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Free Isn’t Always a Bargain

Posted by Iris Waichler, LCSW on with 4 Comments

by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.

There seem to be more stories in magazines and the news about collaborative or third party reproduction.  Newsweek recently did a cover story entitled “You Got Your Sperm Where? How to Get Pregnant Fast, Cheap, and in Public.

The story focuses on people who are infertile and want to have a child but do not have the money to afford a donor.  They are seeking low cost or free donors in a variety of on line sources.  The “in public” reference was a couple who met their donor in a Starbucks and used the bathroom instead of a clinic to do the necessary donation and transfer. There were a number of things that surprised me about this story and other stories I have read.

The economy is putting people who want to build their families in a very difficult position.  They can’t always afford insurance or the costs associated with using a sperm, egg, or ovum donor.  This may cause some people to make unsafe choices. A medical screening should go back a couple of generations because some medical diseases can skip a generation. Some people are shopping on line without getting the proper medical, drug and alcohol, and psychological screening of their potential donors.  It is very important that potential donors are screened by properly trained professionals to ensure as much as possible that an accurate, comprehensive donor history is obtained.

People may not be aware that currently there are 15 states that offer mandated insurance coverage for infertility treatment.  (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia.) Check your local state to see what your coverage is because it varies.  For example, in Massachusetts, there is coverage for "sperm, egg, and or inseminated egg procurement and processing." In Illinois, there is not. Each state has its own set of rules and exceptions.  It is also important to note that companies with fewer than 25 employees don't have to comply in many states. 

Other options include clinics that offer special loan programs, and some clinics even have programs that give patients some money back if a pregnancy does not occur after treatment. Seek out established donor programs and clinics and learn what financial options are available to you.

People may be choosing this on line option because they want to meet or know who their donors are.  There are now donor registry sites available like the Donor sibling Registry where donors can try to find their biological offspring. Children conceived through donation can try to make contact with the donors.  This site was created in 2000 to assist individuals conceived through anonymous donors “in making mutually desired contact with others whom they share their genetic ties” according to the site creator Wendy Kramer.

One area of third party reproduction that can be overlooked is the legal aspect. In donor situations unexpected problems can arise.  What if the donor suddenly decides to ask for parental rights or decides not to remain anonymous anymore?  It is very important that a lawyer specializing in reproductive law is consulted to ensure that a legal contract is designed to protect the rights of all concerned.

Nobody who experiences infertility makes the choice to use a donor lightly.  The crisis of infertility creates enormous pressure to become a parent.  There are people that may want to take advantage of the vulnerability of someone who is infertile and desperately wants a child.  Newseek describes the potential pitfalls of using a free sperm donor.  “What if the donor sues for custody? What if he lies about an STD?”

The challenges of infertility treatment are many; economic, emotional, physical, and medical to mention only a few.  If you do undergo infertility treatment make sure you have the proper medical, legal, and emotional support.  The free offer of a donor may appear to be a bargain but the costs can ultimately be great for you and your unborn child.  

 Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years.  She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility.  Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.



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Nick Cornish Oct 29, 2011 6:59am

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Beth Gardner Oct 31, 2011 2:55pm

There are a couple of point that need clearing up here. First and foremost, that the article in Newsweek is not, in fact, about infertile people. It is about women who are looking for a sperm donor. Statistically, only about 13% of these women will be infertile, and anyone with fertility issues is generally seeking the advice of a fertility specialist. Second, the couple in the Starbucks bathroom was me and my wife. Neither of us is infertile. This conversation has been repeated in many forums, and most people want to compare using sperm from someone you know in person to purchasing from a sperm bank. The conversation starts to make a lot more sense when you compare it instead to how the VAST majority of babies are conceived in the world - that is, between two people without the aid of any medical professional. It's not "instead of a clinic," it's instead of with your husband/sexual partner.

For the record - although inseminating in a Starbucks bathroom was a fairly awkward situation, it was no less sanitary than changing your tampon in a Starbucks bathroom, which I would imagine many, many women reading this have done.

This issue is not nearly as "fringe" or complicated as people seem to want to make it.

Beth Gardner Oct 31, 2011 3:01pm

As a follow up, I would love to invite you, Iris, or anyone in your profession to be a voice and an advocate to the community of women who are seeking to have children using sperm from someone they can meet in person. Whether it be through a known donor program at a cryobank, home insemination or sexual contact, there are many concerns that are specific to this community that have really only been addressed by scare tactics and a general misunderstanding of what is happening. We have been looking for people such as yourself who can provide information, cautionary advice, etc to these women and help them make more educated, safe decisions as they exercise their reproductive rights. If you or anyone wishes to have a voice to this community, please feel free to contact me at bethg at knowndonorregistry dot com

Iris Waichler Oct 31, 2011 5:35pm

Hi Beth: I really appreciated your comments regarding "Free Isn't Always a Bargain" I agree with you that it is important to highlight as you did that there are many women looking for a sperm donor who indeed do not have infertility issues. You also referenced the fact that there are women who are experiencing infertility who also seek out these same donors. My main message is that regardless of the reason a woman seeks out a sperm or egg/embryo donor it is very important that an appropriate screening is done to ensure that the donor is healthy to protect the health of both the prospective mother and the child. It sounds like you share my belief that ongoing education and information must continue to be offered to ensure that safe choices are made concerning reproductive choices and rights. These issues need to be openly discussed to help those experiencing them feel less alone and isolated. I have been an advocate for the last 10 years for people experiencing infertility and for men and women who wish to build their families through donors, infertility treatments, and adoption. I will continue to do so and will visit your website. I wish you and your wife much success as you pursue your parenting dreams.
Iris Waichler, MSW,LCSW