Monday, June 29, 2009

Picking a sperm bank, as well as a donor

A recent post on the Choice Mom discussion board reiterated the varied ways we approach selection of a sperm donor when we are creating our families.

I know several donor-conceived offspring who don't think anyone should choose an anonymous donor. That sperm banks should recruit only open donors who agree to be contacted by their offspring someday. (And some believe donors should never be used at all.)

Especially in the past, when sperm donation was primarily for married couples facing infertility, donor recipients wanted to know nothing about the donor at all. It has only been in recent years, especially with lesbian couples and single women more open with their children about the fact that they are donor conceived, that releasing the identity of willing-to-be-known donors has even come into question.

Certainly those who need sperm donation today in order to build a family know much more about the donor than people used to. Profiles have become much more extensive in the United States, to meet customer needs in a competitive industry. Obviously testing is much stronger than it was in the day when fresh sperm was lined up at clinics for day-of-inseminations for infertile couples.

Although there is more information at our disposal about sperm donors, we haven't fully evolved yet as a community to understand how important it is to also examine the policies of the sperm banks.

There tends to be an assumption that an FDA-approved sperm bank meets not only all the safety requirements we need, but also meets the potential social and ethical needs of our future families. This is not the case.

Every sperm bank creates its own policies -- about refunds for low quality vials, about numbers of offspring allowed per donor, about reporting of genetic abnormalities, about which genetic tests are standard, about how "open" its open identity policy actually is. Many sperm banks don't support the mission of the Donor Sibling Registry, where half-siblings and donors who both want to meet each other can find one another.

Not only do women (and couples) need to consider what issues might be important to them, and to their child, down the road, but they must then ask questions of the banks they are considering before they make decisions about a donor.

I've discussed some of these issues on the Choice Chat the 100-page "Behind Closed Doors" book and my "Choosing Single Motherhood" book...on the Choice Mom workshops around the country...and in an upcoming "Choosing Single Motherhood" radio show.

Now it's time to get more serious. Choice Mom-in-the-making Jessica has been a long-time partner in the quest to help the Choice Mom community become stronger consumer advocates.

I want the sperm bank industry to build toward a national registry that will, at the very least, enable consumers to learn about genetic issues and numbers of offspring born to particular (still anonymous) donors (AFTER those same consumers take the important step of -- anonymously -- reporting that their own child has been conceived so that the tracking numbers are more meaningful than they are now).

Jessica wants to raise funds for a rating card of all U.S. sperm banks so that we can be more informed consumers about how standards and policies compare BEFORE we choose a bank.

And together we want to continue raising awareness in the community, as we have on the Choice Mom discussion board again recently, that there might be issues to consider for our children that are even more important than hair and eye color.

Every person building a family will always have the right to decide what their own priorities are. But we can do a better job of pointing out some of the priorities we might not even think about until after our children start asking us questions.

Are you interested in helping us with this mission? What matters to you?