What Donors Need to Know

Whether you provided sperm or eggs six months ago or several decades ago, the sperm bank or egg donation agency likely did not provide full and complete information about the long-term implications of being a gamete donor. 

Some donors are counselled to think about their contribution similar to a blood donation; others are encouraged to think only about how they are satisfying the needs of the intended parent(s). But providing sperm or eggs for the purpose of creating human being is so much more complicated than giving a “gift”. 

The people created from your donations can (and will!) find you.

Consumer DNA testing has effectively rendered anonymous donations obsolete. Donors should expect to be contacted by their biological offspring at any time.

Regardless of the agreement a donor signed with the sperm bank or egg donation agency, their identity can be deciphered using DNA testing services, even if the donor doesn’t take a DNA test themselves. Many donor conceived people have discovered the identity of their unknown biological parent via DNA testing, sometimes combined with genetic genealogy. Vast support networks exist to assist people seeking unknown family members this way, through matches as distant as a third cousin. In some cases, recipient parents are testing their donor conceived children as soon as possible to help discover their child’s unknown biological parent and half siblings through sperm, egg, or embryo donation. 

Many donor conceived people hope to form relationships with their genetically related family members. 

It’s human nature to want to know where (and who) you come from. Many people created using third party reproduction, including sperm, egg, and embryo donation, want to know and be known by their genetically related family members. This may include the donor who provided half of their DNA, their donor conceived siblings, and the donor’s extended family—including biological grandparents and legal children the donor may raise with a partner. 

The nature of the desired relationships varies (and can change over time); some DCP are content with knowing the donor’s name and seeing some photos. Others seek a close friendship, or familial-type relationship (like an aunt/uncle, or even another parent).

Any biological children you may raise with a partner will have dozens—or hundreds—of genetic half siblings.

Anonymously conceived people have no reliable way of knowing how many siblings they have, who they are, or where they live. This can lead to psychological harm or distress (and the potential for accidental incest). 

Likewise, the legal children of sperm and egg donors will not know all of their genetic siblings and may face similar challenges. Because there are no limits on how many offspring a single donor can produce, and gametes can be stored for decades and shipped internationally, a donor’s legal children could have hundreds of genetic half siblings in the U.S. and around the world.

The majority of DCP support abolishing anonymous gamete donation and a sizable portion believe the donor’s identity should be available from birth.

Most donor conceived people do not support anonymous donation agreements.

The majority of donor conceived people support abolishing anonymous gamete donation and a sizable portion believe the donor’s identity should be available to the donor conceived person from birth. 

Many donor conceived people experience grief, loss, and trauma about being denied a relationship with their biological/donor parent, grandparents, and donor conceived siblings. Donors can correct this by submitting a DNA sample with the major companies (including 23andMe and AncestryDNA) and making themselves available to answer questions and provide information, should one of their biological offspring reach out.  

For many DCP, learning about their biological parent and genetic relatives can help them better understand themselves.

It is normal for donor conceived people to be interested in what they have in common with their donor parent. As children, this might be as simple as wanting to know if they have the same favorite ice cream flavor. As adults, many DCP are curious to know if any of their skills, interests, and physical or personality traits have a genetically inherited component, as well as the family history of their biological father/mother and genetic relatives.

The people created from a donor’s gametes will share an equal amount of DNA as the children they may raise with a partner. This means they might share skills and abilities, physical and personality traits, and even interests and career goals. It is not uncommon for a donor conceived person’s legal parents to come from a different culture, ethnicity, or religion than the donor; learning about these aspects of the donor’s background can help DCP understand themselves and form a complete identity.

Many donor conceived people seek out their donor parent to attain [health] information because it is crucial for their current and long-term health (and their children’s health).

Open communication between donors and DCP can improve their health or even save their life.

Many health issues are genetically inherited and/or substantially heritable. Having access to an updated family medical history can improve one’s health and even be life-saving.

Most donors report their family health history as it is known at the time of donation. Over time, more information may become available as the donor’s health changes and previously unknown health conditions present themselves. Many donor conceived people seek out their donor parent to attain this information because it is crucial for their current and long-term health (and their children’s health). Sperm banks and egg donation agencies cannot be counted on to share this information with the people created from donated sperm or eggs. The best way to ensure donor conceived people have access to this information is for donors to make themselves available for direct communication of this information.

If you donated sperm or eggs—or are considering doing so—understand that the people created from your gametes can and will find you through DNA testing or other means. If and when these offspring reach out to you understand that: (1) some of them will hope to form a relationship with you and/or your (their) genetic relatives; (2) learning about you (their biological parent) can help them better understand themselves; and (3) at the very least, sharing health information with them can improve their health and the health of their children.

No one chooses to be conceived via donor gametes and DCP are not parties to or bound by anonymous donation agreements. Exercising empathy can go a long way toward improving the lives and wellbeing of donor conceived people. Your interactions with your donor-conceived offspring may very well enrich your own life and the lives of your family members!