DSR BioNews Commentary

By admin on May 03, 2012

A call by the Donor Sibling Registry to stop using the figures of 30,000 –
60,000 US sperm donor births

08 May 2012

By Wendy Kramer

Wendy Kramer is director of the Donor Sibling Registry
Appeared in BioNews 655

In 1988 the Office of Technology Assessment estimated that 30,000 children were
born via donor insemination during the year 1986/87 in the US (1).

A quarter of a century – and no further research – later, ‘30,000 annual births’
is still trotted out in academia, lectures and the media (2). Sometimes the
number is doubled, probably to allow for the passage of time, and occasionally a
range of 30,000 – 60,000 is deployed.

Yet so much about donor insemination has changed during this time. Using either
of the whole figures is scientifically unjustifiable, and the range is just as

Hence, experts should not be using such patently erroneous figures. Rather, they
should be noting that there is no reliable method of assessing how many children
are conceived via donor insemination each year. They should be pointing out that
the USA has no accurate tracking or record keeping from which it is possible to
make an educated assessment.

Instead of complacently relying on outdated best guesstimate figures from more
than a generation ago, they should be demanding reliable, recent figures. They
should be voicing outrage that neither the fertility industry nor any other
entity is required to collect data or report statistics on the numbers of human
beings conceived using donor sperm. This is in stark contrast with cattle
insemination, which is much more tightly regulated and surveyed.

The donor insemination landscape has changed significantly from the 1988 report.
In 1986 almost all recipients were married; nowadays, married recipients
(excluding lesbian couples) make up a small minority. Whereas in 1986 the
majority of donors were recruited directly by fertility doctors, most donors are
now sperm bank recruits.

The number of sperm banks has rapidly increased since 1988, as has the number of
donors. But the greatest change of all is the opportunity for kinship
acquaintance. In 1988 it was essentially fantasy for donors or offspring to
think they would get to know one another. Now, in the generation following the
advent of the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), such knowledge is almost an
expectation. Only one thing remains the same: the general lack of genetic
testing of donors or any mandatory requirement to do so.

Over the last twelve years, the DSR has collated the most comprehensive records
that currently exist in the USA. It has records of over 1600 donors, information
about tens of thousands of offspring, and details of hundreds of US sperm
distribution facilities. However, these records are very incomplete, as all have
been obtained via voluntary registration.

For several years, the DSR has been applying pressure to sperm banks for them to
maintain their own records, but progress in that direction is slow. And even if
individual sperm banks did create proper records, in order for them to be
accurate and reliable they would need to be collated and integrated with the
records of every agency that trades sperm. This would require that the whole
industry be accountable to one body.

This is a call to those quoting that one-time estimate of 30,000, and to those
concerned about the pitiful lack of oversight within the US sperm donor
industry, to speak up about the lack of reliable information within the public
domain. We need to demand that federal money be allocated to research and
regulate this industry, and to do it in a thorough and comprehensive manner.

In the meantime, everyone using these figures should acknowledge that they are
25 years out of date, and even then they were only rough guesstimates.

1) Artificial Insemination: Practice in the United States: Summary of a 1987
Office of Technology Assessment | 1988

2) One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring
NY Times | 05 November 2011