Choosing Donor Sperm: 7 Things You Should Know

Deciding to use donor sperm to help you have a baby is a big decision. Whether you are a single woman who wants to conceive, a lesbian couple, or dealing with male factor infertility or genetic issues, there are important questions to consider when selecting donor sperm.  

Known Sperm Donor vs. a Sperm Bank

If you want to use a donor who is known to you, be sure to investigate the laws concerning sperm donation and legal parentage, especially if you are single or a same-sex couple. The laws, your preferences and your donor’s preferences all come into play. Do you and the donor want him to play a role in your child’s life? What are the legal implications? You may want to consult an attorney who specializes in reproductive law. A known donor should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, and you may want testing for genetic diseases as well. Some fertility centers will not work with known donors at all, or will only work with them if legal agreements are finalized between all the parties concerned. Using a sperm bank is the best choice if you do not want the sperm donor to have any involvement with your child’s life. In most states, an anonymous sperm donor does not have any parental rights over children conceived from his donation. Sperm donors are screened for acquired and some hereditary diseases.

How Do You Know If a Sperm Bank is Reputable?

Do your research before deciding which sperm bank to use. Your fertility specialist may recommend one to you. Ask about their record-keeping, how you will be notified if a donor or a parent of a child conceived from a donor reports a medical or genetic issue, and their policy on creating large sibling groups. You should also ask if the sperm bank limits the number of donations a donor can make. This would potentially limit the number of siblings who could unknowingly be related to each other in a geographic region. Ask if the sperm bank follows the guidelines recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). These guidelines require that sperm donors be healthy males between the ages of 18-40. Established fertility is desired, but not required. Medical, social, and psychological evaluation is required.

Do You Want a Donor Who is Willing to Be Known By Your Child?

Your personal situation and your child’s future both affect whether you choose a donor who is willing to be contacted or one who wants to remain anonymous. In many states, a sperm donor is not seen as the natural father and has no parental rights to children conceived from his sperm. But in recent years, many children conceived from donor sperm have begun researching their donors in order to find other half-siblings, or to learn more about their genetic inheritance. Some people are comfortable with this and may want to encourage contact by using a donor who is willing to be known. Others may prefer not to tell their child that he or she was conceived with donor sperm, or may not want contact with an unknown person and his extended family. This is a very personal choice, and every potential single mom or couple has to decide what they feel comfortable with.

What is the Donor’s Medical History?

The Food and Drug Administration requires that sperm donors be tested for communicable diseases. Sperm banks require donors to report their own medical history and, in most cases, their family’s medical history. There is no requirement for genetic testing of the donor or sperm. Some of the more reputable ones do anyway, in accordance with the ASRM guidelines, which encourage sperm banks to test donors for conditions like cystic fibrosis when there is a family history of the disease, according to an article in the New York Times. Practices vary widely across the country. Donor families are not required to report births or illnesses to the sperm banks, so it may be difficult for a sperm bank to know if a donor’s sperm is defective.

What Physical Characteristics Do You Prefer the Donor Have?

This is a highly personal question. Do you want to have a child who resembles you or your partner, or other members of your family? Is there a “look” you are attracted to? Or you just want a healthy baby, and don’t care if he grows up to be short or tall, or otherwise different from you?

What are the Donor’s Interests, Education, Values?

Some talents or interests may be linked to genetics, but there is little information on this. You may want to think about these characteristics as indicators of the donor’s intelligence, drive, competence or abilities. Think about what is important to you and your partner and what would fit with you as a family. This is not about crafting a “designer” child. Your choice is about creating a new member of your family.

Can You Have More Children with this Donor?

If you think you may want to have more than one child from the same donor, find out if other vials of sperm are available from this donor. Some people purchase more vials than they need for the initial attempts at IUI or IVF and pay to store them at the sperm bank for future use.

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