When I was choosing my sperm donor, I naively assumed that the sperm bank policies would be roughly the same across all banks. I didn’t think at all about how to chose the sperm bank. I was just looking for what seemed like the best donor.
I got a few recommendations about what sperm banks other people had used and chose the one that had the most useful information about the specific donors.
I did not, however, spend much time understanding or scrutinizing the policies associated with the sperm bank I chose. And, much to my dismay, I’ve since learned that sperm bank policies and screening procedures vary widely. The bank I used is considered one of the least ethical in terms of their policies. They have huge family limits and have been accused of not doing comprehensive medical testing.
Luckily, my son is healthy and I’m still happy with the choice of donor. But I still think it’s important to understand the policies of your sperm bank. And, it’s vital to put yourself in the shoes of your theoretical child when thinking about those policies.
So, here’s an overview of the most important policies to understand about each sperm banks.
Kinds of Donors
There are a few different types of donors available. Here’s a quick overview to avoid any confusion.
Known Donor or a Directed Donor: A friend or acquaintance that donates sperm to you. You can inseminate at home or in a doctor’s office.
Anonymous donors: donate in a sperm bank but do not agree to have any contact with offspring or recipient.
Open-Identity Donors or Identity Release Donors: donate to a sperm bank and agree to be contacted after offspring reach a certain age. Thus, usually at the age of 18, your child can ask to receive the contact information of the donor.
Identity Release Policies
Every bank has a different definition of ID Release or Open ID. For example, some banks will contact the donor shortly before the eldest of his offspring will turn 18 and ask if he is still open to contact. If he is amendable, his contact information is released to the offspring upon request.
Others will provide contact information and allow you to contact the donor—but do not guarantee the information is up to date. And, other banks will facilitate contact as a third-party mediator, meaning your child will not receive the identifying information about your donor and must go through the sperm bank as a middle man.
The sperm banks also different procedures to stay in contact with their donors. Read the fine print and ask questions about their efforts to maintain stay in contact with the donors.
None of the sperm banks can guarantee that they will be able to find the donor or that he will still agree to contact.
Remember many donors are in their early 20’s when they donate and may change their mind about contact as they marry and have children of their own. Be sure you understand what the bank does to track and facilitate contact.
Family Size Limits
Because sperm banks are not regulated, there are no limits on how many offspring each donor may end up producing. However, after much consumer criticism about very large groups of half-siblings (over 150 or more in some cases), most sperm banks now limit overall number of families to 25 (meaning one family could have several kids from one donor and count only once towards the 25-family limit). However, some banks limit to 50 offspring, while a small few have a 10- family limit.
Be aware however, that there are no regulations requiring people to report their pregnancies. These limits are dependent upon people reporting their births to the sperm bank in a timely manner or at all. It is estimated that only about 40% of people report births to sperm bank.
Medical History, Information, Testing and Tracking
As with most sperm bank policies, there are no standards or regulations regarding the testing and screening of donors. Be sure to pay attention to the policies of each bank.
HIV and sexually transmitted diseases: All donors are tested for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, every time they donate. The samples are held in quarantine for 6 months, the donor is retested and if they pass, the samples are released.
Genetic Testing: Most banks test for some form of Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell and Thalassemia though some are more comprehensive than others. Many will also test for other recessive genetic diseases, and will test donors with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry for Tay-Sachs and many other diseases common to that population—if this is a concern be sure, you know which conditions are tested for as the panels for Ashkenazi donors vary greatly.
As technology continues to improve, the technologies and number of illnesses each bank tests for are constantly changing. Donors who have been on the books for longer at a bank, may not have had all the same genetic tests noted on their website. Be sure to read the list of the specific tests any donor you are interested in has undergone.
It is possible to have yourself tested for a large panel of diseases. Then you can make a more educated choice about your donor and compare his carrier status to your own. Some banks offer special services or more extensively tested donors if you know that you are a carrier for something.
Infectious Disease Blood Tests. Most banks test for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, CMV (cytomegalovirus). Some banks, have added blood tests for HPV and herpes. Each bank lists its tests, but be sure to dig down and ask questions. Good article by TSPC about genetic diseases.
Medical History: Most banks conduct an oral medical history with the potential donors. They differ in whether they conduct follow up physicals based on medical history, what they assess for and how often they conduct follow up health assessments.
Sperm banks are not required to track the health outcomes of the donor or the offspring. Ask your clinic whether they check with donors for an updated medical history or if donors are required to self-report when illnesses arise.
Want more information? Be sure to check out my FREE resource: The Ultimate Guide to Sperm Banks. It includes a more detailed analysis of sperm bank policies and provides detailed summary of policies for 7 top sperm banks, a quick reference chart and worksheets to help you narrow down your choices. Get the guide here.