One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring and the Need for Legal Advice

In recent news, a sperm donor has led to a topic of debate regarding the need to regulate the number of children each sperm donor should be allowed to father. There is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donor, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Another concern is the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.

Critics say that fertility clinics and sperm banks are earning huge profits by allowing too many children to be conceived with sperm from popular donors, and that families should be given more information on the health of donors and the children conceived with their sperm. They also desire legal limits on the number of children conceived using the same donor’s sperm and a re-examination of the anonymity that cloaks many donors.

Although other countries, including Britain, France and Sweden, limit how many children a sperm donor can father, there is no such limit in the United States. There are only guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), a professional group that recommends restricting conceptions by individual donors to 25 births per population of 800,000.

The number of children born through sperm donation is unknown. The estimated number is between 30,000-60,000, perhaps even more. Mothers of donor children are asked to voluntarily report a child’s birth to the sperm bank, but an estimated 20-40% of them actually report the birth. Most families turn to the registry’s web site, donorsiblingregistry.com, for more information about a child’s half brother or half sisters.

The donors are given a number that identifies them and the children or families can look up how many siblings they have if they registered on the website identifying that donor number as their father also.

There are certainly competing interests at stake: the privacy of the sperm donor and the genetic or mental health concerns of the donor child, as well as concerns that the donor’s offspring will be a result of incest relationships and pose health concerns to those fetuses. The question of whose interests win out is still to be decided.

One major issue of liability and child support still remains in many states. Many states do not use the resources of a lawyer with known or unknown sperm donation arrangements. Often the sperm bank (or clinics) use consents and releases to add protection and limit liabilities in the arraignment. In recent years, there has been cases in which sperm donors that did not have a contract or agreement in place, were deemed financially responsible for the child as well as the intended parent(s). While this area of law is still “grey”, it is a hot topic to discuss amongst assisted reproduction professionals (medical and legal). A word to the wise, protect yourself and be sure that the medical facility, doctors, donors and recipients are all aware of the need for legal analysis of the sperm donation arrangement.