NETHERLANDS, Apr 20 – Dissatisfied with the policies of sperm banks, Ed Houben from Maastricht has been donating his sperm for 10 years.
He believes the mother and children should know who the sperm donor is. Houben is the biological father of 87 children.
In 2004, anonymous sperm donation was banned in Dutch sperm banks.
Large numbers of men decided to stop donating, but Ed was not concerned about remaining anonymous. In fact, he knew a number of people who wanted to have children and he wanted to help them out, especially since they had had no success in a clinic and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is expensive.
Houben says there’s nothing wrong with people getting sperm from a clinic, but “Some prospective parents find it very impersonal, cold and clinical. They appreciate being able to see who the biological father of their child will be.”
After months of reflection, Houben made his first donation. But still he hesitated about possible legal consequences such as potential claims against him for the costs of raising the child. Houben does not use a contract, but instead trusts that the people he helps will not take him to court.
“You could let your life be ruled by fear or be as courageous as the women who come to me for help. They are asking a stranger for help on the internet.”
His website is usually the first form of contact. Sometimes months go by without anyone contacting him and other times he receives several requests in one day.
After a number of email exchanges and a phone call, a personal meeting is set up. Houben has had enquiries from all around the world. Increasingly, people come to visit him in Maastricht, but he also goes abroad to meet them.
He also turns down requests. “This isn’t my job, I don’t earn anything from doing this. I’m not obliged to help everyone who asks.”
If people have unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking or using drugs, Houben refuses to donate his sperm. “I think an unhealthy lifestyle is one of the greatest dangers for a child’s future.” Obesity is also a factor that Houben considers, though he himself is not the thinnest.
It isn’t necessary for the women Houben helps to have sex with him, but in half of the cases the prospective parents opt for this.
“I’ve never demanded sex,” he says. The women are always offered the option of being artificially inseminated. In particular heterosexual couples can find artificial insemination off-putting . “They say: we miss the warmth and intimacy we hoped for with the conception of our child.”
If Houben decides that a child could be happy with the people who ask for his sperm, he will make a donation. This includes single women, lesbian couples and straight couples.
“In principle I think that any type of family can give a child a good home.” Houben is the biological father of 87 children and there are more on the way. “At this moment, if our Lord sees fit, five more are on the way.”
In the Netherlands, once a child turns 16, he or she has the right to know who their father is. Houben thinks that, regardless of age, the child always has the right to know. So he organises an annual get-together in Maastricht for his children.
Houben refuses to countenance critics who say he’s only in it for sex or that he’s obsessed with fathering children. “I can easily imagine that not everyone agrees with everything I do, but so far I’ve seen happy people and happy children. If you saw them, you wouldn’t question what I’m doing.”
He is convinced he’s doing the right thing: “I think it’s everyone’s duty to do something positive for other people, once in their lives, without expecting anything in return.”
Nevertheless, the 43-year-old would like to stop donating his sperm. He says he no longer has a private life. “Your life is ruled by the menstrual cycles of 10 to 15 people per month. It’s beginning to become a problem. I can’t sustain this for many more years.