Donor conception has been a hot news item lately. First, in May, came the ruling in British Columbia that shut down the practice of anonymous sperm donation in BC (the equivalent of the ID release in the US system is still available there). This is obviously a controversial ruling. There is talk that it could shut down sperm donation in BC. I learned reading the above-linked article that in all of Canada there are only 33 active donors, so lots of sperm is already being imported from the US. The ruling has been applauded by many donor-conceived people, for instance see this essay in the Biopolitical Times.
Then around father’s day, the New York Times ran this essay by a donor-conceived man talking about his desire to know who his biological father is and his frustration that he will probably never know. The Times also ran a piece on a family created by donor conception via a known donor. They were later criticized by the Wall Street Journal for violating the privacy of the two-year old child in the family.
Finally, Wendy Kramer of the Donor Sibling Registry and law professor Naomi Cahn have gotten some press about the law passed in Washington state in April (also in BioNews). The new law, set to go into effect this month, comes close to getting rid of strictly anonymous donation, but doesn’t. What it does is to allow donor-conceived people access to a medical history at age 18 as well as the donor’s identity unless the donor files a disclosure veto. The piece in BioNews prompted a response at Forbes by psychologist Todd Essig, which essentially highlights the concerns and perspective of some parents who utilize donor conception. And then over at the Donor Sibling Registry, Wendy Kramer published a moving and intense response by Susan Kane, who is donor-conceived, to Essig’s essay.
Things seem to be moving rather quickly in the world of donor conception. If you have donor-conceived children, I highly recommend reading all of the pieces above to get a sense of how views on donor conception are evolving right now. My personal thoughts and opinions are in a state of flux. For obvious reasons, I want other people to be able to create families through donor conception, as Lyn and I have. I think that access to frozen donor sperm is vital for lesbians, single women, and infertile men. There are certainly many other options that allow such people to create families (for instance, known donors and adoption), but frozen donor sperm is a key part of helping people to have families.
On the other hand, I think of my children. I want them to have access to information about their donor. I believe that donor-conceived children have a right to information about the man who gave them half of their genetic material. Is there a way to reconcile these two beliefs? How can we provide parents with access to the means of reproduction, free of the legal and emotional difficulties that can come from using a known donor and at the same time preserve the rights of donor-conceived people to information about their ancestry?
I can’t claim to have an answer, but ID-release sperm might be an important component. Using ID-release sperm can provide a way for parents to access anonymous sperm, but adult children to have information about their genetic history. We also need to have sperm banks that we trust to store and disseminate information about donors. I don’t know much about the situation in other countries, but here in the US, I don’t have much confidence in the industry. My perception is that sperm banks withhold information more than they provide it. And of course sperm banks don’t always even have complete information as births aren’t always reported to the banks. I think now is the time for all of us who care about donor conception to start demanding change from the industry that profits from sperm donation, but first we have to start talking about what kind of change we want to see.
[By the way, I haven’t discussed egg donation here simply because I don’t know that much about it. I’m guessing that the issues there are both similar and different.]