In the early 1980s, a friend told me that there was a shortage of sperm available for women in the new IVF programs. He encouraged me to be a sperm donor. He thought I had a desirable background, coming from a well-balanced family, being physically healthy and intelligent. He explained the process, how easy it was, how anonymous it was. My wife and I discussed it. By offering to be a donor, my sperm count would be checked and my fertility assessed. As we wanted to have children, this knowledge seemed a good side benefit. I was willing, but anxious about the potential personal embarrassment of the process. My wife encouraged me, both for our benefit and also to possibly help other women who couldn’t have children. I was very clear that I wanted to be anonymous. If some unknown woman or women benefitted, great for them. I volunteered.
The Donation Process
Despite my open views and enjoyment of sex, I found the whole process personally embarrassing. I made a phone booking, fronted up to a hospital department reception, was given a small vial, shown to a windowless room which had explicit magazines and some comfortable leopard skin chairs to create the mood and asked to return the vial when the unmentioned task had been completed. It didn’t take long, though the small amount of sperm embarrassed me. I’d never captured my sperm and had little idea of its volume. I sheepishly took it back to the nurse, who thanked me and hurried off to do whatever happened to such sperm. Home I went.
The hospital rang to say the sperm count was fine and to arrange for me to come again to donate. And so I repeated the process a few times, having already discovered I was fertile enough for making children. I never got used to the process. Approaching the nurse to get the vial was always embarrassing, despite their pleasant ways of speaking to me, as if this was just a normal event. But masturbating in a strange room, then returning the product to a stranger always embarrassed me, despite the sexual revolution that had occurred, despite enjoying masturbation and despite knowing that I could be giving someone the wonderful gift of a life.
I’m sorry now to say that I made only a few small contributions to the program and of course never heard anything more about it. Nor did I want to know what happened to the sperm.
2017: Open Access to Donor Information in Victoria
Now Victoria is about to allow IVF children to access medical records to seek their donor fathers. While I can understand their interest, that wasn’t the deal I signed up for. If that is the deal for future donors, fine. They can allow for the possibility that they may be contacted by children conceived from their sperm, much later in their life. In my case, had this been known, I would not have been a donor.
While I might get a warm feeling knowing that those sperm were successful, that a woman was able to have a child because of my efforts, the impact that some new ‘child’ (or children!) might have on my family – including my wife and our children – is unpredictable. They might want to adopt me as their dad, they might want emotional or financial support. They might want me to be part of their family(ies). Their mother(s) may want to know me better or seek help from me.
Even though probably none of the sperm were successful, as IVF success rates were very low in those days, the possibility of being exposed, or involved, is something I don’t want. An Australian Story program recently showed a woman who managed to track down the donor that helped create her child through knowing some of his background details and using some intelligent detective work. The end result was he split up with his wife (the program implied this was due to other factors, but surely this would have contributed), married the IVF wife, took the child in with his existing four children and lived happily ever after, except of course for the first wife!
What are my rights in this new situation?
Now I wonder, will there be a knock on the door, a letter, a phone call, or maybe several? And if I there are, what would be the long term effect on my life, our lives? If I’ve helped someone, great! But please leave me out of it. I’m happy not knowing.
5 thoughts on “I WAS AN ANONYMOUS SPERM DONOR. WILL I NOW BE EXPOSED?”
Very brave blog Graeme
I admire your honesty
What a nightmare – simply not knowing, for you, and all the others, of course. Good cause, potentially (probably) some innocent casualties. And no statue of limitations.
I feel the donors should have, at a minimum, the right to know whether there is a possibility of contact, i.e. success or not. I don’t know if I would want to know, though.
There should be some sort of distribution of good and bad results, but it feels very skewed.
As advancements in genetics continue, there’s less need for people to have knowledge of their biological parents to gauge their own likelihoods of developing various health conditions. Already, a lot of hereditary health risks can be elicited from a personal DNA analysis.
I wonder if the person(s) created via your donation–if he/she/they indeed exist–got any information at all about you. I.e., did the donation people take any notes about, for instance, your IQ, height, hair colour, age, etc. and if so did they pass this on to the recipient(s)?
Thanks for your response Sam and also others too. My personal details were only put in to the blog to explain why someone else thought I might donate. I do t actually recall the detailed information the program requested from me – I think it was mainly medical history – and that wasn’t really my point ie whether or not I was a ‘good’ candidate for being a donor. My point is about personal rights to anonymity and privacy. The new rules will give children the rights to find out information, whereas at the time I was assured of anonymity and my rights (or those of other donors of like mind) are being lost. In a similar fashion, I like to donate to charities anonymously, without others knowing who I donate to or how much and I don’t want my name published without my permission.
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Thanks Graham. I understand your point, and it’s a good one. I was trying to come at it from your potential child’s perspective. Particularly in the past—further to the possible motivations you alluded to (seeking your contact for financial and/or emotional support, etc.)—there was the possible motivation of seeking discovery of hereditary health risks. My main point was that the risk of losing your anonymity due solely to said ‘discovery of hereditary health risks’ reason is mitigated by new genetics technologies. (I appreciate this is a marginal issue here.)
More broadly, my sympathies err on the side of your potential child. Creating humans is serious. It’s conceivable that just meeting you briefly could assuage significant emotional distress for your potential child, for example, and you could make it clear then that you don’t want to be involved at all in his/her life. The parent–child nexus is biologically deep for humans, and it’s perhaps a human right for one to know who created them. Furthermore, it might be considered ‘not unreasonable’ for you to have expected (when you were deciding to donate) some chance that this law re donors’ anonymity would change during your lifetime.
I want to add that I respect your perspective on this, I appreciate that it must be difficult confronting this law change (with its unfair retrospectivity) and I admire the way you’ve shared your thoughts via writing this blog, and that I’m certainly not certain what I’ve written is right… I find this stuff very interesting.