Call to end anonymous egg and sperm donation points to lack of fertility industry regulation

| April 9, 2014
e cccde d z
(Credit: gniliep/Flickr)
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Each year between 30,000 and 60,000 thousand children are conceived using donated eggs and sperm, but regulations surrounding the identity and openness of those donations have not caught up with the science.

These regulations vary by country: in the United Kingdom for instance, a donor can register as anonymous or open and has the opportunity to change his or her mind. In the United States, however, there are no national or state level registries or legal protection of anonymity. Nor is there a formal process for donor-conecieved children to identify their donor.

Recently, a movement to legally outlaw anonymous donation in the States has picked up steam.

Kieth Ablow, a medical doctor, wrote on

Outlaw anonymous sperm and ova donation entirely. Let the donors be known to the recipients and the children thus conceived, or block the donations.

Without seemingly having given it much thought at all, our society now allows tens of thousands or more of men and women to create children who will never know one or sometimes both of their biological parents, because states allow these anonymous donations. And this policy inherently presupposes that bearing children who have no opportunity to know their biological fathers or mothers does not deprive them of anything that is inherently theirs – as a fundamental human right.

Ablow goes on to say that donor-conceived children should never have been born and essentially calls donor-assisted conception a convenience for old, rich couples.

But ignoring the ‘family values’ vitriol, is it possible that knowing your biological heritage is a fundamental human right?

Inmaculada de Melo-Martín writing at the Hastings Report asks the questions in a more subtle way:

A variety of factors, such as the increasing number of children born by means of gamete donation, advances in genetic science and technology that make it easy to discover the identity of a person’s genetic parents, and the widespread belief that genetic information is important for protecting people’s health, have made this alleged right quite salient, even leading some to challenge the ethical appropriateness of gamete donation practices altogether.

There are health benefits of knowing ones ‘family health history’. That information is important in knowing personal risk factors for disease. However, it could be argued that personal genomic screening will one day replace the family history. Interestingly, sperm donors seem to be put through much less rigorous screenings by clinics and by potential recipient parents than egg donors. This seems like a bizarre form of sexism given that mom and dad give (almost) equal genetic material.

Although Ablow argues donor assisted conception has nothing to do with adoption, it may be the closest parallel available in our society. While closed adoption has fallen out of vogue, for some very good reasons, it is still very much legal in the United States. Moreover, no one has moved legislation forward to make it illegal, despite the fact that these children often don’t know their family medical histories or genetic identities.

Surely, there could be a better way to access the donor health data and protect the anonymity of the donor, if that is truly their wish. In closed adoptions medical history is often passed onto parents without the identities of biological parents being exposed.

The anonymity issue only underscores the lack of regulation of the fertility industry in the United States. Perhaps the United Kingdom’s minimal, national register is the right idea. Donor Chris Whitman (a pseudonym) documented his decision about identifying himself as a donor in The Guardian:

“In my case, I no longer had a compelling reason to remain anonymous and I came to feel that to deny someone the opportunity to try to find what he or she is seeking would be an act of selfishness on my part.

In the end it was probably a mixture of egoism, altruism and curiosity that finally led me to re-register with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority as an identifiable donor. Offspring over the age of 18 could now request information about me, including the contact details I provided. I chose to give just an email address and the name of the town where I now live.”

Additional Resources:

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
a a b b a f ac a

Video: Death by COVID: The projected grim toll in historical context

The latest statistics, as of July 10, show COVID-19-related deaths in U.S. are just under 1,000 per day nationally, which is ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
types of oak trees

Infographic: Power of evolution? How oak trees came to dominate North American forests

Over the course of some 56 million years, oaks, which all belong to the genus Quercus, evolved from a single undifferentiated ...
biotechnology worker x

Can GMOs rescue threatened plants and crops?

Some scientists and ecologists argue that humans are in the midst of an "extinction crisis" — the sixth wave of ...
food globe x

Are GMOs necessary to feed the world?

Experts estimate that agricultural production needs to roughly double in the coming decades. How can that be achieved? ...
eating gmo corn on the cob x

Are GMOs safe?

In 2015, 15 scientists and activists issued a statement, "No Scientific consensus on GMO safety," in the journal Environmental Sciences ...
Screen Shot at PM

Charles Benbrook: Agricultural economist and consultant for the organic industry and anti-biotechnology advocacy groups

Independent scientists rip Benbrook's co-authored commentary in New England Journal calling for reassessment of dangers of all GMO crops and herbicides ...
Screen Shot at PM

ETC Group: ‘Extreme’ biotechnology critic campaigns against synthetic biology and other forms of ‘extreme genetic engineering’

The ETC Group is an international environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Canada whose stated purpose is to monitor "the impact of emerging technologies and ...
Share via
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend