Peter J. Boni – Trauma Rekindled Old Traumas Thought Long Past

Breeding Puppies Enjoys Better Oversight Than Conceiving Human Beings

Photo by Amy Rader

Peter J. Boni credits his disruptive childhood, a college education from The University of Massachusetts@Amherst, decorated on-the-ground service as a US Army Special Operations Team Leader in Vietnam (coined his “Rice Paddy MBA”), love of his family and friendship circle, plus the discovery of his luck-of-the-draw DNA with making him the person he has become today…an award-winning author, senior advisor, acclaimed speaker, and an advocate for the rights of the donor-conceived.

During his accomplished business career (high-tech CEO, venture capitalist, board chairman, non-profit leader, cited entrepreneur), Peter has applied “lessons of leadership through adversity” from his life-altering experiences–themes found throughout his first book, All Hands on Deck: Navigating Your Team Through Crises, Getting Your Organization Unstuck, and Emerging Victorious.

An inspiring public speaker with a storytelling, audience-participation style, Peter enjoys an active physical regimen, entertaining and sailing with friends and family while at his Cape Cod residence, being a fun-loving grandfather and traveling with his wife to, among other locales, San Francisco and New York City to visit their growing family.

What’ s the last great book that you read?

I recently finished reading Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Comunity and War, by noted historiean Nathaniel PhilbrickUpon learning that I was among ten million Americans who had a genaalogy which traced back to the Mayflower and the settling of America in 1620, it became a must-read for me.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I sampled a variety of genres as a child (from the classics et. al), then became a voracious reader of what I found most interesting. Historical fiction, nonfiction and hero adventure became my go-to choices. 

What genres do you especially enjoy reading?

As an adult, I find that insightful nonfiction and historical fiction carry truths extraordinaire. 

Which writer would you want to write your life’s story?

Nathaniel Philbrick makes historical figures and their times come alive to me. He details complex situations in crystal-clear fashion, and explores his characters’ emotional depth, strenghts, flaws, ambiguities and triumphs in very human terms. He’s my choice.

What do you plan to read next?

My son recently gave me a book I’m excited to read; The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal and Trial By Combat, by Eric Jager.

What brought you to research and write a book detailing the practice of assisted reproductive technology in the first place?

  I wrote Uprooted (after 22 years of intensive research) as both a deeply intimate memoir by a late discovery donor-conceived person and a tell-all expose` on the scientific, legal and sociological history and evolution of the multi-billion dollar Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) industry…from Biblical references until the present day. Many readers have commneted that it reads like a mystery novel with a purpose. I’m all for science to enable wanting people to have a family, but with some consideration for the human beings who the science creates…people like me who suffered the traumatic consequences of identity disruption due to a DNA surprise. 

How many like you are there who are donor-conceived? What is the trend?

Fertility rates in the Western Hemisphere have declined by 50% over the past four decades, thanks to the impact of a more toxic environment and the biological clock not cooperating with people who have delayed their child-rearing until they were older and more established. Changing sociology has made the donor-conception practice far more acceptable. 

Donor-conceived people now number over one million adults. Most don’t even know it. Their ranks have grown by 50 percent, 500,000 people, just within the last decade. The breeding of puppies enjoys greater regulatory oversight.

What have been your goals Uprooted

My goals for Uprooted are threefold. First, to improve ART industry practices and bring them into the 21st Century. Second, to impact the legislative agenda for regulatory oversight. Third, to speak for the feelings and well-being of all misattributed people, no matter the reason for their non-parental event (NPE).

Would you further define parental misattrubtion? 

Birth certificates and DNA don’t jive, with one or both parents. How could that be? An extramarital affair, a one night stand, a sexual assault, switched at birth, raised by another family member, late-discovery adoption, or, like me, “semi adopted” in the secretive process…artificial inseminaiton by an anonymous donor of sperm/egg/embryo.

And the impact of DNA analysis on the discovery of misattribution?

Some experts estimate that 2% to 4% of the population are misattributed; While some make a calculated case that this number is a bit less, others make a cogent case that it is actually much higher. Either way, it is a big number. 

To put this in a multi-generational context, in my high school graduating class of 100, using that 2% to 4% estimate, two to four of my classmates are misattributed. I’m one of them. I’ve helped two of my classmates interpret their DNA results and deal with the identity trauma associated with their late discovery. In a typical family tree, we have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and so forth. When applied a few generations out, in geometric fashion, all 100 of my classmates are misattributed to (at least) one of their third to sixth great grandparents. 

There are over 50 million people in DNA databases today. How many of them have experienced their own identity trauma with an accidental discovery? 1 million? 2 million? How many more have yet to discover that something doesn’t jive? DNA analysis over the internet is growing by leaps and bounds. There remains much more trauma yet to come. Is the trauma-care health care system ready? Is society ready? Why not update practices to accommodate the fact that technology has advanced, Old secrets will be secrets no more.  
What do you feel has been achieved since Uprooted was released?

Uprooted not only attained best-seller status in its categories, but it was recognized as the 2022 Winner, Best Book Awards in Narrative Nonfiction by American Book Fest. 

ART legislation varies country by country. The U. S. lags well behind many others. I’ve been donating my book’s proceeds to two United States advocacy organizations which have been making appreciable headway in facilitating legislation to add a semblance of rules and regulations to better guide the practice of ART.  For instance, on May 31, 2022, Colorado was the first state in the U.S. to enact a Donor-Conceived Bill of Rights…no more gamete donor anonymity, required donor genetic testing and release of donor health history, restricted numbers of offspring per donor, a sibling registry to enable siblings to know of one another, mandated donor/recipient counseling regarding the needs of the donor-conceived child, and defined legal penalties for blatent fertility fraud. It has made its way into several states. A related bill was recently filed in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first federal legislation of its kind. 

That’s all just a drop in the proverbial bucket. Success breeds success. Victory has many fathers (mothers, too). I am proud to be among them in the advocacy for a Donor-Conceived Bill of Rights. The benefits spills over to all misattributed people for their right to know their origin.

Mark Twain once said “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figured out why.” Sure, I’m a former high tech CEO and retired venture capitalist, but today I see myself as an author and advocate for the rightrs of the donor-conceived. 


Uprootedis a genetic whodunit, with all the twists and turns of a mystery novel, and the added bonus that it’s all true. Boni’s gripping story of his search for his roots and the identity of his biological father is poignant, bittersweet, and revelatory. Highly recommend
—Jacqueline Mroz, contributor, science/health section, The New York Times; author of Scattered Seeds: In Search of Family and Identity in the Sperm Donor Generation

This is gripping, upsetting material, told with clarity and wit…[R]eaders interested in issues of genealogy will tear through the pages. —Publisher’s Weekly.

Exceptional storytelling…[A} compelling memoir of a troubled childhood with an unwell father, a determination to succeed, and the challenges of grappling with the emotional fallout of his family’s secrets. It’s also an exhaustive and insightful account of the history of assisted reproductive technology; a cogent indictment of the flaws of the largely unregulated multi-billion dollar industry; and a rallying cry for advocacy with a prescripsucceedstion for changeBoni’s scope is ambitious and he succeeds of every level. —Severance Magazine


Author’s Note

In these pages, I share what I have learned about the long, secretive, and sometimes scandalous history of artificial insemination. I do this

using the backdrop of my own life’s experience. I tell the story of my own donor-conception, which I did not discover until I was forty-nine years old, and show how this knowledge enabled me to better under- stand myself and grow as a person.

My parents had every intention of taking my clandestine beginning to their graves. The more I learned about the history and the sociology of artificial insemination, the more I discovered why they felt that way. I also discovered that I was not alone in having this secret kept from me. The number of donor-conceived people has grown to well over one million as advances in reproductive science have spawned a multi-billion-dollar assisted reproductive technology industry. The United States lags well behind other nations in developing and applying standard controls or regulations on this industry.

Amid a cadre of practitioners with high standards were a fraudulent and unethical few, along with a Wild West of gamete sourcing (sperm, egg, and embryo). Operating with little legislative accountability, its free market forces have contributed to the conception of dozens, sometimes more than one hundred, siblings from the same anonymous donor— siblings who may be unaware of their origins or of the existence of each other. The breeding of puppies enjoys greater oversight.

Perhaps more significantly, I was faced with what this has meant for society as a whole. With the advances of science, and the ease and accessibility of DNA services like and 23andme, secrets like mine have now been placed on open display. The former promises of eternal anonymity are now a heap of obsolescent assurances.

The donor-conceived (“semi-adopted”) and the adopted share the same genealogical bewilderment: We do not know exactly where we came from. Added to those two categories are staggering numbers of people conceived in a Non-Parental Event (NPE) who are “misattributed,” which means birth certificates may list the known parents as biological parents even if one or both are not, thus keeping the “artificial secret” alive. In recent years, social media support groups for the donor-conceived, adopted, and other misattributed children have cropped up, allowing these people, and their biological connections, to share and understand the implications and emotions of the experience from every conceivable angle.

Those who are aware that they are misattributed advocate to establish a “Bill of Rights” to abolish their parental anonymity, give them full and early disclosure of their genetics and medical history, put limits on the number of offspring per donor, identify sibling donor-offspring to one another, and define legal consequences for blatant fertility fraud. Society grows and changes, sometimes kicking and screaming and often well behind the advances of science, but it continues to grow. I hope that my story helps continue that growth. Truth emerges not only fro

a personal, genealogical history, but also from a scientific, legal, and sociological history. I began my journey by delving into the history of artificial insemination and assisted reproductive technology and then subsequently explored DNA analysis by two different vendors. Over the course of two decades, I discovered my own truth, which helped set me free.

From Chapter 2

With that fire consciously burning within me, I enthusiastically launched my adult life and opportunistically directed my career.

In 1995, on the brink of turning fifty, I sat in my Boston living room with my wife. I was an accomplished, grown man, the so-called Go-to Guy. I was about to learn that everything I had told myself—everything that had led me to become the grown man I was—was based on a secret I knew nothing about. Until that moment.

Susan explained: “Your parents went to a fertility specialist affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Your mom read about him in a newspaper per after several years of trying to get pregnant. The doctor diagnosed your dad as sterile. He presented them with two choices: adoption or pregnancy via a sperm donor.”

She paused to give me a moment to digest what she was telling me, as well as to regain her own composure. Susan spoke haltingly as her tears welled. She was clearly in a great deal of distress. I took two swal- lows of my wine and clutched the glass.

“You were conceived with the help of a sperm donor. It was all hush-hush. The donor was anonymous.”

I felt a rush like a hurricane go through my soul.

The aftermath of a hurricane is wonderfully peaceful. The sky turns crystal blue. Enormous puffy clouds race through the clearing atmo- sphere in Indy 500 fashion. The humidity-filled air of the hurricane becomes purified, crisp, and clear

I felt that post-hurricane rush as I recollected the sickness, the suicide, the feelings of inadequacy and abandonment, the need to be invulner- able and strong, the whispers that screamed at me, and the made-up story to hide my shame. I felt I was somehow now set free from him, unchained and unleashed to discover who and what I really was.

It was unbelievable, but very believable. The only grandmother I had ever known, my maternal grandmother, always referred to me as “the miracle child.” I never asked why. The first grandchild is always consid- ered “special.”

Still. Why had I felt so different? Like I never quite fit in the family mold? My crystal-blue-eyed father was mechanically inclined. I had his blue eyes, but no mechanical interest or acumen. Did that gene just pass me by? And I was the only fair-complexioned blond child in the family. I passed my fair skin, tendency to sunburn easily, blue eyes, and blondish hair to my son, but he resembled no one we knewInheritance is a complex formula.

From Chapter 11

I understood that secrecy intellectually. But it changed from an observation to an inflammation that burned a larger empty hole within me. With genealogical bewilderment raging within me, I confessed to Susan that I feared I would live the rest of my life unfulfilled in my quest to learn about my biological origins. I felt that I had been living a lie. And I couldn’t understand how society could make it acceptable to raise a child based upon such a fabrication, a lie, about his genetic origin.

I was soon to discover why.

Next on my research checklist was the social context of the times leading to my conception. That context also had ramifications on the practice of artificial insemination and the practice of family law.

Doctor Hard’s 1909 disclosure to Medical World instigated a debate over the moral, legal, and social implications of artificial insemination by donor within both the medical community and the popular press in the United States. In 1920, after Dr. Dickinson disclosed his 1890 arti- ficial insemination by donor procedure, the medical community at large clammed up when solicited for comments by the press and deliberately did not discuss artificial insemination, especially donor-insemination. It was far too controversial. Soon, the court of law joined the court of public opinion.

In 1921, a court in Canada set a legal precedent in the case of Oxford v. Oxford. A woman sued her husband for support. She had conceived a child via donor-insemination during their separation. The husband’s defense termed the wife “an adulteress.” Justice Orde, who presided over the case, deemed that donor-insemination without the husband’s consent was even more than sinful—the justice ruled that it was as adul- terous as conceiving a child au naturel and grounds for divorce.

A British court followed suit in 1924 and advanced the precedent of adulterous donor-insemination. In Russell v. Russell, Lord Dunedin granted the husband a divorce on the grounds of adultery, even though he had consented to his wife’s artificial insemination by donor.The court also deemed the resulting child illegitimate.

It occurred to me that the power of legal precedent added a feverish urgency to the code of secrecy that my parents and their fertility special- ist had practiced. My mother was satisfied, content that her child had never faced the social and legal hurdles of being declared a bastard and that she had never been declared an adulteress.

The world’s religious, political, and social leaders all piled on to discredit artificial insemination as unnatural and unwanted. Would arti- ficial insemination by donor encourage eugenic government policies? What about regulation to prevent two biological siblings from the same sperm donor from marrying each other.

As the debate raged, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that a donor should be held criminally liable for his adulterous participation. Like an avalanche, on a state-by-state and country-by-country basis, pre-WWII courts mostly ruled that a donor-conceived child was ille- gitimate and its mother guilty of adultery, even with consent from her husband. By law, pregnancy by artificial insemination with sperm from a donor was legally tantamount to an errant roll in the hay by a married woman with a man who was not her husband; it was adulterous, scan- dalous, and grounds for divorce.

Owen, my high school social studies teacher and mentor, occupied a prominent seat within my inner circle. He served as my chief intellec- tual ally whenever I needed his input. I always grew from hearing his perspective. During our discussions, he helped me intellectualize the social context of my discoveries as he asked me to recall my earlier stud- ies in his class and make some connections. Eventually I could see my particular research interest within the larger social trends of the early 1920s: the Bolshevik Revolution swallowed Russia, eugenics advocates were spurred on by disclosures of donor-insemination, and the resulting rolling thunder of condemnation by church and state inspired fear and secrecy in those who needed help with conception.

This was the environment in which Aldous Huxley was inspired to concoct his satirical, authoritarian society in which genetically engi- neered, selectively bred, perfect human beings were manufactured to create a perfect world order. Brave New World, his 1932 bestselling book, was required reading for every high school student.

Huxley’s vision again seized the world stage after an explosive March 1934 magazine article titled “Babies by Scientific Selection.” Designed to bring science to a narrow audience of armchair practitioners, Scientific American interviewed two hundred physicians located in seven cities across the eastern United States. A quarter of them reported patient requests for donor-insemination to accommodate a couple’s male

infertility. Fewer than 10 percent of them, eighteen to be exact, admit- ted attempting the procedure; nine claimed success in impregnating women with a sterile husband via the life-giving sperm from selected men. Scientific American declared it “one of the most significant eugenic developments in the history of man.”3

The author, John Harvey Caldwell, concluded that from fifty to one hundred fifty test tube babies were born each year and that a growing segment of the population (one in ten couples) who were involuntarily childless could benefit from such treatment.

In a world where “our sterility is increasing” as we become “biologi- cally weaker,” the author painted a science fiction future scenario where “fertility clinics” in each city across multiple continents screened sperm donors as a piece of their practice to enable conception. They would meet first with resentment, then tolerance, then acceptance and, finally, with enthusiasm.4

Caldwell broadened his conjecture, building on Huxley’s Brave New World, where humans were selectively bred to be genetically perfect. Caldwell’s imagined “fertility clinics” would not only enable concep- tion, but would also teach birth control and practice sterilization of the “unfit.” Such clinics could even sponsor baby shows at county fairs, sponsor child health contests, and enable anyone to have a baby by “sci- entific selection.”

Six weeks after the Scientific American article came out, in early May 1934, with the Great Depression in full swing, and one in four peo- ple unemployed, the world’s press latched on to this emerging trend and publicly dubbed children conceived via artificial insemination “test tube babies,”or “laboratory babies.”

From Chapter 25

My unknown origin consumed me for a quarter-century. The shock of my discovery has long passed. I’ve educated myself about the history of my donor-conception. My gene pool, equipped with names and faces of real people, is completely revealed. I feel complete.

But every now and again, like cracks of vibrating thunder, some- thing triggers my emotions to continue a rollercoaster of a ride that I imagine will last a lifetime. How many more are there like me?


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