
31. Turano, “Paternity by Proxy,” p. 421.
32. “Test-Tube Test Case,” Time 64 (December 27, 1954): 52; and “‘Proxy Baby,” Newsweek 55 (May 30, 1960): 80-81.
33. J. D. Ratcliff, “Are These the Most Loved Children?” Woman’s Home Companion 82 (March 1955): 46-47, 51, 54, 56. For examples of articles discussing legal cases, see “‘Proxy’ Baby,” pp. 80-81; “The Riddle of A. I.” Time 87 (February 25, 1966): 48; and “Domestic Relations; The Child of Artificial Insemination,” Time 89 (April 14, 1967): 79-80. For articles focusing on AID as a medical procedure helping childless couples see “Our Two Test Tube Babies,” Coronet 39 (March, 1956): 66-69; “Secret of AI,” Newsweek 66 (November 15, 1965): 81-82; and “Test Tube Babies: The Controversy Over Artificial Insemination,” Good Housekeeping 166 (February 1968): 163-65.
34. Beardsley, “Artificial Cross Examination,” p. 98. See also Israel, “Scope of Artificial Impregnation,” p. 95; and Folsome, “Status of Artificial Insemination,” p. 923.
35. “‘Breach of Motherhood,'” Time 52 (August 9, 1948): 49. A Methodist clergyman in Britain took issue with the ruling and shocked some with his statement that AID was acceptable for “spinsters, who otherwise would be lonely and would make good mothers.” “A Woman’s Right? Test Tube Babies for Single Women,” Newsweek 51 (February 17, 1958): 54. The debate continued after a court in Scotland ruled in a lawsuit involving a husband seeking divorce after his wife bore a child conceived through AID sixteen months after their separation that this was not adultery. The article reporting this case also noted there had been ‘10,000 test-tube babies born’ in Britain since 1945.” “‘Artificial Adultery,'” Newsweek 51 (January 27, 1958): 58.
36. “Doctors’ Dilemma,” Time 54 (October 10, 1949): 83-84.
37. J. K. Sherman, “Banks for Frozen Human Semen: Current Status and Prospects,” in The Integrity of Frozen Spermatozoa: Proceedings of a Round-Table Conference, (April 6-7), 1976, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D. C., Under the Auspices of the U.S. National Committee for the International Institute of Refrigeration, in Conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration and the Naval Medical Research Institute (Washington, DC, 1978), p. 80.
38. C.O. Carter, “Eugenic Implications of New Techniques,” in C. O. Carter, ed. Developments in Human Reproduction and their Eugenic, Ethical Implications: Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Symposium of the Eugenics Society London 1982 (London, 1983), p. 207; and OED Online 2nd ed (Oxford University Press, 2003).
39. Robert A. Ersek, “Frozen Sperm Banks,” [Letter] Journal of the American Medical Association 220 (1972): 1365.
40. Keith D. Smith and Emil Steinberger, “Survival of Spermatozoa in a Human Sperm Bank: Effects of Long-Term Storage,” Journal of the American Medical Association 223 (1973): 774-83; R. G. Bunge, and J.K. Sherman, “Fertilizing Capacity of Frozen Human Spermatozoa,” Nature 172 (1953): 767-68; and William C. Keettel, et al. “Report of Pregnancies in Infertile Couples,” Journal of the American Medical Association 160 (1956): 102-05. For a report on children conceived with frozen sperm see “Babies From Frozen Sperm Healthy, Normal,” Science News Letter 85 (June 13, 1964): 374.
41. As quoted by S.J. Behrman and D.R. Ackerman, “Freeze Preservation of Human Sperm,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 103 (1969): 660-61.
42. “Frozen Fatherhood,” Time 78 (September 8, 1961): 68. Barbara J. Cullitan, “Sperm Banks Debated,” Science News 92 (August 26, 1967): 208-09. Not all scientists endorsed the concept of eugenic sperm banking. One physician affiliated with the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau noted in Newsweek that while he favored sperm banks “to protect human germ plasm from genetic defect or disease” he did not want them used to “make a generation of robots or a super-race of Nobel Prize winners.” “Toward a ‘Sperm Bank’,” Newsweek 67 (April 18, 1966): 101.
43. Hugh Wray-McCann, “Fatherhood in the Deep Freeze,” Science Digest 60 (July 1966): 14.
44. Behrman and Ackerman, “Freeze Preservation,” pp. 654-64.
45. Dr. S. Leon Israel in “Discussion” following reprint of Behrman and Ackerman’s “Freeze Preservation, p. 662.
46. The full name of the organization was the Herman J. Muller Repository for Germinal Choice. Muller was deceased and his widow objected to the name, according to Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, pp. 262-63. It opened in 1971 but did not begin collecting donations until several years later. R. B. Brenner, “Sperm repository, marking 10th year, still has same goal–genius,” San Diego Union-Tribune, 22 July 1990, LNAU. By 1990 there were no longer any Nobelists among the 20 anonymous donors whose sperm was stored in the facility. The Repository ultimately closed its doors.
47. Carter, “Eugenic Implications,” pp. 207-08.
48. Shockley’s statements are quoted in Vivien Marx, The Semen Book (London, 2001), p. 151.
49. Lees, “Born to Order,” p. 20; and Ratcliff, “Are These the Most Loved Children?” pp. 46-47, 51, 54, 56.
50. Ersek, “Frozen Sperm Banks,” p. 1365. On the benefits of frozen sperm see, also S. J. Behrman, “Artificial Insemination,” in S. J. Behrman and Robert W. Kistner, eds., Progress in Infertility, 2nd ed. (Boston, 1975), p. 785. Both frozen and fresh donor semen were better than homologous or AIH in terms of pregnancy rates. For questions about the meaning of AID, see “Domestic Relations; The Child of Artificial Insemination,” Time, 89 (April 14, 1967): 79-80; “Test Tube Babies” pp. 163-65; and Mark S. Frankel, “Human-Semen Banking: Implications for Medicine and Society,” Connecticut Medicine 39 (May 1975): 313-17. Frankel suggested “with an increase in commercial frozen-semen banks, the country may witness an increasing commercialization of semen-donor relationships.” p. 315. Discussion of the eugenic, ethical, and medical implications of AID continues to this day.
51. The number of 500 was reported by Mark S. Frankel, “Role of Semen Cryobanking in American Medicine,” British Medical Journal (September 7, 1974): 619-21. The number of 1,000 in 1977 was reported by Warren G. Sander and James D. Eisen, “Cryogenically Preserved Human Semen: Clinical Applications,” Nebraska Medical Journal (December 1977): 422.
52. Rudi Ansbacher, “Artificial Insemination with Frozen Spermatozoa,” Fertility and Sterility 29 (1978): 378.
53. Joseph Barkay and Henryk Zuckerman, “Further Developed Device for Human Sperm Freezing by the Twenty-Minute Method,” Fertility and Sterility 29 (1978): 304-08.
54. Roy Witherington, John B. Black and Armand M. Karow, Jr., “Semen Cryopreservation: An Update,” The Journal of Urology 118 (1977): 510. New England Cryogenics reports successful use of semen after 20 years of cryopreservation
55. Witherington, et al, “Semen Cryopreservation,” p. 510.
56. Joseph Feldschuh, “Current Clinical Applications of Sperm Banking,” in Integrity of Frozen Spermatozoa, pp. 180-87.
57. In 1996, the federal government issued guidelines for tissue banks in order to prevent the spread of HIV. See: “Guidelines for Preventing Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Through Transplantation of Human Tissue and Organs,” Federal Register, Health Care Financing Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, Appendix A to Subpart G of Part 486, Effective May 2, 1996.
58. The poem, titled “Seminal Gelation,” is by L. Fred Ayvazian and first appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine 279 (1968): 436. It is quoted by S.J. Behrman in an exchange over ethical objections to sperm banking in Behrman and Ackerman, “Freeze Preservation,” p. 664
59. By the end of 1973, there were reported to be sixteen sperm banks in the U.S., including three major commercial banks with a combined total of seven branch offices. For instance, Idant Corporation opened sperm banks in four cities: New York, Baltimore, Ann Arbor and Minneapolis in 1973. See Frankel, “Role of Semen Cryobanking,” p. 619.
60. In 1989 it was estimated that 135 semen banks were in operation in the United States (defined as a facility providing anonymous donor samples). See John K. Critser, “Current Status of Semen Banking in the USA,” Human Reproduction Suppl. 2 13 (1998): 55-66.
61. M. Curie-Cohen, L. Luttrell and S. Shapiro, “Current Practice of Artificial Insemination by Donor in the United States,” New England Journal of Medicine 300 (1979): 585-90 and Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), Congress of the United States, Artificial Insemination Practice in the United States. Summary of a 1987 Survey. Background Paper. Washington, D.C.: Office of Technology Assessment, Congressional Board of the 100th Congress, U.S. Congress, 1988. Also see G.M. Centola, “American Organization of Sperm Banks,” in C.L.R. Barratt and I. D. Cooke, eds. Donor Insemination (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 143-51.
62. G. J. Stewart, et al, “Transmission of Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus Type III (STLV-III) by Artificial Insemination by Donor,” Lancet 2 (1985): 581-84.
63. Mary Ann Chiasson, Rand L. Stoneburner, and Stephen C. Joseph, “Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission Through Artificial Insemination,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome 3 (1990): 69-72; Maria Rosario G. Araneta, et. al. “HIV Transmission Through Donor Artificial Insemination,” Journal of the American Medical Association 273 (1995): 854-58.
64. FDA 21 CFR Part 210, 211, 820, 1271 Docket No. 97 N-484S, “Suitability Determination for Donors of Human Cellular and Tissue-Based Products.” See, also AATB Information Alert vol. 11, no. 3, January 18, 2001: “FDA Final Rule: Registration and Listing.” http://aatb.org Sperm banks were not required to register or undergo inspected by the federal government until 2003, when the FDA required national registration of all sperm banks.
65. In the year 2003, these banks were: Andrology Lab, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, BioGenetics, California Cryobank, Cryobiology, Inc., Cryogenic Laboratories, Idant Laboratories, New York Cryo, ReproTech, Inc., and Sperm and Embryo Bank of New Jersey. http://aatb.org.
66. CRD interview with Biogenetics Director, Albert Anouna March 27, 2001 and CRD interview with New England Cryobank Director, John R. Rizza, October 24, 2001.
67. Seven were in California, three were located in the New York and three were located in Minnesota. The remaining banks were scattered across the country, including the states of Washington, Ohio, New Jersey, Colorado, Massachusetts, Utah, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia, Missouri, and Arizona.
68. One sperm bank declines to provide donor information until a potential client has filed a “matching” form which the bank then sues to select an “appropriate” sperm donor.
69. These banks were California Cryobank (168); New England Cryogenic Center (120); Fairfax Cryo (119); Cryobiology-OH (96); and Cryogenic Labs (90).
70. Most sperm banks do not because the procedure cannot guarantee the sex of the child, only increase the odds of having one sex or the other.
71. See www.sperm1.com/biogen.htm (2001).
72. See, for example, Swedish Medical in the state of Washington. Only two banks recognized that “Hispanic” is not a racial category, listing a number of donors as Caucasian/Hispanic.
73. U.S. Population percentages are estimates for November 2000, based on the 1990 U.S. Population census available at http://eire.census.gov/popest/archives/national/nation3/intfile3. Sperm bank percentages are rough estimates, as the categories used by sperm banks are not coterminous with those used by the U.S. census. For example, the U.S. census estimates that .7 percent of the population is “American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, not Hispanic” while donors in these categories may be listed by sperm banks as “other” or “mixed” race.
74. Cyrobank, 2001.
75. These are Fairfax Cryo in Virginia and Procreative Technologies in St. Louis.
76. While the selection of donors by ethnicity may reflect the consumer’s use of this categorization as a proxy for “looking like” the preferred type of partner, the use of religion is more puzzling. No one has ever claimed religion is a heritable characteristic. Sperm bank directors report that religious affiliation is most important for Jewish consumers.
77. On the complexity of heritability of simple human traits, see H. Eldon Sutton and Robert P. Wanger, Genetics: A Human Concern (New York, 1985).
78. Park Avenue Fertility Center, New York City.
79. Northwest Andrology and Cryobank.
80. Rainbow Flag Sperm Bank. In order to be accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB), the only professional organization conducting inspections of sperm banks, a bank must reject gay donors. Although only seven banks are accredited, most others follow the standards set by AATB. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM, formerly the American Fertility Society) also recommends against the use of semen from gay donors as a “high risk” group for HIV transmission. The FDA considered regulations that would impose a federal ban on the sue of semen from gay donors. See, “Suitability Determination for Donors of Human Cellular and Tissue-Based Products,” Federal Register, Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, January 9, 2001.
81. Over the past twenty years, with the growth of the field of eugenics and the development of the Human Genome Project, there has been an upsurge in beliefs about the heritability of not only physical disorders and diseases, but of social and physical traits. Yet, the question of heritability is still very much in dispute in both the scientific community and in popular culture. See, John Hyde Evans, Playing God? Human Genetic Engineering and the Rationalization of Public Bioethical Debate (Chicago, 2002).
82. Median heights are for men aged 20 and according to the 2000 Centers for Disease Control Growth Charts. National Center for Health Statistics, www/cdc/gov/nchs (2002).
83. CRD interview with Anon. #1/(Sept. 2001).
By Cynthia R. Daniels
Rutgers University, New Brunswick
Rutgers University, Camden
Department of Political Science
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Department of History
Camden, NJ 08102
COPYRIGHT 2004 Journal of Social History
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group