I sat with other audience members on folding chairs in a small Soho gallery theatre for the debut of Anonymous Father's Day, watching Stephanie Blessing's face onscreen as she learned her dad was not her biological father.
Sponsored by Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, Anonymous Father's Day premiered at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art last week and is touring the country, hoping to return to New York City. The film focuses on the stories of four people donor-conceived individuals and their search for their fathers.
Kathleen Labounty wrote 6,000 letters to the medical community where her biological father went to school, hoping to locate him. Eighteen genetic tests later, she says, she is still searching.
Alana Stewart, who attended art school and pursued music because she thought her biological father did, launched a website for the donor-conceived individuals to post on, hoping their biological father may recognize them on the site. So far, she says she has found twelve half siblings.
"For most people [knowing their father] is meaningful information," Barry Stevens said in the film.
"To pretend it isn't goes against human nature."
A British filmmaker who grew up during the first and second World War, Stevens was told at 18 after his father's death that the man who died was not his father.
The film also reveals stunning statistics: Between 30,000 and 60,000 sperm-donated children are born each year. The number is a conservative estimate, as it includes only those who have been told they were donor babies by the parents who raised them.
Lahl, who has over 20 years experience in the health industry, said she created the film to educate the public. She says anonymous sperm and egg donation is an issue people should be educated about, and explains that the donor-conceived community is a new people group with unique challenges and needs.
One such need is for access to medical information. Donor-conceived individuals growing up in the United States do not have any medical history. As a result, they may never know possible genetic diseases or who they may be related to, leading to complicated possible situations like incest.
Many are calling the documentary a step forward for the "Right to Know" movement. Olivia Pratten, a journalist from Canada, is fighting legislatively for the right of donor-conceived children to have access to medical information about biological origins.
She made significant progress in May when the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the existing adoption laws discriminated against donor-conceived individuals and concluded that these children should be allowed to review their history.
"Parents are a social construct whereas your biological family isn't," said Pratten. "A desire to know your kin is part of being humanâ€¦there would be no fertility industry if there was no desire to keep genetic continuity".
Pratten has yet to see the same progress in the United States where most donors are anonymous and records are destroyed. According to Newsweek, much of the $3 billion fertility industry remains unregulated, leaving thousands questioning their identity.
"I'm not a treatment, I'm a person, and those records belong to me," Pratten told Newsweek.