An open letter to anyone choosing a sperm bank:
Hello Future Parents,
I am so glad that you’re reading this, and that you are doing your due diligence. And I know, this can seem completely overwhelming — hang in there! Honestly, right now there is only one sperm bank that I can recommend, and that is The Sperm Bank of California (TSBC). Maybe because they are a non-profit, they do seem to try a bit harder to keep accurate records and to act in a more responsible and ethical manner. They are not perfect, but they do seem to try harder to contact donors when a child turns 18, not just send a generic letter in the mail, as some banks (such as California Cryobank) have done. Or not responding, or claiming that donors are not really “open” at all, as some banks do. TSBC’s “informed consent” form (on our Which Sperm Bank page), which you’d need to sign, implies that you or your child shouldn’t contact donors or half-siblings outside the scope of their mutual consent/age 18 recommendations, but this is unenforceable because anyone can contact anyone, at any time — and your child is not signing or agreeing to anything.
We think that 18 is an arbitrary number, only in place to protect the sperm banks’ liabilities. That’s why any family can make contact at any time on the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR). (Children under 18 do need their parents’ permission.) There is no psycho-social research that recommends waiting until age 18, and a lot of research does show the benefits of connecting early on in a child’s life. If a child could have the opportunity to grow up knowing their first-degree genetic relatives, then why deliberately prevent that contact?
Many egg clinics and agencies are now writing the DSR into their parent/donor contracts, so anonymous (if wished) contact is made on the DSR right from pregnancy/birth. Messages, photos, and medical information can then be shared freely. Parents and donors are empowered to decide exactly what type of communication they are interested in, without the need of a middleman who knows nothing about them or their family, or the needs of their child. Not one sperm bank will do this. Ask your potential sperm bank “why not?”
Some sperm banks “claim” to limit numbers of children, but the truth is ... you can’t limit until you actually have accurate records, which none do, because reporting births is voluntary. Some sperm banks have estimated that only 20%-40% of women actually report back their births back to the sperm banks. The DSR has many half-sibling groups of more than 100. Xytex and Fairfax are the two sperm banks with the most number of very large half-sibling groups.
Because of little regulation or oversight, besides the FDA mandated STD testing, and testing for a small handful of other diseases, each bank can say whatever they want, and then do whatever they want. So, some banks test some donors for some diseases. You can read all about the medical and genetic issues here on the DSR’s Medical Issues page.
Sharing medical information with half-sibling families and donors on the DSR is often the only way to know about this type of important medical information. Families should never rely on sperm banks to contact families when medical issues arise, because most often they are unaware — and even when they are made aware, we know that they frequently do not update the families.
I would definitely steer clear of the big banks such as California Cryobank, Xytex, Fairfax/CLI/Pacific Reproductive Services (PRS), NW Cryobank, the U.S. “Scandinavian” sperm banks such as Seattle/European Sperm Bank/Cryos, or New England Cryogenic (NECC). I used California Cryobank, but I could never recommend them because on many occasions I haven’t found them to be honest. See the Johnson v. California Cryobank case (the sperm bank deleted Polycystic Kidney Disease from a donor’s profile), this O Magazine article, and my blog entry on the DSR. At least two sperm banks, Fairfax and NECC, have not let their donors know their own donor numbers, trying to actually prohibit the sharing and updating of information by donors with families on the DSR.
Read these NY Times articles: One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring and In Choosing a Sperm Donor, A Roll of the Genetic Dice. Also, see this (one of many) disturbing article about Xytex. Read this 2016 NY Times article: Sperm Banks Accused of Losing Samples and Lying About Donors. And there's also this article regarding an NECC lawsuit involving a child born with Cystic Fibrosis.
Read through the user comments about these and other banks on our Which Sperm Bank page. Ask your potential sperm bank the 30 questions we’ve provided on that page. For the most part, these sperm banks only seem responsive to people before they sell their product.
I hope that you’ll be using an open donor — please read through the 25 published papers on our Research page and the advice that donor-conceived people offer on the DSR’s Offspring page to better understand why using an open donor is SO important. The DSR has spent many years researching, listening, and responding to the needs and issues of donor-conceived people, and we know that they do not recommend that prospective parents use anonymous donors. Remember though, that without offering early connections (like the egg clinics/agencies are doing) all sperm donors are essentially anonymous, albeit some only for the first 18 years of a donor-conceived person’s life.
Also, I would suggest that after making a short list of possible donors, you check the DSR to see if any of the families who used those donors are already listed on our site. If so, you could reach out to them to see if there are any medical issues that you should know about. Also, you can see how many families are already posted for that donor. Sharing and updating medical information on the DSR with other families (and the donor) can be important and even life-saving. Wouldn’t you want to know if the donor you’re thinking of using already has 30, 50, or 200 kids out there and that too many of them have autism, ADHD, or a heart disease?
Please read ALL the articles in my Huffington Post blog; they contain a lot of information you won’t find anywhere else — for example: 10 Things Your Doctor, Clinic or Sperm Bank Won’t Tell You. I highly recommend reading Finding Our Families: A First-Of-Its Kind Book for Donor-Conceived People and Their Families; it’s everything I wish I would have known when I was beginning my journey as a parent of a donor-conceived child.
In July 2017, we submitted an FDA Citizen’s Petition with 173 powerful comments, stories, and testimonials from parents, donors, and donor-conceived people that should be read by anyone wishing to learn more about the reproductive medicine industry.
Best wishes and good luck!