Donating sperm or eggs, whether altruistically or for financial gain, is a decision that has lifelong consequences for the donor, their future partners, and their family.
Some donors are counseled 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 a human being is so much more complicated than giving a “gift”. If you are a former sperm or egg donor, or if you are considering donating gametes in the future, here are some important things you need to know:
1. Your donations may result in dozens to hundreds of offspring.
There is no legal limit on the number of offspring that can be created with an individual donor’s gametes. As more people take commercial DNA tests, large sibling groups created by the same donor are coming to light. Depending on how many times you donated, and whether your donations were frozen (or split between multiple families), you could have created dozens or hundreds of genetic offspring.
2. Anonymity is no longer possible
Consumer DNA testing has effectively rendered anonymous donations obsolete. The people created from your donations can (and will!) find you. Donors should expect to be contacted by their biological offspring, even if they did not personally take a test.
In the donor conceived community, this advancement in modern science is seen as a positive development, because for many, it is the best or only way to find answers about one’s genetic family. Vast support networks exist to assist people seeking unknown family members via DNA testing. In some cases, recipient parents are testing their donor conceived children to help discover their child’s unknown biological parent and half siblings through sperm, egg, or embryo donation. There is no “18-year-window” of privacy for donors who opted into open-ID agreements.
3. Most people created via egg and sperm donation do not support anonymous donation.
Results from the 2020 We Are Donor Conceived survey show that the majority of donor conceived people surveyed (94%) believe that all DCP should have the option to know their donor’s identity. This sentiment also has broad support amongst the general population; according to a 2022 poll by YouGovAmerica, the majority of U.S. adults believe donor conceived people should have the legal right to learn the donor’s identity at 18.
Most donor conceived people want to form some type of relationship with their genetic parent and half siblings who were conceived using the same donor’s gametes.
4. People born from your donations will likely want to know (and be known by) you.
It’s human nature to want to know where (and who) you come from. People created via third party reproduction are no exception. While it’s true that some donor conceived people are content knowing the name of the donor and basic biographical details, many seek direct communication with the individual who provided half of their DNA to gain a better understanding of themselves and their place in the world.
A 2020 survey of nearly 500 donor conceived people found that the majority of respondents hope to form some type of relationship with the donor used in their conception, including a close friendship (31%), casual acquaintance (21%), or a mentor/adviser-type relationship (19%). Fewer than 10 percent of respondents said they do not desire any type of relationship with the donor.
5. Donor conceived people want information, not your money.
When a donor conceived person attempts to connect with newly discovered genetic family members, they are sometimes received with skepticism and defensiveness. People wonder what the donor conceived person wants, and the answer that immediately comes to mind is often money. But in reality, in almost all circumstances, a donor conceived person is reaching out to gather information, not to stake a claim on your estate.
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.
Many donor conceived people seek out their donor parent to fill in the gaps of their family health history for themselves and their children.
6. People born of your donations need to know about your family health history.
Regardless of the specifics of the donation agreement, in medical terms, sperm and egg donors are the genetic father or mother to any person born from their gametes. Your family health history is relevant to the people created from your donation. In some cases, knowing this information could save their life.
When a donor conceived person fills out family medical history at a doctor’s office, they need to report accurate family medical history. If one of your donor conceived offspring reaches out to you, it could be to obtain this information and future updates for themselves and/or their children. 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.
7. Donors must be honest with their significant other, legal children, and extended family.
If you plan to donate, ask yourself if it is something you would proudly share with your significant other, extended family, and your own legal children. If the answer is no, do not become a donor.
Truth and transparency are always best. If you donate your gametes, it’s important to inform the people closest to you because your decision will impact them as well. If you previously donated anonymously and never informed your family, now is the time to do so. Odds are good that you, or a close family member, may be contacted by a previously unknown genetic family member.
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!