The headline says it all: “Sperm Donor Siblings Find Family Ties” (60 Minutes, March 19, 2006, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/03/17/60minutes/main1414965.shtm)
As the number of people choosing to use donor eggs or sperm increases, there are more families united by having used the same donor. While some parents still do not disclose how their offspring were conceived, parents are becoming more likely to do so. And, as this happens, a growing number of donor-conceived individuals want to know more about their origins. An increasingly number of donor-conceived offspring are searching for – and finding – their donors, both to gain medical/biological information and simply to meet them. Indeed, as we learn more about out the role of our genes, people need detailed information about their medical and genetic histories in order to benefit fully from these technological developments. Complete knowledge of an individual’s family health history facilitates health maintenance and, as many of us know from personal experiences, even provides guidance in our use of reproductive technology. But there are numerous other reasons that people search for their genetic half-siblings and their donors, including curiosity and a desire to create potentially strong family-like connections.
In fact, whenever I give a talk about donor conception, I am always asked two things: what is the best way to disclose to my child that she is donor-conceived, and what can I do about finding others who have used the same donor. In response, I tell them that it is never too early to tell children about their origins, and then I report on studies of people who have connected through their use of the same donor.
The Sperm Bank of California, which was one of the pioneers in allowing for identity release donors, reports that approximately one-third of people who know they were conceived by open-identity sperm donors make a request for the donor's identity by the time they turn 20 (http://www.thespermbankofca.org/pages/page.php?pageid=48&cat=9). However, their research shows that it is likely that additional offspring will make a request for identity release as they grow older. The offspring were respectful of the donor’s privacy, and they were not typically looking for a “father figure.”
Others – including some from the Sperm Bank of California -- have connected through the Donor Sibling Registry, a non-profit organization, which operates a voluntary mutual-consent, internet-based registry for matching offspring and donors. Although the registry started out slowly in 2000, more than 27,000 donors, parents, and offspring have signed up since the registry began, and more than 7,000 half-siblings and/or their donors have been able to find each other through it. Overwhelmingly, those who have connected report positive experiences. The Registry also provides advice for donor-conceived family members, a discussion group, and research.
This is all occurring in a legal vacuum. Federal law regulates the safety of donor gametes, and it requires clinics to report accurate data. But it says nothing about potential relationships between donor-conceived families or between donors and offspring. While state laws often address the relationship between donors, parents, and offspring, many states have still not clarified the relationship between egg donors and the intending parents. There are no laws that mandate the disclosure of identifying information on gamete providers or that facilitate contact by establishing even a voluntary registry. .
While many activists within the donor movement argue for greater openness and
disclosure, not all professionals are convinced. Moreover, there are issues related to parent education about disclosure (reasons for disclosure, counseling related to how this is handled, and other services for families), a topic that is becoming the subject of increasing study.
Greater disclosure would yield important benefits in gamete donation beyond providing information to offspring.