Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: Twenty years ago, I was a sperm donor. My motivation then was entirely financial — I was paid the kingly sum of $50/donation. Since then, I’ve rarely given it a thought. A year ago, I received word that one of my offspring, a woman of 19, wanted to get in touch with me. My wife gave me her blessing. So I did, and it turned out to be a wonderful thing. My parents were thrilled because now, in addition to their three grandsons (I have two boys) they finally had a granddaughter, too. Yay! Win-win. Then about a month ago, another daughter wanted to get in touch with me and I consented to that, too. She too, seems like a lovely person. But she informed me that there is a registry that lists children of donors, and that she knows of seven other siblings. Is it OK, ethically, if I were to say “no more” to any of the other offspring? Legally, I’m under no obligation. But ethically, I’m torn. I hate the thought of telling someone to “go away,” but I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to maintain contact with nine people, and quite possibly many more. What do you think?

Deluged Donor

DEAR DONOR: I shared your question with Jean Benward, a psychotherapist who works with donors and families created through gamete (sperm and egg) donation. She says this issue will become more commonplace, and that there is no ethical absolute regarding contact.

My own opinion is that you are under no ethical obligation to maintain a relationship with these offspring, but that you should respond to the initial contact.

Your gamete offspring likely found one another through the Donor Sibling Registry (donorsiblingregistry.com). These DNA-related siblings found one another and perhaps learned your name from the sister that successfully contacted you.

Benward suggests you contact the director of the registry and ask for suggestions on how to handle this. She and I agree that these offspring are undertaking a developmentally appropriate search, which is the search for self. “Young adults are trying to figure out who they are in the world,” she says.

You should write an email, warmly acknowledging the existence of your offspring and conveying your happiness that they are in the world and have found one another. Assure them that you are healthy and open to providing medical information, but beyond that you are not interested in forming a relationship at this time. Send your email from a dedicated email address and be open to changing your mind as time goes by.

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DEAR AMY: My hubby and I have been going to the same physician for 35 years. He’s only five years younger than we are. He’s examined us when we were naked, etc. We know his family. I feel as if we should be on a first-name basis, but we always call him “Dr. X,” even when we’re alone in the exam room. I asked him about this, and he said the only patients who call him by his first name are friends who became patients after they were friends, as well as relatives who are patients. Otherwise, he says, all patients are on a strictly professional basis. He always calls me “Mrs. B,” even when he is asking about my family. Is this proper? My son is also a doctor, but I don’t see him in an office setting. If I visited his office, should I call him “Dr. B”? For now, we’ll respect our doctor’s request. What’s proper protocol?

Peeved Patient

DEAR PEEVED: The person wielding the speculum (or the scalpel) is in charge and gets to choose how to be addressed while in his office.

Your doctor is being completely appropriate. Why aren’t you?

If you would like him to address you by your first name, he should respect your request.

And yes, if your own son were treating you in a medical setting surrounded by other medical personnel, he would have every right to ask you to address him as “Doctor,” and you should.

DEAR AMY: You should be ashamed of yourself for admitting that you would read your daughter’s letters to her grandmother! I found your answer to “No More Letters,” whose parents violated her privacy after her grandmother’s death, despicable.

Horrified

DEAR HORRIFIED: I admitted I would be tempted to read these letters, and also stated that I shouldn’t read them. In my response I was hoping the offended party might at least understand the impulse.