The Basics of Using a Sperm Donor

sperm donor processFor couples experiencing male infertility or for lesbian couples, the decision for using a sperm donor is an important one that should be carefully thought out and discussed prior to moving forward. From the legal perspective, here are FAQs about using a sperm donor.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is related solely to North Carolina law. 

What is the difference between an anonymous, known, and “open/identity options” donor?

Anonymous donors are men that donate to a sperm bank or clinic and are usually identified by an alphanumeric code that is attached to a profile, which gives non-identifying information about the donor such as height, race, eye color, hair color, health history, etc to be viewed by the intended parents. When using an anonymous donor, the identities of the parents are kept anonymous from the donor as well.

A known donor is a man whose identity is known to the intended parents at the time of the donation. He does not necessarily have to make donations through a sperm bank or clinic, but at home inseminations can be legally complex (see blog post on “The Nontraditional of the Nontraditionals”).

An “open donor” or “identity-options” or “Identity-release” donor is a man who makes a donation to a sperm bank or clinic, wishes to remain anonymous at the time of the donation, but is open to having his identity disclosed, and maybe even to having the child contact him when the child becomes an adult. When selecting a sperm bank, it is important to understand exactly what their version of an “identity-options” donor means and what kind of information will be available to you or your child after the child turns eighteen.

What are the dangers of using a known sperm donor?

First of all, many IVF clinics have policies against doing inseminations with known donor sperm, so it is important to check with your clinic before making this choice. Second, known sperm donors are often selected so as to avoid using sperm banks or facilities and/or to obtain “fresh” sperm (sperm banks freeze sperm donations and mail them to clients in specially designed canisters. Not all sperm survives the thawing process). However, in avoiding sperm banks or facilities, clients are also avoid the extensive testing that is done on donor sperm at these facilities and that is designed to identify sexually transmitted diseases and other genetic and chromosomal conditions.

If using a known sperm donor, it is, therefore, crucial to enter into a sperm donor contract to ensure that the donor agrees to independent testing (and re-testing) to the intended parent’s comfort level and that he also agrees to certain conditions regarding his sexual partners and/or sexual behavior as well as refraining from intravenous drug use or other high-risk activities that could put the intended parent’s, gestational carrier’s or future child’s health at risk. Finally, with known donors, there is obviously a greater risk that he will “change his mind” and want a relationship with or even custody of the child, and pursuing those rights will be easier for him if he knows the identity of the intended parents. Therefore, proper legal contracts are vitally important when using a known sperm donor to protect the rights of the intended parents and the donor.

How do donor contracts protect the donors?

Donor contracts clarify all parties’ intents that the donor not have any parental rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support. This prevents the intended parents from making any claims against the donor for any financial responsibility related to the child in the future. The contract also provides for all of the financial arrangements related to the donation, including donor compensation, and the intended parents’ responsibility for the costs of medical, genetic, psychological, or other testing or fees that might be related to the donation. The contract also ensures that the intended parents agree to assume the medical and psychological risks of sperm donation, both related to the woman carrying the child as well as the child him/herself.

The contract also clarifies that the child will not inherit as a “child” of the donor (see blog post about “defining a child”) and that the donor will not inherit as a “parent” of the child. Finally, if the donor has wishes regarding ongoing contact with the intended parents or the child, the disclosure of medical or genetic information, disclosure of the donor’s identity to the child, disposition of any unused donations, use of donations for future pregnancies,  or any other conditions, those wishes can be contained in the donor contract as well.

How do most people choose a donor?

Only you know what is most important to you when selecting a donor. Many couples discuss the following regarding the donor’s characteristics in order to narrow down the hundreds of choices available at any given facility.

  • Do we want an anonymous donor or one who is willing to have his information shared with the child upon reaching adulthood? (Selecting an “identity-options” donor will likely narrow the available choices considerably)
  • Do we have a preference as to the donor’s race? Religion?
  • Is it important that we see a photo of him?
  • Do we have a preference regarding the donor’s physical characteristics being similar to one or both of the intended parents?
  • What is the donor’s health history like?
  • What are the “deal-breakers” for us? (red hair, a family history of Alzheimer’s, lack of a college degree, bad grammar in the essay portion of the profile, etc)
  • Does he have vials available in the form we require (washed vs. unwashed) and within our timeframe?

How do most people choose a sperm bank?

There are a number of factors that clients consider when choosing a sperm bank. Some include:

  • Cost
  • Level of customer service
  • Amount of information provided (one of the largest sperm banks in the country does not provide adult photographs of its donors, while another can provide numerous photos of certain donors ranging from infancy through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood)
  • Type and extensiveness of testing performed on donor sperm
  • Length of time in business
  • Availability of genetic counseling
  • Screening procedures and percentage of candidates accepted as donors
  • Availability of “Open Donor” or “Identity Options” programs
  • Limitations on number of vials collected from each donor
  • Availability of different types of vials
  • Process and cost for shipping vials
  • Accreditation by American Association of Tissue Banks
  • Feedback/Recommendations by IVF physicians