Once a man could waltz into a clinic and anonymously donate his sperm if he chose to, free of the burden of future children knocking at his door. But websites like 23andMe and Ancestry.com are messing with donor anonymity, making the concept essentially extinct.
A report in Stat News tracks how these sites, which can connect children to their donor parents, are forcing sperm donation centers to become a lot more open about the fact that anonymity is not guaranteed. Some clinics are adopting “open ID” systems in which donors are told that offspring might connect with them in the future if both parties agree.
But not every clinic is willing to change to meet this new reality. After Portland mother Danielle Teuscher signed her whole family up for 23andMe, including her daughter conceived with donated gametes, she found the mother of her daughter’s biological father. But after contacting her, Teuscher tells Stat News, she received a cease-and-desist from the sperm bank, who in addition to threatening her with a fine for contacting the donor also wouldn’t allow Teusher to access four other vials of the donated sperm. Contacting the relative of a donor to inquire about a sperm donation is messed up (what if he didn’t tell any of his family members about it!) but filing a cease-and-desist for inquiring seems extreme.
While anonymous sperm donation as a concept seems to be waning, what’s more startling is how unregulated the industry is. Stat News writes:
There are few reliable figures on the sperm banking industry and the percentage of donations that are made anonymously. Researchers find it difficult to track how many men have donated semen, how many children have resulted from each individual’s donation, and how much money is spent on procuring and purveying sperm.
That’s not entirely surprising, given stories cropping up about connected offspring of donors, sometimes in startling numbers, and not to mention the numerous stories about sperm donations gone wrong with incorrect vials used or doctors using their own sperm. The rise of genetic testing, as much as it freaks me out, is a corrective to a surprisingly opaque industry. If you’re going to donate your sperm, you now have to be 100% prepared for a future in which your offspring find you.