Sperm donation became popular in the United States during the 1980s. Typically, sperm donors were encouraged to be anonymous, and physicians counseled parents conceiving a baby via a donor to “just pretend that this insemination didn’t happen” and keep it a secret from any resulting children. Anonymous donation is a method deemed to protect the privacy of the donor and shield them from any legal obligations, thus helping provide an incentive to increase the donor pool. However, in recent years there has been a movement to disclose the identity of sperm donors, such as the creation of groups lobbying for donor transparency and new state laws, like that of Colorado, which recently became the first state to ban donor anonymity. Also, it is noteworthy that the advent of “widespread DNA technology has ended any guarantee of anonymity.”
Bioethical debate regarding donor anonymity hinges on whose “rights are more important: the donor’s right to privacy or the offspring’s right to full identity.” Many children conceived by donors want to know the identity of their genetic parent, stemming from a desire to learn their “genetic, cultural and historical roots” and also to better understand their risk for genetic diseases. Beyond bioethical concerns, there are also considerations in the social and legal spheres. For example, eliminating anonymity might affect the rights of LGBTQ parents—e.g., a recent case in Oklahoma “transferred a lesbian mom’s parental rights to her son’s sperm donor” and not all states have protections for families “formed through nongenetic bonds” or established parental rights for nongenetic parents. Removing anonymity might also influence the incentive to donate.
AMA Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 4.2.2, “Gamete Donation”, explains that such donation “raises ethical concerns about the privacy of donors and the nature of relationships among donors and children born through use of their gametes by means of assisted reproductive technologies.” With regards to donor identity, physicians should notify donors “under what circumstances and with whom personal information, including identifying information will be shared for clinical purposes” and explains how “state law will govern the relationship between the donor and any resulting child.” Additionally, Opinion 4.2.2 explains that donors’ preferences regarding disclosure of identifying information should be discussed, documented, and respected. Opinion 4.2.3, “Therapeutic Donor Insemination”, advises physicians to counsel donors about state law obligations regarding the “rights of the donor in relation to a resulting child.”
To further explore the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, please visit AMAethicscode.org.
Published on February 6, 2024