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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Giving Up on Sperm and Egg Donor Anonymity May not be as Good as it Sounds?

751197_labUse of sperm and egg donations is common practice in the United States. Couples or individuals who have trouble conceiving or lack a partner resort to use of donor eggs or sperm. The donors are usually young, often college or medical students. Many donate for financial reasons and some for altruistic reasons. But the one thing many of them share is the lack of a desire to form future ties with the born offspring. Thus, unsurprisingly, a strong norm of anonymity has prevailed. Most children born of sperm or egg donations are not told they are conceived through such a donation. And even more importantly the donors are guaranteed anonymity and thereby protection from future contact from the conceived offspring.

But all of this is changing now. Eleven jurisdictions worldwide including: Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Finland and three Australian states have prohibited donor anonymity. In these jurisdictions a child can find out who is the person who donated the egg or sperm that lead to his conception. In the United States the anonymity norm still prevails. Yet, important voices, including Professor Naomi Cahn, in her new book: Test Tube Families, call for adopting the prohibition on anonymity in the United States. The main argument for prohibiting anonymity is the conceived children's need for the genetic information in order to develop their identities.

Advocates of prohibiting donor anonymity realize that prohibiting donor anonymity can deplete sperm and egg resources as fewer individuals will be willing to donate. But, they argue that the effects are only short-term and in the long-term donations are unaffected. I decided to dig deeper into the empirical data in three representative jurisdictions in which anonymity was prohibited: Sweden, Victoria (an Australian state) and the United Kingdom. The overall picture emerging from the empirical data reported in my study revealed a disconcerting scenario of dire shortages in sperm and egg supplies accompanied by long wait-lists. Faced with acute shortages the fertility industry in these jurisdictions tried to recruit older donors who tend to be less inhibited by the disclosure requirement. Yet, this strategy did not fill the gap for sperm. As for eggs it could not be effective because eggs donated by younger women are more  likely to result in a successful pregnancy.  As a result, individuals and couples pained by infertility are increasingly engaging in fertility tourism to countries in which anonymity is not prohibited.  I believe that the picture emerging from these three jurisdictions points to the need for great caution in adopting a prohibition on donor anonymity in the United States.

Posted by Gaia Bernstein on July 15, 2010 at 01:33 PM in Information and Technology, Science | Permalink

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Comments

Which came first: the egg or the sperm?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Jul 17, 2010 6:54:01 AM

Sure, Stuart. People with reproductive malfunctions should be "condemned" for wanting to cherry-pick genetic characteristics of their kids' bio-parents, but people without reproductive malfunctions can do so with complete impunity -- by carefully selecting partners of a desirable race, intelligence, beauty, health, talents; by conducting genetic testings and prenatal screenings; by inspecting family trees for inheritable diseases... Condemn the former as "quasi-eugenicists" and celebrate the latter as "responsible" and "child-centric"!

Posted by: sick and tired | Jul 16, 2010 6:00:28 PM

"genetic information in order to develop their identities"

This seems a bit thin. Under U.S. rules, what happens if someone needs to know the information for health related reasons?

The unintended consequences problem is interesting and important. Good work in helping in the process of examining this touchy issue.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 16, 2010 1:20:47 PM

Stuart, in reality people usually use donor sperm or donor egg to enable their partner to have a biologic child. It is usually the case that only one of the intended parents has a fertility problem and getting a donor egg or sperm will enable the partner to have a biological child. It is rarely about a choice between having a child through gamete donation who is not genetically related to either parent and adopting a child who is also not genetically related to either parent.

Posted by: Gaia Bernstein | Jul 16, 2010 12:40:07 PM

Nonsense. What I am condemning (because I suspect this is what happens in a large number of cases) is people who are willing to have someone else's biological child as long as they get to choose a sperm/egg donor in a quasi-eugenicist way, but who are not willing to have someone else's biological child if it's a minority foster kid.

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jul 16, 2010 12:23:37 PM

And I said that unless you are willing to say that having biological children "is much less morally admirable than adoption" for all people, it is hypocritical and disturbing to say so about couples who have reproductive difficulties.

Posted by: sick and tired | Jul 16, 2010 11:03:00 AM

I didn't say that adoption should be a "precondition" for anything (and hence your entire comment is completely irrelevant). I was merely suggesting that "fertility tourism" is much less morally admirable than adoption.

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jul 16, 2010 10:05:53 AM

Stuart: the position you've expressed is bizarre, pernicious, and hypocritical. No sane individual has yet suggested that the state should grant its citizens the right to have a biological child only after they've paid the tax of adopting an older unwanted kid. We don't impose such a tax on healthy people; we don't impose it on blind people, deaf people, mentally ill people; we don't impose it on any kind of people -- except, apparently in your view, we should impose it on people who happen to have certain bodily malfunctions related to procreation. All kinds of people want to have biological children for all kinds of reasons. Until you are willing to demand that adoption be a precondition to biological procreation for all people, stop making such demand with respect to people with reproductive difficulties. A deliberate state action that increases the costs of procreation for a well-defined group of people is far beyond any legitimate exercise of state power and is quite clearly illegal in my view.

Posted by: sick and tired | Jul 16, 2010 12:57:47 AM

Advocates of prohibiting donor anonymity realize that prohibiting donor anonymity can deplete sperm and egg resources as fewer individuals will be willing to donate.

Why is this a cost rather than a benefit?

As a result, individuals and couples pained by infertility are increasingly engaging in fertility tourism to countries in which anonymity is not prohibited.

Why don't they adopt one of the many children (often racial minorities, often foster kids) that are usually unwanted for not being nice little white babies?

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jul 15, 2010 8:33:06 PM

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