In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, April 20-26, 2014, and its theme of “RESOLVE To Know More”, today I will talk about the pros and cons of using a known sperm donor. Under New Hampshire law, using a known sperm donor can be a reasonable option for many prospective parents when the necessary legal prerequisites are met.
For many individuals who struggle with male factor infertility, using sperm donated by a friend, family member, or acquaintance can be a good option. The recipients can feel comforted by receiving genetic material from someone whom they know and trust, someone who will be available down the road for questions posed by the future child or if additional medical information is requested by the child’s doctors.
Anonymous sperm donation lacks many of these benefits–it is unusual for recipients to be able to view the donor’s adult photos, and communication with donors is strictly limited. While sperm banks typically will facilitate communication for medical reasons, it may prove logistically difficult or impossible to locate the donor many years down the road. And social communication between the donors and recipients is usually prohibited, although some sperm banks will facilitate social contact between the adult child and the donor. Some prospective parents appreciate this kind of distance in their donation arrangements, while others feel that a relationship with the donor can fill the void that is left by not being able to procreate using just their own genetic material. For other recipients, being able to use genetic material from a family member is important because they are able to maintain the family genetics in their own children, despite the necessity of using someone else’s sperm. It really is a very personal decision, with no right or wrong answers.
However, when it comes to legal issues, anonymous donation is much more clearly protective of all the participants, as well as the resulting child. Anonymous donations have a built-in safety net of anonymity that protects the participants even when no laws exist to protect the resulting parent-child relationships. Only some states have laws pertaining to sperm donation, and many of these laws only provide protection in limited circumstances, such as when the recipients are a married couple and when the insemination is performed by a medical professional. The American Fertility Association has some more information on the legal risks associated with known sperm donors.
New Hampshire’s laws are arguably among the more lenient, in that they appear on their face to permit at-home insemination, although this has not yet been tested in the courts so the safest course is for donors and recipients to be extra cautious when proceeding with known donation. Written contracts are an essential component of any known sperm donation, and all the participants must understand the implications of their selected insemination method.
In addition to the legal complications inherent in known sperm donation, practical complications can arise around the issue of disclosure to not only the child but to mutual friends and family members. The donor and the recipients really need to be on the same page with regards to disclosure, and they also need to be prepared to respond to an unanticipated disclosure. As you can imagine, things can get very awkward if one participant chooses to share the information when the other participants are not ready to do so. Worse yet, the child could learn about the donation from a cousin or friend, rather than directly from his/her own parents. Prospective parents clearly have a lot more control over information sharing when using an anonymous sperm donor.
These downsides of known sperm donation can be mitigated, but not completely eliminated, by seeking legal advice before the pregnancy as well as having a clear written agreement in place between the participants. For many prospective parents, the benefits of known sperm donation outweigh the risks, and thus it can be a reasonable family building choice when the necessary legal prerequisites are met.