Unfortunately, this interview gives insight into many of the problems within the sperm banking industry. Sperm bank staff, including directors, are too often misinformed and can also be dishonest when presenting “facts” about donor anonymity, accurate record keeping, contacting donors, and numbers of donor offspring. A few notes about the interview:
1. “Folklore”? I don’t believe that the NY Times, and many other reliable news sources present “folklore” when talking about the large number of half sibling groups.
This director needs to watch the documentary about Ben, the sperm donor with 75+ offspring. I promise you, this is not “folklore”.
2. Sperm banks are only minimally regulated by the FDA. The FDA mandates testing for STD’s and a handful of other diseases. But because of lack of regulation or oversight, we have some banks testing some donors for some diseases. This particular sperm bank claims to only test for STD’s. Some of the diseases that are supposedly tested for by sperm banks, like Cystic Fibrosis, have been reported in donor offspring.
3. “We don’t disclose that… it’s on our website”?! What does that even mean. She doesn’t disclose it, but you can read it on their website?
4. “Make an attempt to find the donor….” 18 years later? How do you find a person 18 years later? The truth is, not often, as sperm banks either do not regularly reach out to their donors, or donors do not respond and are therefore not find-able almost two decades later.
5. “A lot of hype out there”. We have many published papers in peer reviewed academic journals and have had stories featured with The NY Times, CBS (we have an upcoming story on CBS Sunday Morning about a donor with more than a dozen offspring), NBC, TIME, and hundreds of other media outlets around the world.
6. Her hyperbole about comparing donor offspring to children conceived in the “backseat of a car” is ridiculous. What is that argument? A remark from a DSR parent: “What kind of ethics is this professor teaching when she uses the argument that more kids from accidental pregnancies don’t know their genetic parents as justification for denying that information to those people deliberately conceived where all the parties are known. It was an excellent example of gas lighting/ diversion of the interviewer. Instead of addressing the topic, throw the person off balance by accusing them of ignorance of something completely different.”
7. She is misinformed about donor programs “disappearing” when anonymity was banned in other countries. Certainly not in the UK, as you can see with HFEA numbers– donors have increased since 2005 when anonymity was banned. Given the fact that her sperm bank does not offer open or willing-to-be-known donors, this is not surprising. Her sperm bank’s website touts their anonymous donor program: “With over twenty-five years of service, our highly selective anonymous donor program offers over 40 donors with diverse ethnic backgrounds.”
8. She is again misinformed about SART tracking the number of donor children. SART doesn’t track “a lot of that”. There are certainly no “anonymous donor numbers” as she claims. There is no entity that requires this type of tracking, and therefore, no one knows how many donor conceived children are out there.
9. The interviewer is a Master’s student in Bioethics. (He is not affiliated with the DSR and did have permission to record the interview). Telling him that “you can skew your paper how ever you want” or that there are “a lot of unknowns and you are not qualified to judge it” was condescending. Why so defensive and arrogant?
10. Again, she needs to read the published research in peer reviewed academic journals about donor offspring. Her claim that only those on the “outside” can want known donors, is simply not true. In fact it’s quite the opposite. When we have the opportunity to properly educate and counsel prospective parents, they do not choose anonymous donors. They understand that they need to ask, “what is in the best interests of the child to be born?”, and proceed with that answer in mind.
Unfortunately, this is a lot of the attitude that I encounter at reproductive medicine conferences.