CBS ran their story on the Northwest Cryobank situation I wrote about in my last blog post and the NY Times ran its story on February 16, 2019.
It’s my professional opinion that sperm banks’ attempts to keep donor-conceived people from their first- and second-degree genetic relatives, by trying to prohibit mutual consent contact on DNA websites and on the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), has nothing to do with “protecting the donors” as they claim, but rather an attempt to keep their wrong-doing from becoming public.
Threatening parents for testing their child’s DNA and for reaching out to first- and second-degree genetic relatives to learn more about ancestry, ethnicity, and medical history is a battle that’s already been lost and only a diversion to the real problems and issues at hand within the sperm banking industry.
It’s absurd that none of these critical items (with real and devastating consequences) are in the agreements that parents sign:
- • Sending the wrong sperm (happens frequently; two such reports from NW Cryobank parents this month)
- • Changing donors from open to anonymous; this happens frequently — several reports from several of the large U.S. sperm banks, including NW Cryobank, with the donor featured in this story
- • Keeping accurate records (no sperm banks have accurate records on how many children are born from any one donor)
- • Updating and/or sharing medical information (84% of surveyed sperm donors were never asked for medical updates)
- • Tracking or limiting the number of kids born from any one donor. The DSR has many groups of more than 100 half-siblings, all the way up to around 200. Limiting the number of kids born to any one donor is also not in any of the donor contracts, although many donors, including my own, have been promised no more than 10 kids. You can’t limit until you accurately track, which just isn’t done.
NW Cryobank is the only sperm bank threatening their donors into not signing up to the DSR to make mutual consent contact. This is deliberately keeping donors from sharing and updating medical information with the families, and vice versa.
The sperm bank’s reason for not allowing donors to make mutual consent contact on the DSR was to “protect the parents,” and their reasoning for not allowing parents to “seek the identity of the donor” (DNA test) was to “protect” the donor. The director of Fairfax Cryobank told me that the reason they don’t allow donors from before 2010 to know their own donor numbers (thereby attempting to keep donors from connecting with offspring) was also to “protect the parents.” So it seems like these sperm banks are playing both sides of the field: threatening both parents and donors for their own “protection.” In reality, these policies mainly serve the interests of sperm banks.
“I get the distinct impression they are trying to limit my access to other families since my daughter was born with genetic issues.”
NW Cryobank/California Cryobank said in their response letter to Ms. Teuscher, “There’s a human being on the other side of the gift,” referring to the donor. Donors sell their sperm, and parents pay a lot for a vial of it. No one is “gifting” anything. It’s a commercial transaction — a seller, a middleman, and a buyer. NW Cryobank has taken back the “gifts” that Ms. Teuscher paid a lot of money for.
Donor offspring of all ages are testing their own DNA, sometimes completely unaware that they are donor-conceived and they, along with all other offspring, never signed any type of “agreement” prohibiting mutual consent contact with their biological relatives, via DNA testing or via any other methodology. When you submit DNA, oftentimes you are told that you’re 15% or 25% related; so until you reach out to that unknown relative, you just don’t know if it’s a half-sibling, a grandparent, a cousin, or an aunt or uncle.
It’s time that sperm banks shift their decades-long great effort and focus from attempting to keep donor-conceived people from connecting with their first- and second-degree relatives to learn more about their ancestry, ethnicity, and medical backgrounds to understanding, acknowledging, and addressing the needs and rights of these people. We invite the sperm banks to read the two-dozen research papers that we’ve published in peer-reviewed academic journals that address the psychological and medical impact of donor anonymity and the importance of these connections.
Additionally, it’s urgent that the banks stop the practice of promising/forcing anonymity in all parent and donor sperm bank contracts. Donor anonymity ended in 2005 when the first donor offspring located his donor via DNA testing. We invite all sperm banks to act in a more ethical manner and call for honesty, accountability, and responsibility within the industry.