Colorful app icons to help research the accuracy of donor profiles

Welcome to the third article in this 3-part blog series: ‘Truth and Lies, and How to Minimise the Risks’

In case you missed them, here’s Part One and Two:

Part One – Do Sperm and Egg Donors Lie?

Part Two – Do Sperm and Egg Banks Cut Corners?

Note: *indicates that name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

Part Three: 12 Ways you can Minimise the Risks (When Assessing Donor Profiles)

During the process of selecting her sperm donor, Sally* – an American donor recipient – looked at over one thousand donor profiles. “I kind of researched everything to death,” she explains. “It took me six months, and I searched almost every cryobank in the United States, as well as several that are international.”

Why would a person do this? What benefits might exist from being so incredibly thorough?

Well, if you’ve read Part One and Part Two in this blog series, you will already be aware that sometimes egg and sperm donors lie, sometimes egg and sperm banks cut corners, and sometimes, the outcomes are not in the best interests of donor-conceived children.

Do you need to spend six months researching donor profiles? If you’re up to it, sure! But what if you don’t have the time, or the inclination?

What are some of the things you can do to minimise the risks for yourself and your donor-conceived child?

Note for Australians: unless you engage in ‘fertility tourism’, and travel overseas to undergo fertility treatment using a donor(s), the number of eligible international donor profiles to review will be significantly lower than one thousand.

1. Same donor – different bank

Sometimes people break the rules and donate at one sperm bank, then tiptoe stealthily down the road and donate at another. “I eliminated him if I found the same donor profile on more than one cryobank site,” explains Sally. “I also reported the donor to each cryobank in those cases. It happened with two or three men over the course of my search.”

2. Medical background – too good to be true?

As explained in Part One of this blog series, donors can only self-report when it comes to providing medical information about their family members.

“If his family’s medical background was too good to be true, I eliminated him,” says Sally. “There were a few people with nearly perfect medical backgrounds going back to grandparents and to first and second cousins. I didn’t buy it.”

Sally went a step further in her selection process.

“I also eliminated anybody who couldn’t tell cause of death for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins, especially if these folks died younger than usual,” says Sally.

3. Medical screening

Has your donor completed all of the requisite screening tests (these should be listed on the website)? Alternatively, does your sperm or egg bank actually test for all of the diseases and disorders that are important to you?

“After a while, I eliminated anybody from a cryobank who wasn’t doing some of the latest testing that I saw in some of the sperm banks,” explains Sally.

4. Age of donor

How old is your donor? Is she fresh out of high school, still getting a packed lunch made by mum, and only recently sitting, unsupervised, behind the wheel of a car?

“I decided a couple months into my search to eliminate anyone below the age of 22, because I don’t think these donors are generally responsible or mature enough to accurately report [lifestyle behaviours and medical history],” explains Sally. I also doubted they were going to go back to their parents and asking for clarification on family history, or,” says Sally, “explaining their reason for asking.”

Sally goes on to say that she doesn’t believe young donors have a full understanding of the long-term consequences of their actions. “I wanted somebody who was mature enough to understand that they are fathering a child, and who was prepared to answer questions from a young [donor-conceived] adult about the process, as well as their motivation.”

5. How old is the sperm or embryo?

Sperm and embryos can sometimes be kept in the freezer for years, even decades. For instance, people who are undecided about what to do with leftover embryos; sperm banks placing older, previously retired donors ‘back on the market’, or donors donating for an extended period of time.

Are you going to have a child who has siblings twenty years older than your child? Will your donor be deceased by the time your child turns 18yo and wishes to make a connection?

Ask your clinic or bank how long the sperm or embryo has been in the freezer. And more importantly, ask yourself how your donor-conceived child may be impacted by this situation.

6. Research your donor

“I asked around before I chose my donor,” explains Emilie*. “I wanted to know if there were any other children already born, how many there were and whether there were any common medical issues that might point to the donor.”

So how do you “ask around”?

Some of the ways you can do this are to check the Donor Sibling Registry, look for closed or private social media groups – especially Facebook – and if you are Australian, make a request to join Solo Mums by Choice Australia, a wonderfully supportive group for solo (or intended solo) mums.

Just be aware that while you may receive positive responses about your potential donor(s), some people find these types of enquiries offensive. For instance, a question such as, “Has anybody used donor #ABC? Does he or she make big/pretty/intelligent babies?” may result in the silent treatment or, worse, an unpleasant or vitriolic response about your intent to create a ‘designer baby’ or the commodification of children.

So if you intend to reach out to existing donor recipients, ensure you use language that shows respect, provide details about the reason for your search, and take the time to consider just what it is you’re asking for.

7. Identify your (potential) donor

Are you considering taking your research one step further? Do you want to find out who your potential donor actually is before you make your selection?

Interestingly, this approach is reasonably common, and extremely controversial.

Beth*, a donor recipient from the UK, had no problems finding her donor via his profile. “We Google searched his images, and being a young actor and model, he had used one of his modeling pictures which was still on an agency site. From that we found his name and then his Facebook page, and all the information was the same.”

Sandra* used a similar approach with her donor-conceived child in mind. “I got the idea from watching Generation Cryo. I was nervous that the sperm bank may not have his correct information, or they wouldn’t do their job of keeping track of him. Now if something happens to the donor before my kids are 18,” explains Sandra, “I will have information about who he was so that I can share that with them.”

Note for Australians: Australian fertility-clinic-recruited donor profiles (usually) provide considerably less detail than international donor profiles, are not usually accessible on a website and are therefore more difficult to identify.

Is identifying your donor an acceptable approach? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Some people believe it may reduce the number of available donors once donors understand they can be found. Beth has a different opinion: “I am an egg donor in the UK and to be honest, I think if you were that concerned about recipient families discovering your identity, you shouldn’t be donating,” says Beth.

8. Lawsuits

Many sperm and egg banks have unhappy customers, and subsequently, multiple lawsuits and class actions pending (or settled/verdicts). If the possibility of repeated mistakes, negligence or ‘half-assed jobs’ bothers you, make sure you do your homework. Google and social media are your friends in this instance.

“There’s a lawyer in the US who is collecting a list of lawsuits against one particular US sperm bank,” says donor recipient, Ainsley. “I’d love to see that list,” she says. “Apparently its very long.”

9. Credentials

Do you know how long your fertility clinic has been operating? How experienced and skilled is your fertility specialist and the clinic’s lab technicians? How is the clinic set up financially? Is your fertility specialist restricted by clinic protocols when he or she recommends a treatment plan for you? These are some of the questions you need to ask your fertility clinic.

If you are using an international donor, Michelle Laurie (real name) from Donor Concierge recommends doing similar checks on your egg or sperm bank. “Find out who owns it [the bank or agency], how long they have been in business, what are the reviews of the agency, and has your [fertility] clinic worked with them before,” explains Michelle. “Most important of all, engage an attorney who is a specialist in third party fertility to help you.” Note for Australians, that generally fertility clinics will have a standard agreement with the relevant bank or agency, but make sure you discuss this aspect with your clinic.

10. Willingness to meet your donor-conceived child

“We chose our donor partly because in his audio interview he mentioned that he would always be happy to meet any future children, if and when the time came,” explains Beth.

If you’re Australian, you may be thinking that donors can’t discriminate on this element anyway, so what’s the point?

In case you’re unaware, it’s important to understand that just because a donor is ID Release, doesn’t mean he or she is obligated to attend your child’s 18th birthday party. What it means is that their identifying information (name, contact details, etc) will be provided to your child at the relevant age (age differs between Australian states). Whether they choose to connect with your adult-child is another matter altogether. But if a donor has expressly stated this in their bio, then that’s a great thing for your donor-conceived child; it means they’ll have a choice.

11. Willingness to donate to ‘anyone’

Again, a donor can’t discriminate on this element (unless they’re a known donor). However, if they’ve clearly stated in their bio that they’re happy to donate to solo mums, same-sex families, trans families (or other), then this may add to their appeal.

“It was important to us that our donor expressly said he was happy with it [donating to same-sex families], and we thought that was great,” explains Beth. “He had clearly taken the time to put as much information as possible into all the paperwork; he seemed like a nice guy.”

12. Exclusive donors

“My kids have about 200 half-siblings and it frightens the hell out of me,” explains Sylvia*. “I don’t know whether they’ll care or not when they’re old enough to understand what that really means, but I’m pretty pissed off about it. It’s so unethical.”

If you want to avoid this scenario, check whether your fertility clinic and sperm bank offer ‘exclusive donors’. The definition of exclusive can vary slightly, but essentially it means your donor’s family limit will be reduced to, for example, ten families worldwide.

Using an exclusive donor may also mean you need to remortgage your house, as the fertility clinic will probably ask you to purchase 10 vials of sperm (or thereabouts).

There are also no guarantees your ‘exclusive’ donor won’t donate elsewhere on the sly, but hey, it’s worth a shot if you’re worried about 200 siblings (which you should be).

13. Known donors

Look out for future blog posts about known donors!

I’d love to hear what you think of this article about minimising the risks! Have you had an experience you’d like to share? What were the outcomes?

Join the conversation HERE on Donor Conceived and Beyond’s Facebook Page.

Part Three: Twelve Ways You Can Minimise the Risks (When Assessing Donor Profiles)

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