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While it would be hard for foreign offspring to claim U.S. citizenship--unless their genetic fathers helped them, as many U.S. servicemen did for children they sired during the Vietnam War--it's not outside the realm of possibility that sperm-donor fathers might be forced to take responsibility for them. There have been two cases in the U.S. in which sperm donors who forged relationships with the children they fathered were found liable by courts for child support. A court could make the same determination for children abroad.
"Someone could show up--say, a 16-year-old whose parents died in France," says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. "He may know his sperm father and say, 'I think you should support me.' American courts decide [such] issues to the child's best interest. They're not interested in promises from sperm banks. It may not make the child a citizen, but it sure makes the donor a dad."
For many sperm donors, like Seisler, the temptation to see what youthful folly might have produced can be powerful. In the Style channel TV show, Seisler explained what motivated him to reach out to his genetic offspring. "I want to be available to these families to be a resource for them," he said. "I'm curious as to what these kids are like. But I'm not looking for anything from them." When a friend replied that Seisler can't be hitting 70 Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties a year, he bristled. "They're not my kids," he replied. "I don't see them as my kids."
While that may be the boundary he wants to set, once the kids know who he is, it's up to them whether to honor it. He's been keeping in touch with dozens of families via e-mail--including Shari Ann's--but now that he and his wife are considering having kids of their own, he's keeping a low profile. He has stopped talking publicly and refused to comment for this article.
Until the industry is regulated--and it may never be--it will remain a market that pushes boundaries. Some groups, like the Donor Sibling Registry, which has connected more than 9,000 biological fathers and siblings from 31 countries, are pushing to do away with anonymity, a move resisted by U.S. sperm banks, which fear the same kind of falloff in donors that other countries experienced. The banks instead favor an anonymous registry that could be used to ensure donors aren't doubling or tripling their money. In any case, genetic mapping makes things more transparent than they used to be no matter what the anonymity rules are, and the timeless question--"Who's your daddy?"--is easier to answer than ever. What donor children and their biological dads choose to do with that information is helping redefine the concept of modern family and the global village.