Donor Conception: Choosing a Clinic or Sperm Bank

Created: Nov 23/13


The following vary widely from one doctor, clinic or sperm bank to another. Even if this seems not to matter much at the moment (when your focus is on having a baby or becoming a donor), people’s personal stories and research indicate these things may well matter in the future to you, your partner and most especially to the person conceived.

  • Number of Donors: The larger the number, the more the recipient has to choose from, the more likely they are to find one who matches their needs, and the less chance there is of intermarriage between half-siblings.
  • Number of Births per Donor: Because of the expense of screening a donor, sperm banks typically require him to donate 3-5 times/week for at least 6 months, preferably longer. However, this can result in dozens, even hundreds, of children being born using a single donor, which in turn has very serious implications: an increased risk of intermarriage between half-siblings and of an undetected genetic problem being transmitted to a large number of children, a reluctance on the part of the donor to make himself known to any of the adult children (for fear that many more may also ask), and a certain ‘yuck’ factor for the offspring when they realize they were part of ‘a batch’.
  • Ethnic Diversity of Donors: The greater the number of donors from your racial group, the better, both for patient choice and to minimize the chance of intermarriage among offspring.
  • Amount of Non-Identifying Information: Some programs provide an extensive portfolio on the donor, photos/videos; others only basic physical characteristics (e.g. hair & eye colour) and may refuse even the donor number or the name of the sperm bank used.
  • Availability of Identity Release Donors: Some donors agree to have their identity released upon request to the offspring at age 18, or to the family if there is a medical need before this (e.g. bone marrow transplant, more information because of illness, etc.). Several Canadian & American sperm banks now offer ID release donors. A growing number of countries have banned donor anonymity as a violation of the human rights of the offspring; the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, Australia & Germany. In 2008, a Birtish Columbia offspring, Olivia Pratten, launched a class action lawsuit, to try to preserve donor-recipient-offspring medical records beyond the 6 years required by the BC College of Physicians & Surgeons (10 years in some other provinces), and to allow offspring access to those records. Olivia won her case, but lost when the decision was appealed; in 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case.
  • Updated medical information on the donor: Donors are typically young, their parents only in their 40s or 50s. Family medical history will change over time as the donor, their parents and relatives, and the offspring age. New medical conditions may emerge which weren't known at the time of donation. Moreover, science will continue to discover new genetic links to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, etc. If sperm banks & clinics were truly responsible, they would update the donor's medical history on a regular basis and pass pertinent information on to recipients so they could make appropriate, informed decisions about their children's medical care, and also pass on medical information about the offspring where there are implications for the donor, the donor’s family or children, as well as for children in other families who were conceived using the same donor.
  • Process of Selecting a Donor: Some programs encourage the recipient (and their partner) to take an active role in selecting the donor and provide lots of information to assist them, while others discourage patient participation and may insist on choosing the donor. Not all programs make an effort to match appearance; however, if a child looks very different from their parent(s), the family could be faced with questions from almost everyone they meet, which can be difficult for both the parents and the child to deal with, even for families who have decided not to keep donor conception a secret. Even after the patient has selected a donor, some clinics still reserve the right to use a different donor at the time of treatment, with the result that it is then unclear as to who the genetic parent is – which could have serious implications in the future for the offspring because 1/2 of their genetic health history will be missing, and there could be confusion on a personal level in terms of identity issues. It could also make finding the donor impossible even in cases of medical emergency.