09 May 2023 Key Factors to Consider When Selecting an Egg or Sperm Donor
As technology has evolved and family dynamics and demographics have changed, the use of egg and sperm donors has gained in popularity. Although current culture makes choosing a donor seem like an easy process, there are in fact several aspects to consider before proceeding.
Anonymous Donor Versus Known Donor, or Something In-between
One of the first things to consider when choosing a donor is whether to use a known or anonymous donor. To help with this decision, it is important to take the time to contemplate the level of openness and/or commitment you are expecting from the donor.
A known donor is typically someone the intended parent(s) already know(s) such as a relative, friend, or acquaintance. This can often be someone who plays an important role in the life/lives of the intended parent(s). Using a known donor requires written agreements to clearly establish all parties’ intentions in proceeding with the donation and any involvement of the donor in the child’s life, including clarifying that the donor is not intended to have any parental rights, even if it is anticipated that the donor will have contact with the child in the future.
An anonymous donor is typically found through a sperm/egg bank or a donor agency and will not have any parental rights or be expected to be involved in your child’s life. A written agreement may also be required when working with an anonymous donor.
In choosing an anonymous donor, intended parents will have access to the medical history, genetic background, and physical characteristics of prospective donors to help in the decision-making process. It is important to note, as we reported last month, the popularity of DNA testing kits has changed the landscape for anonymous donors and donor-conceived children, and donor anonymity may be a moot point in the future. This, however, does not affect parental rights.
Many intended parents contemplate the possibility that their child(ren) may have questions about their donor in the future, and although they prefer to remain anonymous, intended parents may seek to establish some avenue for potential communication should their child(ren), and/or they themselves, have questions for the donor in the future. In these circumstances, the parties often create and exchange non-identifying email addresses with one another or register with a third-party service provider which stores their information and functions as a buffer, allowing for communication via usernames and online messages instead of communicating directly with identifying contact information.
In any case, whether a donor is known, anonymous, or something in-between, it is important to ensure all parties are clear on their intentions and respect the boundaries set by one another.
Choosing an Anonymous Egg or Sperm Donor
What qualities should you look for when choosing a donor? Iris Insogna, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center in New York City, tells Forbes that focusing on specific traits that might make a donor feel like a good fit is helpful in choosing. Health history, education, personality traits, and even physical appearance are all criteria to consider when choosing a donor. For some, hair and eye color or a donor’s height or build may be important, while for others, it may be a higher level of education or specific talents and hobbies that are the main interest. Dr. Insogna goes on to say, “There are lots of different types of traits that you can search for, and the ones that matter most are the ones you should prioritize.” It is okay to take your time with your search and weigh all aspects of prospective donors before deciding which donor is right for you.
Comparing Known and Anonymous Egg and Sperm Donor Costs
When considering the use of a donor, the cost is another important factor to keep in mind. Using a known donor can be less expensive, which is one of the main reasons intended parents often ask a friend or family member to be their donor. While friends and family members may choose to donate their eggs or sperm without compensation, the intended parent(s) will still incur costs associated with assisted reproductive technologies (ART), which may include psychological and medical screening costs, legal fees, and travel expenses, if applicable.
Using an anonymous sperm donor from a sperm bank can cost anywhere from $400 to $2,000 for a vial of sperm, according to Forbes, with many intended parents choosing to buy multiple vials from the same donor with the intention of having more than one child. Sperm banks, however, normally take responsibility for the cost of donor screenings.
The cost of using an egg donor can also vary. Forbes states that a frozen egg donor base cycle fee can range from $14,000 to $20,000, while a fresh egg donor base cycle fee can range from $27,000 to $47,000.
The FDA mandates that sperm banks and fertility clinics perform physical exams and infectious disease testing for donors, while the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) strongly recommends psychological and genetic screening, in addition to legal consultation, particularly in known donor cases.
This of course does not include the costs associated with in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or surrogacy, which both add to the total cost of family building through ART.
Legal Aspects of Choosing an Egg or Sperm Donor
At most fertility clinics, anonymous egg and sperm donors waive all parental rights and responsibilities when signing their medical consent forms and written agreements with intended parent recipients. This ensures that the donor will not have any parental rights or responsibilities for the donor-conceived child.
The rights of a donor, however, are more important to clarify with a known donor, who may have contact with the child and be in their lives, which is why it is important for all parties (intended parents and donors) to seek legal advice. Professional legal counsel with experience in assisted reproduction and parental establishment is essential in navigating the relevant legal issues, and legal documentation can define parameters when it comes to donor involvement.
A few things to consider in order to safeguard the legal rights of all parties involved include matters of communication, proper use of language, and financial responsibility. How much contact would you like your donor to have with your child? What are the donor’s intentions or expectations? Is it okay to send photos or letters to the donor? These are just a few questions to think about when considering using any type of donor but especially with a known donor. All agreements should be put in writing to ensure that all parties involved are aware of, and committed to, the terms of the arrangement, and to ensure that all parties’ rights, obligations, and protections are spelled out.
Origin Story for Donor-Conceived Children
Lastly, and yet one of the most important things to consider when choosing a donor, is the origin story you will tell your donor-conceived child. Of course, when and what you decide to tell your child is up to you, but studies show that donor-conceived children, who learn from an early age of their conception story, have less anxiety and depression. Susan Golombok, a professor at the University of Cambridge, who has studied modern methods of family formation for more than 40 years, tells Time, “We’ve found significant effects related to the age of telling. Those who have been told as young children were much happier and much more accepting of their conception story.”
In fact, the revelation of the truth later in a child’s life can cause distrust within the family. “People don’t like being lied to, so adults or adolescents who find out belatedly that they were the result of donor sperm or donor eggs think their parents have told lies for 15, 20 or 30 years, and so they think, ‘well, I can’t trust you,’” says Roger Cooke, an infertility specialist at Swinborne University, as we reported in 2022.
Donor-conceived children are innately curious about their origin story, and parent-led conversations about the donor at a young age should be simple, growing more detailed as the child becomes older and has more questions. The key concept here is to be thoughtful about this process and the story you have chosen to tell, while still being open and honest with your child.
In the end, the decisions to use a sperm or egg donor to build your family and choose which donor is best suited to play this critical role are as emotional as they are complex. There is no one right answer, as every intended parent’s path is unique. This process should not be rushed. Instead, take the time to learn about the donor process, carefully consider the factors that are unique to your family and your situation, and create a plan that will help ensure the best possible outcome for all parties involved. Regardless of the path you choose, whether you decide on donor anonymity or work with a known donor, be sure to protect your family’s future by formalizing your donor relationship with a legal agreement under the advice of an experienced fertility lawyer.
For more information, please contact our IFLG team.