A 2004 study shows that most teenagers conceived by open-identity sperm donation programs are typically comfortable with their birth origins and plan to contact their biological fathers out of curiosity. The study contradicts popular belief. Most infertility programs that accept sperm donations maintain anonymity for fears that allowing donor identification would lead to problems for the children or for their biological fathers. The findings, published in the journal Human Reproduction, may help calm fears that stripping anonymity from sperm donations might spawn future problems.
There is increasing interest in open-identity donor programs, in which donors allow their identities to be given to adult offspring. Yet little research is available about the experiences of donor insemination families who have open-identity sperm donors. Also, no study has included adolescents who near the age at which donor-identity release can be done.
For the small study — the first to look at the mindset of kids born from open-identity sperm donation — kids from 29 households answered questions regarding their conception and interest in their sperm donor’s identity. The majority of participants were boys about 15 years old.“While it appeared that the children were very curious and eager to learn more about their donor, they were also concerned about respecting his privacy and not intruding on his life,” says researcher Joanna Scheib, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, and The Sperm Bank of California. “They are not looking for a father in their donor. If anything, they want something like an ‘older friend’ relationship,” she noted, in a news release.
Children from single-mother households had the most positive response to their birth origin. Most youths (76 percent) reported always knowing about their conception origins and were somewhat to very comfortable with it. Those raised by two parents, whether lesbian or heterosexual, appeared less interested in their sperm donor. Other study findings included:
• Most children were told about their birth origin by age 10.
• All but one of the participants reported neutral or positive thoughts about their being conceived by sperm donation.
• None of the children wanted money from their biological father.
• “What is he like?” was the top question kids had about their biological father. Approximately 25 percent of the participants asked whether their donor resembled him or her.
• More than 80 percent were at least moderately likely to request his identity and pursue contact. Of those who might contact the donor, most would do so to learn more about him, and many believed that it would help them learn about themselves.
• The number-one thing kids wanted from their donor was his photograph.
• Although most planned to contact their donor when legally allowed, they would not necessarily do so at age 18. Most preferred to contact the donor indirectly, through mail or email.
Open-identity sperm donations are optional in the United States, but a number of countries require or will soon require that all sperm donors release their identity. Sweden now has that requirement, and the United Kingdom. will follow suit in 2005. For that reason, the study’s researchers say, further study is warranted. They plan a larger study focused on the thoughts and feelings of adolescents and donors who meet each other.
SOURCES: Scheib, J. “Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors: reports from 12-17 year olds,” Human Reproduction. News release, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. 2004