Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Jerry Springer complex of network television

My week/end, specifically Friday, was one of those days that you look back on and expect to wake up and realize it was all a dream and that real life couldn't possibly be that crazy!!  Alongside various family crises (death, flood, and a freak car accident), Friday literally started off with a bang that just didn't stop.  I honestly think I charged my cell phone 3 times from all the phone calls I made!

It all started Thursday afternoon, when I received a strange email from a TV producer wanting me to come on a daytime talk show - this coming Tuesday!!  My initial reaction was to ignore it - actually, my initial reaction was I thought it was a prank.  But I woke up Friday morning to see Facebook statuses from some friends across the country who had also been contacted and had agreed to go on the show!  So I thought, hmm, these are ladies I have known for many years online and we have all hoped for the opportunity to meet someday, if I agreed to go on the show I'd be able to meet them and we'd be dynamite on the show considering our opinions and what we could get across to the public!  So I call up the producer and throughout the morning/afternoon I spoke to her on several occasions.

Now, while I cannot go into details for a variety of reasons, lets just say I realized after several conversations that whether she realized it or not she was trying to exploit me for ratings.  All during this several friends who had also agreed to go on the show were waiting patiently to hear back from her about travel arrangements to NYC, which she had told them that morning to pack their bags.  My last conversations with the producer, after refusing adamantly to agree to what she wanted, ended up with her telling me she needed to discuss things with her team and she would get back to me in an hour.  I never heard back from her.  My guess is she was trying one last time to get me to change my mind, and if I did she'd scrap the others and only use me.  But since I refused it wasn't the story they wanted.

As the evening rolled on I was on the phone and texting back and forth with these several DC friends who were also supposed to be on the show.  We all assumed we had just been cut from the show since we never heard anything.  Frustrations were running high as the others have family and children to consider, and the fact that if this was still going to happen we were all to be flying to New York on Monday!!  And it was Friday night!!  I'm a spontaneous person, but this was a big deal!!  I needed to know so I could work out plans for the coming week...and of course go buy a new outfit to wear on TV!!!

Flash forward to yesterday (Saturday) morning.  One of my friends calls the producer on her cell phone because no one had heard from her after my conversation with her at 4pm...none of them had heard from her since early Friday morning.

Brief response, they taped the show last night (Friday)...when we were all waiting on pins and needles to hear back and to go through with our "pre-interviews" and get our travel arrangements sorted out.  No apology, no sorry I meant to get back to you but we were in a crunch.  Nothing.  After an email to the producer we learn that they changed topics entirely, scraping the donor conception story.  Needless to say, the lack of professionalism shown by the producer of this show and the parent network cannot be ignored.  And I am fairly confident that if this show were to contact me again in the future for a show I would politely turn them down.

But on to what this post is meant to be about...I would not turn them down purely because they cut our segment and didn't have the common courtesy to notify us - though I am miffed at the lack of consideration towards us and leaving us waiting for nothing.  No, I am most enraged by the fact that even though this is what I would consider a legitimate show, that they still stoop to the levels that many less-respected shows often are traditionally known for.

And that is using sensationalist tactics to get ratings at the expense of the individuals involved in the show.  Unfortunately this is not the first time something like this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last.  To Hollywood, to the television industry, we're "freaks of nature", something out of the movies or science fiction.  And apparently we must be treated as such.  While there have been many fantastic newspaper articles and even some television programs that have discussed donor conception, the majority of them, especially television/movies, seem to put us in the same category as reality stars, elephant man, and conjoined twins.  They have learned that America is a society that thrives on being exposed to individuals lives that are completely outside the realm of their own boring existence.

And for good reason.  The concept of being conceived in a doctor's office in a sterile clinical setting and having no knowledge of half of your identity is not something that the majority of people can relate to.  And with the disgusting irresponsibility of the infertility industry in the past 20+ years, we have become even more of a freak show, with stories of donors fathering hundreds of children, the idea of two siblings unknowingly meeting and entering into romantic relationships with one another, and children having get togethers with dozens, if not hundreds of siblings, entering the media.  And while part of me understands and acknowledges that without this media our plight would not be heard and society would not see the damages being done.  At the same time, rarely is our story taken for what it is, it's made out to be something that it is not.  If anything, the media is not interested in the actual issues.  All they care about is how many people are watching their show, reading their paper, listening to their news broadcast.

So where does that leave us?  Being exploited by two industries.  We have from day one been exploited by the infertility industry, in terms of their multi-billion dollar profits and putting us in a position where we have become mere commodities, mere transactions between two consenting parties who do not have OUR best interests at heart.  And today we are now being exploited by the media, time and time again.

They see us as one of two things.  Either that happy ending story that everyone cries and thinks that everything is perfect and beautiful.  Or the tragedy story that often takes the spin that we are a bunch of whiny brats complaining about life's injustices when we are living our white middle class suburban lives.  In the first, and more common, example, they only show the good things.  The reunion of half siblings, the former donor and his/her child meeting for the first time.  What is not shown is the emotional implications associated with both of these events, that often carry on for years.  These stories also give the false illusion that anyone who wants to find a sibling or their biological parent can do so.  Which in reality is so far from the truth.

But what about those individuals who have their private lives documented?  The two siblings who have their reunion filmed for the entire world?  I hate to break it to you but the media doesn't really care about reuniting lost siblings.  All they care about it the chick-flick appeals of the story for the audience.  The reunion is likely terribly staged, and god-forbid nobody cries.  They'll make you cry, just for ratings!!  And you better look alike too, otherwise it's not as surreal and awe-inspiring that these two individuals have lived their entire lives unbeknownst to each others existence.

The complex and emotional journeys of these reunions are never documented.  Perhaps it would show that these experiences are not just the perfect fairytale ending.  That there is pain and anger and confusion.  And that it's no an instantaneous happy life from that point on.  And that sometimes these things don't always end like we hope.

The good news is there has been some good opportunities for the media to portray our stories fairly and accurately to a broad audience, and I thank those journalists, producers, and organizations for taking the time and energy to produce something worthwhile that truly captivates the complexities at stake with consideration and respect for those of us living through this seemingly unimaginable predicament.  I hope that in the coming months and years that there will be more of these stories that come to light and less of the superficial and exploitative outlets that often are produced.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NYT: One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring

Just because this article hasn't gone viral enough yet.....

One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring

OFFSPRING, Ryan Kramer, of Pasadena, CA is the child of a donor

Monday, September 5, 2011

The DNA numbers game

A recent discussion on PCVAI was about shared DNA, and how much is significant and what all those numbers actually mean.  I've also come across several discussions on various DNA message boards with similar questions and confusions.  So I figured I would reiterate some things here.  Some of this is my own meanderings.  Some of this is credited to various members of different forums and listservs.

FTDNA versus 23andMe: Shared DNA

A. FTDNA's Family Finder test providers testers with the amount of shared DNA for EVERY one of their matches no matter how immediate or distant they are.

This shared DNA is broken down into 3 categories.

1) Sum shared DNA
The sum of shared DNA is the total number of cM (centimorgans) you and a match share across your entire autosomal genome.  The total number of cM is approximately 3380cM.  Sum shared DNA is typically used for determining close and immediate relationships.

  • A parent-child match will share around 3380cM.  This is slightly misleading because of course a parent and a child only share 50% of their DNA - the other 50% comes from the other parent.  But since this test does not differentiate both pairs of each chromosome, a parent and child will share a SNP at every marker.  This is called a half-match.  
  • Identical twins will also share 3380cM according to the FF results, but since they share 100% of their DNA, those 3380cM will be a full-match - that is, both SNPs at each marker will match compared to only a single SNP between a parent and child.  
  • Now full-siblings, even though they share 50% of their DNA (same as a parent-child), because each child may have inherited opposite SNPs from each parent at any given marker, full-siblings will generally share less than 3380cM but no less than 2500cM.
  • Half-siblings share 25% of their DNA, but like full-siblings it's not going to be exact because the siblings may have inherited opposite SNPs from their shared parent.  But the shared DNA for half-siblings should be around 1690cM, and probably no less than 1000cM.
According to Matt Dexter, on the FTDNA Forum, here is a breakdown of sum shared DNA ranges for various relationships:

  • Parent/child: 3539-3748 centimorgans (cMs)  
  • 1st cousins: 548-1034 cMs  
  • 1st cousins once removed: 248-638 cMs 
  • 2nd cousins: 101-378 cMs
  • 2nd cousins once removed: 43-191 cMs 
  • 3rd cousins: 43-ca 150 cMs
  • 3rd cousins once removed: 11.5-99 cMs 
  • 4th and more distant cousins: 5-ca 50 cMs

He also provided this great spreadsheet of min and max numbers:

Lastly, it must be noted that usually anything less than 5cM is considered noise.  Between 5-10cM suggested possible recent shared ancestry.  Over 10cM strongly suggests recent shared ancestry.

2) Longest block of DNA
The longest block of DNA is another tool used primarily for determining more distant relationships.

An explanation of the differences between sum and longest block of DNA from Matt Dexter (FTDNA Forum):

The amount shared is less important for a 4th cousin than for a 1st cousin. The amount shared in a first cousin is a large quantity so it can be used to make a prediction. The amount shared in a 4th cousin is a smaller quantity so it is easier for the test to use the longest block to make a prediction from and then use the sum as a kind of secondary, fine tuning adjustment.
Immediate family have longest blocks however they can't be used because they are different sizes per chromosome. In other words a match on chromosome 1 might override a bigger match on chromosome 3 because chromosome 1 is larger in cM. A parent and child will have the longest block on chromosome 1 for just about 145.17cM but the fact is, all the other chromosomes match too so using the longest block is meaningless for parents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and grandparents for example.
And from Tim Janzen on the Genealogy-DNA listserv (

Ranges of the length of shared IBD segments based on family relationship:

  • Parent/child: 2851st cousins: 50-141   
  • 1st cousins once removed: 36-106 cMs 
  • 2nd cousins: 21-64 cMs 
  • 2nd cousins once removed: 19-81  
  • 3rd cousins: 13-77  
  • 3rd cousins once removed: 0-27 
  • 4th cousins: 0-22  
  • 4th cousins once removed: 0-13 
  • 5th cousins: 0-27

3) Number of segments
The number of segments is not very important, as of course large segments take up more space so immediate relatives will share less numbers of segments but longer segments.  The number of segments feature is more useful when looking at more distant relationships, especially where there might only be one significant block of DNA shared.

B. 23andMe's Relative Finder uses shared DNA as well.  However, their results are slightly different from FTDNA.  First off, only those who have set their profile to public will you see their names (I've discussed this previously).  Second, if you have an immediate relative match (parent-child, sibling, grandparent-grandchild, niece/nephew-aunt/uncle, and possibly 1st cousin - I'm not 100% sure on the 1st cousin), those matches will NOT SHOW UP unless that match has signed off to be visible to immediate matches.  Why this is, I have no clue.  But it's something I was informed of recently from other DC adults who have tested with 23andMe.

Shared DNA from 23andMe is listed in percentages.  Which for most people is more understandable, but unclear if you are trying to compare the two companies.  Since percentages for two related individuals are fairly contant, it needs little extra information.

DNA Percentages (

The following figures show the average amount of autosomal DNA shared with close relatives:
  • 50% mother, father and siblings
  • 25% grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, half-siblings, double first cousins
  • 12.5% first cousins
  • 6.25% first cousins once removed
  • 3.125% second cousins, first cousins twice removed
  • 0.781% third cousins
  • 0.195% fourth cousins
  • 0.0488% fifth cousins
  • 0.0122% sixth cousins
  • 0.00305% seventh cousins (ca 92,000 base pairs)
  • 0.000763% eighth cousins (ca 23,000 base pairs)

Of course these numbers can fluctuate slightly due to the randomness of inheritance.

Here are ranges of percentages of genome in common from 23andMe:

  • Parent/child: 47.54 (for father/son pairs, who do not share the X chromosome) to ~50%
  • 1st cousins: 7.31-13.8
  • 1st cousins once removed: 3.3-8.51
  • 2nd cousins: 2.85-5.04
  • 2nd cousins once removed: .57-2.54
  • 3rd cousins: ca .3-2.0
  • 3rd cousins once removed: .11-1.32
  • 4th and more distant cousins: .07-.5
And just for comparison, here's a breakdown of just how much DNA is shared between UNRELATED people:

  • Parent-child pairs share between 83.94% and 84.20% of SNPs (50% of DNA in common)
  • Siblings share between 83.81% and 87.47% of SNPs (50% of DNA in common)
  • Uncle/aunt-niece/nephew pairs share between 78.48% and 79.57% of SNPs (25% of DNA in common)
  • Grandparent-grandchild pairs share between 77.96% and 80.59% of SNPs (12.5% of DNA in common)
  • First cousins and great uncle/great aunt-grandniece/grandnephew pairs share 75.78% and 77.03% of SNPs (12.5% of DNA in common)
  • First cousins once removed share ca 75.5% of SNPs (6.25% of DNA in common)
  • Second cousins and first cousins twice removed share ca 75% of SNPs (3.125% of DNA in common)
  • Unrelated people of European descent share 73-74.6% of SNPs