Anonymous Gamete Donation: Is it Ethical?

The meaning of having a family has changed drastically in the United States over the last century. In the past, children were conceived strictly by traditional methods, but recently, these methods have evolved, one of the most popular methods being gamete donation. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine defines gamete donation as “using eggs, sperm, or embryos from someone else in order to help an intended parent(s) have a child” [1]. More specifically, many prospective parents rely on this method of reproduction because they are unable to produce sex cells or do not want to pass down a genetic disease to their offspring. [2] Studies find that in the United States, the number of gamete-donation births has doubled from 30,000 to 60,000 over the last two decades [3], a notable increase.


However, this new method of reproduction comes with new ethical controversies. Gamete donation is primarily an anonymous process; those who donate their sex cells typically play a minimal role in the process of pregnancy and the life of the offspring. Likewise, the offspring receive little information about their biological parent. But is this justified? Should children born from gamete donation processes have the right to personal information about their donor, even if it is against the wishes of the donor or the regulations of the donation clinic?

There is much to consider when tackling this question, starting with the current anonymity policies. In the US, anonymity policies tend to vary by donation clinic. Several clinics allow a gamete donor-conceived child to obtain information about the identity of their biological parent when they turn 18. [4,5] Until then, according to the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “only non-identifying information or non-identifying contact for medical information is provided in anonymous donation, and the gamete donor has little or no involvement with the recipient family” [6]. However, most prospective parents tend to choose donation clinics that do not follow this policy and instead guarantee permanent donor anonymity. [4,5]


That being said, in many cases, the children of gamete donation have limited knowledge of their absent biological parent. Is this fair to the children? Several studies show that limiting information about a gamete donor parent is not beneficial to the well-being of the children. Proper social and emotional development in children stems from having strong family relationships. [7] If a child does not have identifiable information about their biological parent, they may struggle to make sense of their family dynamic and, therefore, have poor social and emotional development. [7] Additionally, if a child has information about their biological parent, they may have an easier time developing a sense of self-understanding. Dr. Inmaculada de Melo-Martín, Professor of Population Health Sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College, argues that “access to the identity of the genetic progenitors is also thought to be necessary to help make sense of one’s talents, interests, or physical characteristics [7]. In other words, having identifying information about a gamete donor parent allows children to understand where many of their traits stem from. This may help them feel whole and experience a sense of closure. Overall, withholding information about donors from their offspring can be very damaging to the offspring.


Children may benefit from knowing information about their gamete donor parents, but how do the gamete donor parents themselves feel about the lack of anonymity? Studies show that anonymous gamete donation is preferred by 82.6% of donors [8]. Cohen and Coan (2013) conducted a study in which active and inactive sperm donors were asked about their preferences regarding anonymous gamete donation. According to the study, “nearly 30 percent of participants who were willing donors… indicated they would refuse to donate under a mandatory identification regime.” [4] The results of these studies suggest that if identification information was made available to offspring, fewer gamete donors would be willing to donate their sex cells. A decrease in the number of donated gametes could be detrimental, especially since conception via gamete donation has become more desirable in the US over the past decade.


Considering several aspects of the gamete donation anonymity debate, what should the outcome be? Should children be given access to identifying information about their gamete donor parent, or should this anonymity prevail?


Though the well-being of children, which is motivated by the full knowledge of one’s family, is critical, gamete donation should remain a primarily anonymous process. Gamete donors provide offspring with the greatest gift of all– the ability to actually become offspring. Without them, there would be no gamete donation-conceived child whatsoever and no need for consideration of the child’s well-being. Because their role is so significant in bringing the child to life, gamete donors, who favor anonymity, should continue to remain anonymous, unless they choose otherwise. A child may still develop in social and emotional ways by building strong relationships with the family members that take care of them every day, and they may not be significantly disadvantaged compared to their peers with biological parents. [7] Consequently, the anonymity of the gamete donation process should remain unless decided otherwise by individual donors.


References:

  1. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2014). Gamete (Eggs And Sperm) And Embryo Donation. Reproductive Facts from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/gamete-eggs-and-sperm-and-embryo-donation/

  2. https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/reproductive-technologies-v-gamete-donation

  3. Krames, W. (2017, December 6). 30k-60k US Sperm and Egg Donor Births Per Year? Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-call-to-to-stop-using-t_b_8126736

  4. Hellman, A., Cohen, G. (2017, April 3). Prohibiting sperm donor anonymity in the US and possible effects on recruitment and compensation. BioNews. https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_95954

  5. Kramer, W. (2016, December 5). DNA: Donors Not Anonymous. Bill of Health. https://blog.petrieflom.law.harvard.edu/2016/12/05/dna-donors-not-anonymous/

  6. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2014). Gamete (Eggs And Sperm) And Embryo Donation. Reproductive Facts from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/gamete-eggs-and-sperm-and-embryo-donation/

  7. De Melo-Martín I. (2014). The ethics of anonymous gamete donation: is there a right to know one's genetic origins?. The Hastings Center report, 44(2), 28–35. https://doi.org/10.1002/hast.285

  8. Pinto da Silva, S., de Freitas, C., & Silva, S. (2021). Medical ethics when moving towards non-anonymous gamete donation: the views of donors and recipients. Journal of Medical Ethics, medethics-2020-106947. https://doi.org/10.1136/medethics-2020-106947


7 views0 comments