HUMANIST DILEMMA | How Do I Tell My Sister She Can’t Have My Sperm?

Q: My sister has been trying for years to get pregnant with no success, even after the gauntlet of fertility treatments. Now she wants to hire a surrogate (or two) to provide eggs and a uterus (expensive, but money is no object) because she doesn’t want to go through childbirth if it’s not her own egg. But she insists on using my sperm, reasoning that as her only brother, my DNA would be a close match to hers. Her husband is fine with that, as his family has some genetic problems he’s afraid of passing on.

My wife and I are really uncomfortable with this request (more of a demand). We have kids who would be both first cousins and half-siblings to any offspring created this way, and I would be her children’s uncle and father. It’s just too far outside the box for us. We’ve encouraged my sister to adopt, but she doesn’t want to bring “a total stranger” into the family.

Are we being unreasonable, as my sister says we are? How can we get her to take no for an answer?

—Never Thought She’d Ask

Dear Never,

You aren’t being unreasonable. On the contrary, you are being reasonable, wise, and realistic. You have the right to decide who does and doesn’t access your sperm for procreation, and you have the right to decline this unusual proposal because it doesn’t sit well with you and your wife.

I’m not sure what legal issues you might all face even if you wanted to grant your sister’s wish. She and her husband would have to draw up contracts designating them as the parents and relieving you from responsibilities as the father (as well as agreements with the egg and uterus donor or donors relinquishing their parental claims to the baby). You’d need to find out what your situation would be if something happened to your sister and/or her husband once this seed was planted. Would you or her spouse get or share custody if she died or if she and her husband divorced? And, assuming all of that could be ironed out, what would you tell your children and hers about the interlocking relationships?

I’m not saying it’s a terrible proposition. Perhaps it could be done, and perhaps some people have done it with happy outcomes. The bottom line is you don’t want to engage in an irreversible entanglement you don’t embrace. Although less invasive and physically fraught, this is a much greater commitment than donating a kidney or part of your liver, and it’s very different from being an anonymous sperm donor.

I do wonder why your sister insists that her baby have her/your genes. If that wasn’t so important to her, she could, as you suggest, use another sperm donor or she and her husband could adopt—which is a win/win for them becoming parents, and for a child gaining a home. In addition to contacting the Resolve infertility support organization, your sister should talk to a therapist about why she requires a child who carries her family DNA and how her husband, who would be the child’s other parent, fits into all this. It sounds as though there may be other issues here that go beyond infertility.

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