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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sperm Donation, Anonymity, and Compensation: An Empirical Legal Study

In the United States, most sperm donations* are anonymous. By contrast, many developed nations require sperm donors to be identified, typically requiring new sperm (and egg) donors to put identifying information into a registry that is made available to a donor-conceived child once they reach the age of 18. Recently, advocates have pressed U.S. states to adopt these registries as well, and state legislatures have indicated openness to the idea.

In a series of prior papers I have explained why I believe the arguments offered by advocates of these registries fail. Nevertheless, I like to think of myself as somewhat open-minded, so in another set of projects I have undertaken to empirically test what might happen if the U.S. adopted such a system. In particular, I wanted to look at the intersection of anonymity and compensation, something that cannot be done in many of these other countries where compensation for sperm and egg donors is prohibited.

Today I posted online (downloadable here) the first published paper from this project,Can You Buy Sperm Donor Identification? An Experiment, co-authored with Travis Coan, and forthcoming in December 2013 in Vol. 10, Issue 4, of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.

This study relies on a self-selected convenience sample to experimentally examine the economic implications of adopting a mandatory sperm donor identification regime in the U.S. Our results support the hypothesis that subjects in the treatment (non-anonymity) condition need to be paid significantly more, on average, to donate their sperm. When restricting our attention to only those subjects that would ever actually consider donating sperm, we find that individuals in the control condition are willing-to-accept an average of $$43 to donate, while individuals in the treatment group are willing-to-accept an aver-age of $74. These estimates suggest that it would cost roughly $31 per sperm donation, at least in our sample, to require donors to be identified. This price differential roughly corresponds to that of a major U.S. sperm bank that operates both an anonymous and identify release programs in terms of what they pay donors.

We are currently running a companion study on actual U.S. sperm donors and hope soon to expand our research to egg donors, so comments and ideas are very welcome online or offline.

* I will follow the common parlance of using the term "donation" here, while recognizing that the fact that compensation is offered in most cases gives a good reason to think the term is a misnomer.

- I. Glenn Cohen

 

Posted by Ivan Cohen on May 21, 2013 at 01:53 PM in Article Spotlight, Culture, Current Affairs, Peer-Reviewed Journals, Science | Permalink

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Thanks for the post, this is very interesting. I am curious about why U.S. sperm banks have "identity release" programs given that U.S. law does not require them to do so and it drives up the costs of procuring donor sperm. Is there market demand for it, i.e. is some subset of the donee population willing to pay more for identifiable sperm, presumably on behalf of future offspring created through ART? My intuition is that in many cases the opposite would be true and recipients would be willing to pay more for anonymous sperm.

Posted by: Anna Laakmann | May 21, 2013 4:39:18 PM

A misnomer, probably, but if one believes that most people who "donate" to various causes, organizations, and charities (even those who choose to remain anonymous) typically receive some sort of compensation as well, albeit in these instances a non-material benefit of a psychic sort (e.g., enhanced esteem in the eyes of others, 'feeling good' about oneself, and so forth; although in some instances this is fulfilled by way of material recognition: the name of a hospital wing or a name on a plaque, one's name in a newsletter or newspaper...), then perhaps it's less of a misnomer than we might think.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | May 21, 2013 5:55:43 PM

Thanks for the interesting post. I am curious as to why U.S. sperm banks operate "identity release" programs, given that U.S. law does not require them and mandatory identification increases the costs of procuring donor sperm. Is it driven by market demand, i.e., is a segment of the recipient pool willing to pay more for identifiable sperm, presumably on behalf of the offspring that will result from ART? My intuition is that in some cases the opposite is true and donees would be willing to pay more for anonymous sperm.

Posted by: Anna Laakmann | May 21, 2013 7:17:06 PM

Thanks to both of you for the thoughtful comments.
Patrick -- in an old paper here http://ssrn.com/abstract=479321 I discuss a very similar question of in what ways "gifts" and "warm glow altruism" from them do and do not escape some of the concerns of anti-commodificationists.
Anna -- There is a demand for identity release programs among recipients who want to foster a connection with their donor. My anecdotal sense from talking to folks in the industry is that these banks are highest in demand among recipients who won't "pass" as non-assisted-reproductive-technology-users, so gays and lesbian couples and single women. Once they know they will inevitably have "the conversation" with their child, many of them want to retain the option of connecting that child to a genetic parent. I should also note that I know of at least one sperm bank in the U.S. that operates both an anonymous and identity-release program. Initially it paid the two sets of men (who interestingly were never allowed to move from one to the other sub-program) differently, but decided at some point to pay men in both programs the same and in private communication have cited "ethical" concerns and the possibility that higher prices would attract men with the "wrong motivation".

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | May 22, 2013 9:39:59 AM

Glenn -- Thanks for your response. Very interesting stuff!

Posted by: Anna Laakmann | May 22, 2013 12:24:22 PM

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