Should Sperm Donation Be Anonymous?

Pilar Calva
January 28, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life

While often touted as a compassionate response to problems of infertility, anonymous sperm donation can present many serious problems. The three cases below highlight just a few of them:

Case 1: In October 2015, a 35-year-old French lawyer who was conceived through (heterologous) artificial insemination with a semen donor requested to access information about her biological father. In November 2015, the state decided that her case did not fall within the narrow exceptions to the rule of anonymity, which are made when a doctor requests the information in cases of a therapeutic necessity, or for ensuring that when both members of a couple are born from sperm (gamete) donation, they are not children of the same donor. Consequently, the French tribunal decided that the anonymity of the sperm donor should be maintained.

Case 2: A couple made up of two women chose a 'qualified' semen donor, profiled as being an eloquent, mature, healthy, intelligent man, to be the father of their child. Almost seven years after the baby was born, perhaps by accident, they received mail with the name of the donor. Upon investigating, they found that the donor was schizophrenic, left university before graduating and had just been accused of robbery. Furthermore, his picture had been modified to remove a large mole from his face. This donor is the biological father of at least three dozen children.

When these women investigated, they found that such lax oversight is common among most sperm banks in the United States. The FDA requirements for the evaluation of sperm donors are limited to analyses to detect contagious infectious diseases such as syphilis and HIV. The frequency and number of times that a man can donate sperm are not regulated.

In March 2015, the couple filed suit against the supplying sperm bank, Xytex.

Case 3: A medical student with good physical attributes and a high IQ donates semen. Unfortunately, he later dies in an accident. His parents investigate and find that their son's sperm was used for insemination and they want to meet their grandchild. They ask for the woman inseminated to be identified.

What Are The Ethical Implications of Anonymous Donation?

  1. Without knowing the identity of the donor, and without regulating how many children are produced from the same donor, it is possible that half-siblings could end up marrying. This would have consequences for any subsequent children since they would share genes, which increases the likelihood for genetic autosomal recessive illnesses and deformations. (The sperm bank Xytex, from Case 2 above, has limited births from a single donor to a maximum of 60 families .)
  2. In the case of those individuals needing transplants, it would be advantageous to know if there are half-siblings who could be compatible.
  3. There are negative consequences for the child. From the psychological point of view, he or she must struggle to "identify" with his/her father, given that the true father is someone unknown, while there are no biological links to the person who plays the role of his/her father. As well, we must consider the ongoing conflict between those who advocate for political regulations to keep the semen donor anonymous and those who defend the right of every citizen to know his or her biological parents.

And Sperm Donations Generally?

The issues highlighted above are in addition to those which arise from sperm donation generally.

  1. The majority of those who donate as well as avail themselves of donations are in an emotionally-fragile state. In a certain way, their situation can be exploited.
  2. Sperm donation is an attack on the conjugal act and the union of the spouses, since the gametes of the husband and the wife are not united, but rather that of the wife and someone outside of the marriage. The woman is inseminated with the sperm of someone who is not her husband.
  3. Sperm donation is also an attack on the concept of the family, to such a degree that some jurists discuss whether it should be classified as adultery. It is absolutely certain that with sperm donation we have the personal separation of the two who form the marriage and those who bring about procreation. Such a separation places the acceptance of the resulting child outside of the union of the spouses. It subjects the child to the condition of a contract made by varying parties and interests.
  4. The psychological consequences for the spouses are also notable, even though they are rarely discussed. There is a separation between sexuality and reproduction, and to this is added the dissociation between reproduction and filiation: the child that is produced comes from only one of them. In the woman's mind, the donor is often magnified and imagined as superior to her (sterile) husband. The ghosts of adultery also appear: fears that the husband could end up rejecting this child who isn't his; and fears felt by the husband who might feel that he is inferior to his wife and inferior to the biological father of his child.

In conclusion, anonymous sperm donations magnify the already large list of issues raised by sperm donations more generally. Heterologous techniques (with the donation of gametes) assault the child's rights, denying him or her a filial relationship with his/her biological parents, possibly hampering the maturation of his personal identity and can raise a host of medical and legal implications as well.