Accidental Incest Exposes Dangers of Fertility Industry

A child is not something owed to one but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2378

For decades, pro-life activists have warned that artificial reproductive technologies are an ethical nightmare and will produce a host of negative pragmatic outcomes.

Many of these critiques have to do with the ways that these technologies commodify (and, ultimately, destroy) human life. Under the internal logic of artificial reproduction, a child is no longer viewed as a gift, but rather as a product to be purchased. And if that product should fail to meet desired standards, or is deemed “superfluous,” then it can be destroyed (as many millions of children conceived through IVF have been).

However, there is one particular concern that is receiving increased scrutiny lately, i.e. that because some sperm donors are the biological fathers of dozens, or even hundreds, of children, it is conceivable that these children might meet without knowing that they are siblings. And if they should become romantically involved, then the result would be accidental incest.

Until recently, this was a purely theoretical (albeit urgent) concern. But the recent decision by a woman named Victoria Hill to go public with her story has put a spotlight not only on the fact that accidental incest has happened, but that it is quite likely to happen many more times (and probably already has).


Victoria Hill Describes Trauma Caused by Fertility Industry

Like many donor-conceived children, Hill had long wondered why it was that she didn’t look like her father.

However, it wasn’t until she developed some health conditions and decided to take an at-home DNA test, that the truth came out: the man she thought was her father wasn’t genetically related to her at all. Rather, her biological father was the fertility doctor that her mother had turned to help her conceive. Rather than using the sperm from her mom’s husband, the doctor had used his own sperm.

To Hill’s shock, the DNA test not only revealed her true paternity, but also that she had at least twenty half-siblings. Even more shocking, she had dated—and slept with—one of her half-siblings in high school without knowing it. As Hill noted to CNN, not only was it bad enough that she had accidentally engaged in sibling incest, but she could easily have married her high-school boyfriend, who turned out to be her brother.

“I was traumatized by this,” Hill told CNN. “Now I’m looking at pictures of people thinking, well, if he could be my sibling, anybody could be my sibling.”

Hill decided to go public with her disturbing story in order to draw attention to the consequences of the rapid growth of a largely unregulated fertility industry.


Sperm Donation Spikes Likelihood of Accidental Incest

While Hill’s is the only known case of accidental incest due to the fertility industry, it is not unreasonable to speculate that there could already be many other such cases.

There are known cases of accidental incest involving siblings separated at birth and adopted by separate families, who later meet as adults. However, the odds involved in such cases tend to be extremely small, due to the small number of siblings, and the often-significant geographical distances between the adoptive families.

In the case of the fertility industry, however, it is not uncommon for the same sperm donor to be the father of dozens, and sometimes even hundreds of children. One man in the Netherlands, for example, was ordered to stop donating his sperm only after the number of his biological children grew to 550.

And because it is often a single fertility clinic that repeatedly uses the same sperm donor, these children often live locally to one another. They may well go to the same schools, participate on the same sports teams, or work at the same workplaces. In fact, Hill subsequently discovered that she went to school with another half-sibling, and for a time lived across the street from twin sisters who turned out to be her half-siblings.

If one donor-conceived woman lived in such proximity to several siblings, we can be certain that similar cases are happening all the time. One woman with 150 known biological siblings told CNN that she won’t even date people her own age. “I can’t do it,” said Jamie LeRose. “I look at people my age and I’m automatically unattracted to them because I just, I go, that could be my sibling.”


Fertility Doctors Secretly Use Their Own Sperm

Adding to the likelihood of accidental incest is that, in a disturbing number of cases, even the parents of the child may not know that the child was conceived using a certain sperm donor. For whatever reason, fertility doctors have repeatedly shown a tendency (as was the case in Hill’s conception) to secretively use their own sperm to conceive numerous biological children. In the United States alone there have been at least fifty such cases. In fact, as CNN reports, there may be as many as eighty such cases.

One fertility doctor, Dr. Cecil Jacobson, admitted to using his own sperm in the conception of at least 75 children. Another doctor admitted to fathering 94 children using his own sperm. Similar cases have occurred in other nations. One doctor in the Netherlands may have fathered as many as 200 biological children.


Shocking Lack of Regulation in Fertility Industry

CNN’s report on Hill’s case is surprisingly frank about the appalling lack of regulation of the fertility industry that allows such fraud to occur and go unpunished.

Many states don’t even have laws prohibiting the kind of fertility fraud in which a doctor deliberately uses the wrong sperm. Not only are doctors rarely held accountable for this egregious breach of trust, in some cases they have simply continued practicing, as if nothing had happened.

In fact, despite dozens of known cases of doctors engaging in such fraud in the U.S., not a single doctor has been criminally charged. Only recently, after a Netflix documentary exposing one particularly appalling case of fertility fraud, have two congressmen introduced a federal bill that would criminalize such fraud.

“Nail salons are more regulated than the fertility industry,” one woman, who discovered that she was conceived through fertility fraud, told CNN.


Modern Technology Needs Ethical Regulation

In one of the most famous lines in the 1993 film Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s character prophetically tells the creator of the dinosaur park that, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

This quotation is relevant to so many of the bioethical issues facing the world. To those of us who had warned of the dystopian consequences of playing God with nature, it is astonishing how quickly some self-evidently dystopian technologies have become commonplace. Scientists have found out that they could, and nobody seems to have asked if they should.

Who could have predicted, for instance, that the world would simply look away as nations permitted the growth of the surrogacy industry, which preys predominantly on economically disadvantaged women in developing nations? Somehow, we find ourselves in a world where women are literally selling their bodies as incubators, sometimes for no other reason than that some extremely wealthy Western woman did not want to go through the physical demands of pregnancy, and this practice is defended as “empowering” and “progressive.”

While accidental incest is one of the more viscerally disturbing consequences of farming procreation out to technologists in labs, it is far from the worst. As I have so often written in these pages before, a staggering number of embryonic human beings are destroyed in the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). As the New York Times reports here, there are startling high number of cases in which embryos are destroyed, which can be profoundly traumatic for couples who had created the embryos and were hoping to bring them to birth.

Meanwhile, there are countless subtler, but profound human consequences of removing procreation from the natural process of the marital embrace. Many IVF or donor-conceived children have gone public with their deep-seated struggles to form a sense of identity, without knowing who their biological parents are, or with resentment at the fact that their conception was the result of an economic “purchase.”

Some of these donor-conceived individuals shared their story in the documentary Anonymous Father’s Day.


Procreation Belongs Within Conjugal Act in Marriage

The Church has always defended the notion that there is a “natural law,” i.e. a law inscribed in nature that, examined by any honest mind, reveals certain immutable moral principles. It is only by carefully observing and respecting this natural law, that humans can live authentic, fulfilling lives.

One thing is clear: the natural law reveals that human procreation rightfully belongs in the loving union of a man and a woman, i.e. a marriage, and that any other arrangement comes with all manner of negative unforeseen consequences. While the Catholic Church has consistently raised questions about the moral implications of the artificial fertility industry, condemning many industry practices like IVF (teaching there are morally acceptable interventions that may be used to overcome infertility), this is not due primarily to revealed divine law, but simply from an honest examination of the nature of human procreation.

As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in Donum vitae,

[T]he procreation of a new person, whereby the man and the woman collaborate with the power of the Creator, must be the fruit and the sign of the mutual self-giving of the spouses, of their love and of their fidelity. The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other. The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world, and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development.

Frankly, it shouldn’t be hard to see why the Church has a problem with the artificial fertility industry, and why it has consistently taught that procreation should be the consequence of the marital embrace. Human beings are complex beings that require extremely intensive education over the space of many years. And, in general, we thrive in the midst of stable, predictable, loving relationships. Furthermore, as the booming genetic testing industry has revealed, our genetic history is not a peripheral or unimportant feature of our identity. Many artificially conceived children have admitted to a shockingly strong desire—indeed, a need—to know the identity of their biological parents, as a pathway to discovering their own identity.


Commercializing Kids Ignores Their Human Needs

It is one thing to accept and adapt to an imperfect circumstance, as when a child is conceived to a couple that is not prepared or able to receive or raise that child. In that case, adoption can be a very great good, and we can trust that the adopted child can overcome any complexities caused by his or her adoption, considering the love and commitment of his or her adoptive parents.

But it is quite another thing to set about deliberately creating conditions, on an industrial scale, in which children will not know one or both biological parents; or in which they are deliberately deprived of any knowledge of their siblings; or in which their conception is primarily the result of an economic arrangement, with a child as the desired product.

Such an arrangement fails utterly to give due credit to the deep psychological and spiritual needs of the child, and the inherent dignity of human procreation, which can never be reduced to an economic or technological enterprise.

As a society we need to listen to the anguish of those who have been conceived artificially. Of course, we must affirm their intrinsic dignity, which can never be taken away, no matter how they are conceived. However, as a society we must turn back from this technocratic path we have embarked on, which fails to sensitively receive and respect the deep order of things, as designed by a loving, personal, rational God.

Ultimately, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Donum vitae affirm, a child is never a thing to be produced. A child is a being to be received, as a gratuitous gift.

As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.

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  1. Jocelyn on April 24, 2024 at 10:40 PM

    Shocking news 🥺🤭,indeed.Lord have mercy.🙏🙏🙏Thanks for the sharing.🙏Very useful indeed for us Christian( Catholics).Will share with lapse Catholics🙏

  2. manisha aswal on April 17, 2024 at 6:41 AM

    For many couples who are attempting to conceive, it is essential to comprehend the procedure and significance of infertility tests for women. These tests can offer insightful information about possible problems that can be influencing fertility. Women must take an active and knowledgeable role in their reproductive health. Finding answers and realizing the goal of starting a family can frequently be achieved by first obtaining professional advice and performing these tests.


  3. Dara on April 8, 2024 at 8:52 PM

    Regarding Fertility, per se, there is one, safe, outstanding method, that is 100% consistent with the magisterium of the Church. Email me if you would like more information.

  4. Dara on April 8, 2024 at 8:50 PM

    The theological and legal aspects of this horrendous practice are long overdue for forensic examination and investigation. There is another aspect, rarely discussed, mentioned, considered, and that is, “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child,” beautifully investigated and described by Dr. Thomas Verny (psychiatrist and John Kelly.
    I am not a fan of psychiatrists per se, but Verny’s work is outstanding. Once conceived the baby IMMEDIATELY starts to bond with both parents, but most closely with the mother… The baby recognises the voices of the parents, the mood of the parents, and his/her first act after birth is to look for his/her birth mother. Mom’s voice is recognised immediately…Dad’s sometimes takes up to an hour, say, if he travels, or is in the military, but it is STILL and ALWAYS a vital connection for the sweet newborn baby.
    Another word here, regarding “pumping” – yes, once in a while, fine…but while better than commercial formula, it still falls short of 1. the emotional bonding that occurs during breast feeding, and also the seldom mentioned fact that sensors in the mother determine, from the baby’s saliva, which minerals are most vital for the baby at that time. Now, who but a Gracious God would have thought of that!!!

    • Pam on April 26, 2024 at 11:47 AM

      Mother’s body responds to baby’s saliva to determine what minerals baby most needs at that moment?! Wow! For years we have laughed at baby formula makers’ claims that their product is “just like mother’s milk”. (Sorry. No way.) But this is not duplicatable by mass production.
      Could you PLEASE share a link to this research/ information source? I would love to share it with new moms! -Blessings!

  5. Susan on April 8, 2024 at 1:31 PM

    The way things are going with quack gender, engaged couples are going to have to be doing genetic tests before marriage to prove their actual sex to each other. It should not be much extra to add in a screen to ensure no incest potential exists.

    The central offense of ivf is that the child is not born of the marital embrace, a bond so eloquently affirmed by Catholic psychologist Paul Vitz. This means that adoption, when necessary, should always be by a married mom and dad couple, to stand for the couple who brought the child into existence. So step up to show yourself available, married couples. Mom and Dad matters!

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