HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, February 6, 2006

Sperm Donors and the Crumbling Wall of Anonymity

U.S. News & World Report has this article on-line: "Who's Your Daddy?" Of particular note:

Advances in the use of genetic medicine to predict and prevent disease, new DNA technology that makes it possible to trace ancestry, and the growing power of the Internet are galvanizing the donor community. In turn, they are challenging the limits of donor anonymity and upping the pressure on sperm banks to make information about biological dads available to donor children.

It is only a matter of time before the courts step in, say legal and ethical experts. "As advances in genetics continue to raise the question of health risks due to heredity, more people made in nontraditional ways will demand to know about their biological ancestors," says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "I have no doubt that children's interests will dominate, and the courts will break down the walls of privacy just as they did in adoptions." Most states, for instance, now make birth certificates available to an adopted child if a court finds there is a good cause.

In several European countries, including Britain, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, donor anonymity has already come to an end. It is illegal to sell anonymous donor sperm in those countries, and a few cases that would allow donor children access to birth records are making their way through the legal system. The same restrictions on the sale of donor sperm, which have been accompanied by a dramatic falloff in supply in Europe, are not expected in the United States anytime soon. However, the nation's biggest sperm banks are responding to the growing demand from would-be mothers for donors who are willing to identify themselves. Last month, the Fairfax Cryobank, one of the largest sperm banks in the country, began an ID Consent Donor program. Donors must be willing to be contacted, via the sperm bank, by their offspring at age 18. Donors also agree to provide yearly updates on their whereabouts for 18 years following their participation in the program.


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