To Know or Not to Know: Using Identified or Anonymous Egg or Sperm Donors

by Admin on November 10, 2010

istock_000005697028smallStephanie Goldman-Levich, Co-Founder of Family Creations, LLC was asked to share her thoughts regarding one of the hot topics this year at ASRM’s annual conference – Open egg and sperm donation vs. anonymous donation. Read more about her thoughts below in blog written by Dawn Davenport, with Creating a Family:

To Know or Not to Know: Using Identified or Anonymous Egg or Sperm Donors

Deciding whether to use a known donor, a donor that agrees to release identifying information, or completely anonymous sperm or egg donor is a hot topic in infertility circles nowadays.  The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Conference had a great session on this, and the panel has agreed to recreate the session by appearing on the Creating a Family show. (We’re booked solid until mid January, so it will be after that).  So many issues are involved with this topic—both on the personal level of patients facing this decision and on a policy level.  The issue is front and center right now because of the recent release of “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” a report by the Institute for American Values (I hate that title since donors are many things, but absolutely are not daddies.); Test Tube Families: Why the Fertility Market Needs Legal Regulation, a book by Naomi Cahn; Eggsploitation, a documentary by The Center for Bioethics and Culture;  and the recent spate of movies that touch on this subject (The Kids Are All Right and The Switch).   The Donor Sibling Registry has long encouraged use of identified donors.

On a personal level potential parents have to consider their needs, and their future child’s needs in the short term and also when they become an adult.  Will the child want to know who they look like, will they want to contact the donor someday to get an updated medical history?  Parents have to balance their need for “just being a normal family” and their desire to not complicate their child’s life with their child’s possible future desire or need for genetic information.  They have to decide whose information this really is—theirs or the child’s.  They are deciding all of this in the midst of one of the most stressful times in their life and before the potential child is even born.  And those are just the rational considerations.  There isn’t enough room to list the irrational, but real, thoughts that run through potential parents’ minds when making this decision.  I should add that there is precious little long term research to guide their decision.

On the policy level, many are pushing for the government to get more involved.  They reason that that’s the job of the government—to step in and regulate for our better good.   Eleven countries already ban anonymous gamete donation because they believe it is not in the best interest of the child, the donor, or the parents.  They argue that anonymous egg and sperm donation is encouraged by the “infertility industry” since it is easier and cheaper to administer.  But does requiring the release of identifying information reduce the number of people who are willing to donate their egg and sperm.  Should donors and prospective parents have the right to choose?  While it is possible to ban anonymous donation, governments can’t require that parents tell their children.  If a child doesn’t know they were conceived with donor sperm or egg, identity information is of little use.

I’m going to save the more in depth discussion of whether we should ban anonymous gamete donation for the Creating a Family show we will do, but I wanted to share some information I learned about on this topic at the conference.  I spoke with Dr. Michelle Ottey, with Fairfax Cryobank and Cryogenic Laboratories about this issue.  She told me that they had conducted an online survey of their clients in 2008 to learn more about what they wanted.  They had a 99% response rate, with about 34% of respondents in a heterosexual relationship, 29% in a homosexual relationship, 28% were heterosexual singles, with the rest identifying with some other category.

They found that over 60% of the heterosexual couples preferred anonymous donation, 45% for heterosexual singles, and 50% for homosexual couples.  About forty percent of the heterosexual couples and homosexual couples that chose an anonymous sperm donor said that anonymity was an important factor in choosing a donor, compared to just 20% of heterosexual singles.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they are not interested in seeking out half siblings by the same donor.  Fairfax thought there might still be a need for a safe place to make this contact, so they set up an online forum on their site.  These forums have been a great success, and subgroups have formed around individual donors.  Perhaps there is more interest if the opportunity exists in a secure environment.

Dr. Ottey did not tell me the number of respondents, and this survey has not been peered review, but it is a snapshot of what people using sperm donation prefer.  This confirms what I hear from our audience.  From my discussions with couples choosing egg donation and from Marna Gatlin over at Parents Via Egg Donation, a wonderful support group, about half of the couples choosing egg donation prefer to use an anonymous donor.

I also had an interesting discussion with Stephanie Goldman-Levich, Co-Founder of Family Creations, an international egg donor and surrogate agency that facilitates anonymous, semi-open, and fully open egg donor arrangements.  She is also an adult adoptee in a closed adoption.  As you might imagine, she has thought about this issue a lot from both a personal and professional standpoint.  I asked her to share her thoughts.

“At the time I was born, my parents hadn’t thought to request photos of my biological mother, or gather any genetic information to save for me when I got older.  (They later went on to adopt my sister and brother and realized that would be nice information to have and therefore requested it from each of their biological mothers.)  So while my parents were always very open with me about my conception, they didn’t have anything to share with me other than the story of my adoption.  I didn’t think twice about this until I was in my early teens.  The main thought that entered my mind around that time was “I wonder if I look like my biological mother!”  As a young teenager, a simple photograph would have easily satisfied that curiosity.  Moving into my high school years I also began wondering more about genetics.  We learned about genetic diseases in health and biology classes, and it occurred to me that my family history was a blank slate. Doctor’s would ask in my yearly physical’s if I had a history of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc.  All I could respond with was ‘I’m not sure.  I’m adopted.’

Transitioning into egg donation, our program provides recipients with photographs of each egg donor, including a detailed profile which includes personal information and genetic information about the donor, and the donor’s family members.  Recipient parents looking for an egg donor get to view this information prior to selecting a donor.  This information is available to print, save, and provide to children (when parents deem it is appropriate) at any time in the future.  In fact, our agency will very soon be providing recipients with a CD that includes all of their donor’s information so that they can share it with their offspring later on down the line if they choose to.  While the profiles do not have the donor’s last name, date of birth, social security number, etc, (and therefore these would still be considered anonymous egg donation cycles), the profile would provide the child with photographs, personal information, and genetic history of their egg donor.  Being adopted, this is the exact same information that I had wanted growing up.  …

… I am completely against [the government banning anonymous donation] and think this idea would bring way more harm than good to our reproductive community.…I have many clients that come to me in their search for a donor very concerned about confidentiality.  They are only interested in an anonymous donation because due to their family’s cultural or religious beliefs, their family will not accept, and will not love any child that is born as a result of egg donation.  While anyone can hear this and say it is wrong and unjust – this is their reality.  …

In summation, as an adult adoptee and the owner of an egg donor program that facilitates both anonymous and open egg donation cycles, I believe that the right to choose is key.  I do believe that every person has the inherent right to know their genetic background.  (And I am happy that I was able to obtain information later on in life.)  But the important thing to remember is that we are still able to provide offspring with the information they desire (satisfying the same curiosities I had) through anonymous egg donation cycles.”

Food for thought; what do you think?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous 11.11.10 at 1:41 am

Great subject to write about! My personal choice would always be identified egg donation, but I wouldn’t say that anonymous egg donation is “wrong”. It is a decision that everyone must make by themselves. There are a lot of people who lead a happy fulfilled life, who don’t even know their real parents – so knowing the egg donor identity is not something that I would put very high in my list of priorities.

red 06.26.11 at 5:07 pm

As flawed as the system is, adoption is intended to protect children from being abandoned by or kidnapped from their biological parents. Recording the biological parents names at birth ensures that the law knows who reproduced and should be bearing the responsibility for raising the child so that if the child winds up being raised by unrelated people somewhere else without their written consent its a clear cut case of either kidnapping or abandonment. Biological parents are not allowed to simply conceal their identities by handing their child over for a black market adoption wher the buyers can claim the child was born at home and get their names entered onto an original birth certificate.
A child who finds out that they are not related to one or both of the people whose names appear as parents on their birth certificates is justified in feeling betrayed by the legal system. How did they wind up being raised by people who are not related to them without benefit of a formal adoption and proof that their biological parent signed giving their consent to that arrangement? Where is the proof that the family raising them did not get them on the black market? Where is the proof that the parent who is related did not just have an affair and name their spouse as parent on the birth certificate out of that horrific belief that children are marital property and any child born to one spouse is automatically the child of the other? Where is the proof of the procedure? How do the people raising the child know that their biological parent really gave their consent? They don’t even know their name let alone have a contract signed by them stating that its ok for them to raise that person’s biological child. How do the people raising the child know for sure that the child is the biological child of the person whose profile they chose? Couldn’t the child just as easily be the biological child of another patient at the clinic or some woman in a forign country whose eggs were forcibly taken from her?
Parental responsibility for a child should fall to the people who reproduced to create the child and not to the people who happen to be in possession of the child unless of course they are one in the same. When the law assumes that people in possession of the child are the child’s parents, there will inevitably be children who are treated like a commodity on the open market to be traded abandoned or sold. This is not fair to them. As it is the only children who are safe from being owned are children who were delivered by their biological mothers that trutfully named their biological fathers on their birth certificates or whose biological fathers were identified through paternity testing. And the worst part is that there is no way for a person to be sure by looking at their birth records that the people raising them are really their biological parents. The state should take as much care with identifying a child’s parents before they leave the hosptial as they do when paternity is being challenged. At least those children know for sure their medical records are not falsified and they know for sure that the people raising them have not concealed the existence of their relatives.
Giving birth does not make a woman a mother. The birth of her child that she reproduced to create makes a woman a mother and she should be held accountable for that life from the moment that child is born on forward and not allowed to conceal her identity and not allowed to simply abandon the child in the care of others unless she relinquishes the child for adoption formally so that a proper homestudy can be done. Its not fair that some children can wind up being raised by strangers without those protections just because money exchanged hands prior to their birth or just because another woman carried and delivered them. There are many gestational carriers in the world these days and they should not be named as mother automatically – what if they run off and give birth out of the area and kidnap the baby?

See these are reasons to end anonymity. No it should not be a personal choice of the people paying who want to be parents that assumes the child delivered is property and that possession is 9/10 of the law.

Sarah 05.02.12 at 11:52 pm

I think that it should be a choice. Always. Egg Donations are not the same as adoptions. Never will be. So I think all options should remain open. I think that all agencies need to see to put it up as a possibility, and that open egg donations should be handled similarly to open adoptions. But there will always be cases where the donor wants anonymity, and that should be understood.

Being a mother doesn’t come from giving birth, I would agree. It comes from the endless hours of care, and love. But in this process it isn’t just about motherhood. It is about Fatherhood too. These are families (whatever orientation), that are being created. I personally have always considered adoption as a first choice, and I am greatly considering egg donation right now, but I do not want to do it so soon. I have had terrible periods, I need to use extended cycle for at least two years, and I would prefer to have at least one child biologically before I consider that. Maybe by that time Open donations are practiced enough that its not seen as bad, just a different path. Just like Open Adoption isn’t for every one, neither is open egg donation.

jess 03.11.13 at 6:06 pm

I believe it should be a choice. I am doing a annonymous donor but it still comes with baby pics of him and info.

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