Sperm Donor Anonymity

Sperm Donor Anonymity

This article is part of the June 2006 INCIID Insights Newsletter

The Importance of Sperm Donor Anonymity
by Betsy Cairo, PhD, HCLD

While the advent of recent FDA regulations for United States (US) sperm banks may be complicating their lives and raising the cost of doing business, another looming issue may have greater implications for sperm banks and their donors and recipients alike.  In the United Kingdom (UK), The Department of Health announced that sperm donors could no longer remain anonymous and that all sperm donors would have to register with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) as an identity-release donor.  After April 1st, no UK fertility center can use donor sperm unless the donor has been registered with identifying information.

What this means to the donor is this—any child born to these donors can have access to his information once (the child) has turned 18.  The first year this information may be accessed by offspring for new donors entering the program after April 1st, 2005 will be the year 2023.  The rationale behind identity release is that offspring have the right to know their biological background and have the opportunity to meet and interact with such individuals.  This is not a bad rationale but unfortunately it has led to undesirable results.

The UK is now scrambling to meet its donor sperm demand.  Since the announcement of this change in standards for the sperm donors, there has been a steady decrease in the number of sperm donors that have applied to programs, with the sharpest decline being after 2000.  For example, the number of donor applicants in 1994 was reported as 175. The number of applicants in 2003 was 25.  A decline of this magnitude makes for a huge deficit in donor specimens.  To combat this problem, the UK is appealing to other countries to supply them with donors that are willing to have their identification released in their county.  What this ultimately means to the recipient is a possible waiting list for donor sperm and a marked increase in the price.  The patient is hit twice:  money and time.

It is important to pay attention to what has happened in the U.K. as it might apply in the U.S., perhaps sooner than we’d like.  The donors available in the United States have the option of having their ID released.  A majority of donors decline.  We have found that our donors are willing to have their identification released in the U.K. but not in the United States. Not now and not ever.  However, this does not mean that donors are unwilling to cooperate in the event of a medical situation involving an offspring.  We have to pay our donors more to have their ID released in the U.K., which of course results in higher prices for the recipients there.

This could happen in the United States.  Unfortunately, because of competition, sperm banks try to out do each other by offering something new, different and leading edge to their clientele.  This has led to an increase in talk among patients about ID release donors, and sperm banks are attempting to respond to this line of thinking.  I do not think that recipients understand the potential downfall of forcing this issue.   It is time to remind ourselves, and perhaps our clients as well, that the sperm donor is simply that – a genetic donor.  He is not a daddy, a buddy, a father or a friend.  He is not going to pay child support or attend soccer games.  We need to be honest with our patients and gently remind them of the exact role a genetic donor plays.  This does not make the job of the donor any less important.  A wonderful thing these men do for others is offering people the chance at a family in this manner.  Besides, in our program and in most others, recipients have access to a wide range of information on the donor.  A complete family and personal health history, genetic review and even an essay section where a recipient can view the donor’s personal answers and see their handwriting.

What about the donor’s freedom?  If donors are required to relinquish their anonymity, do they have the right to know who utilized their specimens and whether or not a live birth resulted?  And if so, are they free to contact these people and have contact with the child?  Perhaps we should also keep in mind the importance of anonymity when thinking of the recipients who do not want to know the identity of their donor.  Sometimes the concern of using donor sperm is the concern that the donor will obtain information about them and seek them out and try to infiltrate their life and that of the child. Where do we draw the line?  It appears that in the interest of fairness it should go both ways.

The FDA has already gained a foothold on regulating sperm banks.  Such regulations are tedious and have increased our cost of operation.   I am concerned that they may add to their regulation of sperm banks the requirement of identity release for all donors due to the undercurrent that is spreading across the US.   If this happens, where will anyone get sperm and at what cost?

Betsy Cairo, PhD, HCLD, founded CryoGam Colorado, LLC in 1990.  She is currently one of its owners and is its director.  CryoGam offers all aspects of cryopreservation including: anonymous and personal sperm freezing and storage. Additionally CryoGam does long term embryo storage.

FDA inspected in February of 2006, CryoGam was given a report of no deficiencies. CryoGam is also licensed by the New York State Dept. of Health and is also regulated and inspected by CLIA.
To learn more about CryoGam please visit our website at www.cryogam.com or by phone at 800-473-9601.  Dr. Cairo also answers questions on a special discussion board at www.haveababy.com,  CryoGam’s  address is :

CryoGam Colorado, LLC
2216 Hoffman Dr
Loveland, CO 80538 

INCIID Insights is sponsored by Sher Institutes for Reproductive Medicine.

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