On a recent episode of Dr. Phil, host Phil McGraw interviewed a 30-year-old man named Kyle who operates as a pro bono private sperm donor. Kyle has fathered 40 children and has 11 more on the way. While most have been born in California, others are scattered across the United States or overseas.
During the episode, Dr. Phil interviewed several women who have used Kyle’s services, including Amani, who conceived her 3-year-old daughter while in a relationship with another woman. Amani is now raising her daughter with her husband, who is the genetic father to Amani’s other children and has been in her daughter’s life since she was six months old.
Amani’s daughter had never met Kyle prior to the show, but Amani said she and other mothers maintain a group chat with him to exchange photographs and videos of their children. And although her husband disagreed, Amani was adamant that their daughter should meet Kyle. When Dr. Phil asked why, Amani responded that Kyle is her daughter’s biological father and she never intended to lie to her daughter about her conception.
Rather than support Amani’s decision, Dr. Phil and a guest expert, Dr. Charles Sophy, advised that the child should not meet Kyle. Instead, Dr. Phil and Dr. Sophy said that doing so would confuse the little girl, disrupt her relationship with the father who is raising her, and make her question why her mother had a baby with someone else. Yet despite these concerns from Dr. Phil and Dr. Sophy, Amani stuck to her decision and her daughter was eventually brought on stage. What resulted was an awkward display wherein the little girl met her genetic father for the first time in front of a live studio audience.
The manner in which Amani’s daughter met Kyle was orchestrated at the expense of the child’s comfort. It is truly regrettable that such an important moment was sensationalized on national television rather than done privately in a place familiar to the little girl. Dr. Phil’s concerns would have been better placed regarding the location of the meeting rather than if the meeting should have occurred at all. Instead, the show manipulated the situation in the interest of ratings, and that might be the source of future trauma. Dr. Phil and Dr. Sophy both exhibited complete ignorance of the perspectives of donor conceived people, who overwhelmingly express interest in knowing the identity of their absent genetic parent.
While the episode successfully highlighted the dangers of Kyle’s operation as a private sperm donor (prior to his appearance on the show, he had not undergone genetic testing before fathering more than 40 children), Dr. Phil seemed oblivious to the shortcomings in the fertility industry, such as fertility fraud and the lack of regulation on the number of children born from donors through sperm banks in the United States. Instead, Kyle suggested recipients could be assured there was no doctor-donor fertility fraud or sperm mixup by using his services.
Additionally, while guest expert Dr. Daniel Potter said “ethical banks” limit one donor to use within 10 families in the United States, he failed to mention that ASRM’s nonbinding standards recommend a limit of 25 children from one donor within a population of 800,000. The other expert, Dr. Sophy, also expressed concern about Kyle’s mental health, suggesting Kyle is a narcissist due to the number of children he has fathered. But again, there was no mention of the fact that many men repeatedly donate to sperm banks for years.
Although Kyle has produced an unethical number of children through private sperm donation, he is doing more than many sperm banks after insemination occurs. When Dr. Phil mentioned the potential for accidental incest, Kyle said he keeps a detailed list of information about each of his children, whose families all keep in touch and know each other. Of course, when Kyle expressed warmth for and interest in his genetic children throughout the show, Dr. Phil was quick to reprimand with a reminder that they are not Kyle’s children.
This Dr. Phil episode was a train wreck. Every legitimate concern Dr. Phil and his guests expressed about Kyle’s donations can apply to sperm banks across the United States. But rather than use his platform to highlight these industry-wide issues, Dr. Phil suggested the problems were unique to Kyle. And perhaps worst of all, Dr. Phil and his guests shamed a mother taking the approach most DCPs support, when she was determined to tell her daughter the truth of her conception and foster a relationship between the child and biological father. Rather than support that decision, Dr. Phil allowed this important meeting to awkwardly play out over national television at the expense of the child.
Congratulations, Dr. Phil, on making a spectacle of donor conception without reaching the true root of the problem.