As a child or adult conceived with the use of donor sperm, you may have many questions. We would like to help you answer some of them by sharing some of the details about how our sperm bank selects donors, offers donor sperm to women and couples, and handles requests for more information about donors.
We want to tell you about CLI. We have been around a long time, since the early 1970s. CLI was the first sperm bank started in the US and has observed many changes over the years. In the early days before sperm banks were available, it was not unusual for a doctor to offer fresh semen from a donor he selected on behalf of an infertile couple. Information on the donor was often kept secret and little was known about his medical or personal history. The use of donor sperm today is very different. Sperm banks make every effort to select healthy, educated donors who share many health-related and personal details about themselves. Our sperm bank will receive some 200 applications for each donor we ultimately select. It is more difficult to become a sperm donor than it is to be accepted into Harvard! If you want to read about the way we screen donors, go to the webpage about donor screening. You’ll see that the donors undergo many blood, urine and semen tests as well as answer many questions about their family social and health history.
The typical family who uses donor sperm is changing. Originally donor insemination was offered exclusively to married couples who were experiencing infertility. Today, infertile couples are still helped by donor sperm but other types of families are as well. Single women are increasingly choosing to have children on their own with the help of donor sperm. Same sex couples are, too. Where 20 years ago it was easier to keep the donor sperm story a secret, it is now much more obvious when a father is not around while a child is growing up. Children born from donor sperm are learning about the circumstances of their conception in ever increasing numbers. We estimate that now about 4,000 to 5,000 children a year are born in the US as the result of anonymous donor insemination.
In 2005, Cryogenic Laboratories (CLI) started a new program called the ID Options program in which new donors agree to release identifying information. We created this special category of donors because of the increased interest by families to have this option available. Identifying information, such as donor name and address, is shared only with the children who were conceived by an ID Options donor, whose mother registered their birth with our sperm bank and who then go on to request the information themselves when they reach the age of 18 or older. About 20% of our current donor list is ID Options. The other 80% are donors that have chosen to remain anonymous. Before 2005, all our donors were anonymous. The first children eligible for this ID Options information will reach the age of 18 in 2023.
Today, we ask all new donors if they want to be known. If they agree, they become an ID Options donor. If they decline, they will remain anonymous. All donors who began donating prior to 2005 signed an agreement with us in which we agreed to keep their identifying information private. Many families were created with the understanding that their specific donor would be anonymous forever, and they very much want this information to stay private. We have very specific understandings with donors and families that we will protect the information of not only the donor’s identity but also the identity of the families who used that sperm donor. Our policy is that once a donor is designated as an anonymous donor or an ID Options donor, his status cannot be changed, e.g. from an anonymous donor to an ID Options donor, or vice versa. Therefore, for our anonymous donors, we are not mediating contact between families and their donors.
There is a considerable amount of information we do have on our donors, both anonymous and ID Options, that is extremely valuable in learning about the donor as a person rather than a cold statistic. Donors today have audio interviews recorded, childhood photos, some have adult photos, and all have detailed medical and personal histories. Their ethnicity, talents, interests, and even their favorite color and song are presented. Donors who are no longer donating also have information saved. (See more about donor information on this webpage about donor information.) In addition, half siblings who are interested are able to connect with each other via various sites third parties set up for this purpose on the web. Although the donor may be unknown, half siblings often find shared traits that they determine are likely from their biological fathers. This discovery of sibling relationships, along with the extensive information already available on the donor, may help some children as they seek to learn more about their genetic heritage.
You may have questions about your donor’s motivations to be in our program. Typically donors are college students or recent graduates who have an interest in helping others. Some are married and may even have children of their own. They do receive some compensation (usually about $500 a month) for their time and effort. They must visit the laboratory on average one to two times a week for at least 6 months to donate sperm and agree to take dozens of blood draws over the course of their commitment. In addition, they must have regular physical examinations and agree to several face-to-face interviews with our staff. Donors are selected because they have shown us that they are dependable, responsible, trustworthy people. We do not inform donors if pregnancies result from the use of their sperm. Donors often move on to other life events and stop donating after about 6 months to a year in the program, although some continue longer.
Donor sperm from one donor usually results in several pregnancies over many years. Some families store units from the same donor in order to have biologically full siblings, so the age range of all the children from the same donor may be considerable. In accordance with the guidelines set by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), we strictly limit the number of donor units sent to the same geographic area. But since donor sperm is shipped all over the US and several other countries, the donor usually sells out before he reaches our distribution limit. It is highly unlikely you would ever meet another one of your half siblings randomly, (i.e., someone who was conceived with the exact same donor).