I’m using donor sperm from a sperm bank to have a baby. I’m not sure if I should use an anonymous or open identity donor. What should I be considering when I’m deciding what type of sperm to buy?

Written by our mental health expert, Karen Kranz, Ph.D.

When you say “I” am using donor sperm I assume this means that you are not currently in a relationship and are planning to have a child on your own. This is an important consideration, in that it means you don’t have to take the needs, wishes or potential concerns of a male partner into consideration when deciding which donor to select and whether the donor should be anonymous or identity-release. But this also means that the responsibility for anticipating the future needs of a child or children you create using donor sperm falls on your shoulders. It is the needs of your future child or children that are most important in making a decision between using an anonymous or known donor. Let me explain the differences and why these differences might be important.

When you choose a sperm donor, you will have access to some information about the donor’s medical history, family genetic history, hobbies and interests, education level and occupation, and physical characteristics. Some donors also write a brief personal essay to give you a bit more information about them and why they decided to become a donor. In some cases the donor’s profile will include a photo of the donor when he was a baby and some also include an adult photo – so you can see what the donor looks like. However, if at a future date you or your child want or need additional information about the donor, or if your child wishes to contact the donor – that option will not be possible unless your donor was an “identity-release” donor.  Identity-release donors agree to the possibility of offspring contacting them in the future, when they have reached the age of majority.

Clinics necessarily keep contact information on these identity-release donors – ideally making it possible for them to be contacted in the future. If you choose an open identity donor your child, at the age of 18 years, can contact the sperm bank to receive identifying information. Open identity donors will have agreed to allow the sperm bank to release this information, but they will not have made a commitment beyond this agreement. Often, the sperm bank will initiate the contact and provide offspring with a method to contact the donor. It is the responsibility of donors to provide clinics with up-to-date contact information – so sometimes even identity-release donors can’t be contacted if they failed to let the clinic know they moved. Even when a donor can be contacted, there is no guarantee that he will accommodate the wishes of his offspring.

The availability of open identity donors has been largely the outcome of lobbying efforts on the part of adult children who were conceived using donor sperm, and are frustrated by the fact that a significant piece of their medical and genetic history is closed to them. Proponents of identity-release base their arguments on the belief that everyone has a right to have information about their genetic and medical history.

When you are choosing to conceive your children using an anonymous or open identity donor, you are making decisions both for you and for your future children. You, as a parent, may never need more information beyond what the profile provides. However, as they grow your children may feel differently. Given that you cannot know for certain what your future children will need or want in terms of information about their donor, by selecting an open identity donor, you are giving your future children the opportunity to make the decision for themselves. As such, if you select an identity-release donor, you are doing your best to keep the door open for your child to potentially access more information from the donor in the future.

To watch Barry Steven’s documentary, Bio-Dad – a film about his own quest to find the donor who fathered him and his siblings – click here.

If you are looking for more information about donor insemination, you may find the book Helping the stork: The choices and challenges of donor insemination helpful. Read more about this resource here.

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