Navigating Family Planning Decisions in the Age of Consumer DNA Tests

Apr 2, 2019, 10:12 PM | Updated: 10:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Imagine growing up as an only child and then learning you have multiple brothers and sisters you never knew about. That’s what happened to Salt Lake City resident Jeremy Walker.

Walker writes commercials for KSL TV, but the New Jersey native couldn’t have scripted the last couple of months.

Meeting Donor Family

Walker recently traveled to the East Coast to meet a handful of his newfound half-siblings.

“Now I have everyone saved in my phone as brother or sister whoever,” said Julian Cavin, Walker’s half-brother. “Brother Jeremy. Brother Joe. Brother Greg.”

Walker has been aware he was the product of artificial insemination since he was a child.

“I’ve always known that that’s how I was born, so that’s just kind of normal to me,” said Walker. But when his DNA test results arrived at the start of the year, he was surprised by the size of his newfound family.

“Lo and behold now I have 14 or more siblings,” said Walker. He knows that number may continue to grow.

Together, Walker and four of his half-siblings sought out their donor dad, John Wilson.

“This is like 25 years in the making,” said Walker nervously, during the ride to Wilson’s home.

Wilson welcomed the chance to host his now bigger clan with open arms.

“It’s a lot more calm that I thought I would be, and he’s extremely welcoming,” said Walker with relief.

As a young dad in need of some cash, Wilson said he donated his sperm for seven years.

“I’m happy. I’m happy for them,” said Wilson. “There’s not a bad bone in the bunch.”

“That’s what everyone wants to do, have a beer with your dad, right?,” laughed Joe Konowski, another half-sibling at the gathering.

“My whole life, as you probably feel, everybody always asked me if I was going to try to figure out who you were and my answer was always like, ‘Yeah that would be cool,’” Walker said to the group.

“These kids deserve it. They should know their heritage,” said Wilson, who now knows he has more than a handful of grandkids, too.

Wilson’s lineage may include many more yet undiscovered kids.

Ripple Effects of Donor DNA

While Walker’s story is a sweet one, DNA kits are causing trauma for some families.

Several of Walker’s half-siblings skipped this meetup with their donor dad because until the results of their DNA test came back, they had no clue they were created from a sperm donation.

They’re now trying to process what their parents never told them.

“There’s not a class on how to learn your dad is not your dad,” explained Walker.

The genesis of commercial DNA kits has changed how Dr. Erica Johnstone, a reproductive specialist in the University of Utah Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, counsels infertility patients.

Decades ago, donors and their recipients agreed to confidentiality. That often becomes impossible in the age of DNA testing.

While she says sperm donation is wonderful for families struggling to conceive, she now advises parents to educate their kids as they grow up.

“How will I talk to my child about this? How I will think about the fact that my child may have 14 or 20 or 50 half siblings out there?” asked Johnstone.

Donor DNA Regulations

The United States approached sperm donation differently than other nations. For one thing, there is very little regulation.

The federal government only requires tests for infectious diseases. Everything else is up to the individual sperm bank and the recipient.

Several countries have much more control. The United Kingdom, for example, limits how many children can be conceived from a single donor, and how and when the kids can communicate with the donor.

“If one sperm donor is creating 25 or 50 children in a single geographic area, that’s a lot more worrisome in terms of them meeting and what could happen there,” said Johnstone.

But Walker and his newfound family aren’t frustrated by the lack of fine print.

“I do think it’s pretty interesting that it’s so loose and unregulated,” said Cavin.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” said Wilson. “The genie is out of the bottle.”

“I’m alive,” said Walker. “If it was more regulated, maybe I wouldn’t be here.”

The half-siblings were all thankful one man’s choice helped families who couldn’t have had their own kids.

“If we can forge new relationships from this point on that’s just all positive to me,” said another half-sibling, Greg Konowski.

While Walker’s now much bigger family has a lot of catching up to do, he realizes the ripple effects of DNA test results have put a lot of people in precarious situations and that decades-old decisions carry consequences for family secrets and family planning. As he navigates his new reality, he sums it up the best way he can.

“I feel like I’m in a movie,” he said.

Jeremy meeting one of his half-siblings Meeting John Group photo  Dr. Erica Johnstone, a reproductive specialist in the University of Utah Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Jeremy Walker

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

The family of 45-year-old Ian Anzer is questioning the events that transpired before police broke i...

Mary Culbertson and Garna Mejia, KSL TV

Family of Sandy man shot by Police question the events before his death

A 45-year-old Ian Anzer was shot and killed by Police at a senior community on Friday. His family is questioning the events that took place before the shots were fired.

31 minutes ago

Recently elected Rep. Celeste Maloy joins Boyd Matheson on KSL's Sunday Edition after she was recen...


Sunday Edition: Celeste Maloy

This week, Boyd Matheson is joined by newly elected Rep. Celeste Maloy from Washington D.C. After being sworn into her new role, she reflects back on the election, and gives a glimpse of her first days in D.C.

4 hours ago

FILE — An Ogden man was named as a suspect in the fatal shooting of a Cortez, Colorado police off...

Mark Jones

Ogden man named as suspect in fatal shooting of Colorado police officer, suspect also killed

Police in Colorado have an identified an Ogden man as a suspect involved in the shooting death of a Cortez police officer.

20 hours ago

A long-time and well-known firefighter in Utah, Fitzgerald Petersen, has died after a battle with c...

Pat Reavy

Beloved Utah firefighter dies after battle with cancer

A long-time Utah firefighter, beloved by many across the state, passed away Friday after battling cancer.

21 hours ago

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Saturday he believes Republicans have the votes to launch a formal...

Andrew Millman and Alexandra Ross, CNN

Speaker Johnson says he believes GOP has the votes for Biden impeachment inquiry

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Saturday he believes Republicans have the votes to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

21 hours ago

emergency lights...

Mark Jones

Child at the center of a Amber Alert in Idaho found dead

The 10-month-old boy at the center of an Amber Alert issued Friday by Idaho authorities has been found dead.

23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

Navigating Family Planning Decisions in the Age of Consumer DNA Tests