A True Story of the Impact a DNA Test Can Have

What happens when a new technology is so disruptive that secrets long buried are unearthed, creating havoc and, in some cases, wonder?

Sara Davidson
6 min readApr 10, 2021
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Back in the 80’s, before we had internet or mobile phones, I created a TV series on ABC called HeartBeat, about a group of women ob-gyns.

After hanging around their office, I wrote an episode about an orthodox Jewish couple having fertility problems. The doctor asks if they would consider using a sperm donor. The couple recoil, especially the husband. But the doctor says she’ll mix sperm from the donor with the husband’s sperm, so “only God will know who the father is.”

The husband repeats, “Only God will know.” Then he nods.

A great number of children were born from this method, from the 1950s on, and the donor, usually a student who needed money, was promised anonymity. But today, with DNA testing widely available, it’s not only God who knows. There are websites and support groups for Donor Conceived People (DCP), like the Donor Sibling Registry, which can often help people find their bio dads. The dads, who donated decades ago, may discover they have as many as 30 offspring. Wild? Hard to grasp? A California painter has met 18 of his kids so far.

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Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is the N.Y. Times best-selling author of Loose Change, The December Project, and The Didion Files, 50 Years of Friendship with Joan Didion