INDEPENDENT LENS: Donor Unknown
Airs Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Credit: Courtesy of Hilary Durman
“Donor Unknown” follows the story of JoEllen Marsh, 20, as she goes in search of the sperm donor father she knows only as Donor 150. JoEllen has always known her family wasn't like other families. She grew up in Pennsylvania with two mothers, and a burning curiosity to know more about her anonymous donor father.
Resources for Donor-Conceived Adults and Families
The $3 billion fertility industry in the United States operates with very few regulations or restrictions. Finding reliable sources of information is the first step to exploring your identity.
Should it be legal to buy and sell the means of reproduction? Should donors be allowed to be anonymous? What right do the children of donors have to know where they come from? Share your thoughts
When JoEllen discovers a website that connects donor‐conceived children, she manages to track down a half‐sister in New York. The New York Times picks up the story, and, over time, 12 more half‐siblings emerge across the United States.
The article also falls into the hands of Jeffrey Harrison, living alone with four dogs and a pigeon in a broken‐down RV in a Venice Beach parking lot. In the 1980s, Jeffrey supplemented his meager income by becoming a regular sperm donor at California Cryobank. He was given an identifying number: 150.
In a surreal moment, he recognizes himself as the unnamed central character in the story told on the front page of the New York Times. In time, Jeffrey comes forward to identify himself as Donor 150.
JoEllen finds Fletcher, her 19-year-old half brother, who agrees to accompany her to rendezvous with Roxanne in the parking lot in Los Angeles where Jeffrey lives. In the end, it is a very modern family reunion among practical strangers who happen to share DNA. The journey raises questions about what makes us who we are, what makes a family, and what the brave new world of fertility technology means for our assumptions about both.
The program is paired with the short film “All About Me.” It explores family secrets, the power of genetic relationships and the impact of discovering your dad is, in fact, a sperm donor.
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