The Donor Misnomer

Words matter to all of us. This applies equally to donor-conceived people (“DCP”), and thus it is worth carefully considering whether the terms commonly used in the fertility industry are consistent with the lived experiences of DCP and the realities of today. This begins first and foremost with the term egg or sperm “donor”, which suggests that egg and sperm donation is an altruistic act, akin to donating blood or used clothing in exchange for a modest benefit. 

In the U.S., eggs and sperm used to conceive DCP are typically bought and sold. A very strong (and often the primary) reason that people provide sperm and eggs to sperm banks and fertility clinics in the U.S. is to make money. This is particularly true of students and young adults with limited resources and significant financial burdens who are often targeted by the fertility industry. 

Given the commercial nature of their creation, many DCP feel a sense of being a commodity and argue it is detrimental to use the term “donor” because it promotes a false narrative and obscures reality.

Egg donors can earn thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars) per donation cycle in the U.S., while sperm donors can be paid thousands of dollars if they provide numerous samples over several months, as is encouraged by the leading sperm banks. Referring to this exchange of gametes for pay as a “donation” is a misnomer. In the United States, donors who earn over $600 per calendar year are issued a 1099 form for their taxes, because the government recognizes they are earning money by selling gametes, not making a charitable donation.

Given the commercial nature of their creation, many DCP feel a sense of being a product or commodity and argue it is detrimental to use the term “donor” because it promotes a false narrative and obscures reality. DCC shares these concerns while recognizing the reality that gamete markets and donor conception is likely to continue. For these and other reasons, the U.S. Donor Conceived Council advocates for reform and regulation of the fertility industry that makes the act of “donating” eggs and sperm to gamete banks and fertility clinics consistent with what being a good faith donor means to DCP—providing gametes primarily as an act of goodwill (rather than commerce) and being open to forming a relationship with their biological offspring.

Top image by Braňo via Unsplash