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How Anonymous are Sperm Donors?

sperm-tapTechnology is a wonderful thing in most ways — but it’s posing new challenges for sperm donors and their desire for anonymity. Rachael Lehmann-Haupt has an interesting piece up on Slate’s Double X today about how DNA testing and Google can lead to parents and children tracking down their sperm donor, whether he wanted to be found or not.

She follows the case of a donor from California who donated when he was young, and left a little bit of information in his donor profile — namely, that his father was in the Baseball Hall of Fame and his mother was a nurse, his birthdate, and his college major. Along with those things, he made it clear he didn’t want to be found.

Fast forward to some years later, when a mother who’d used his sperm to conceive a child saw some troubling autism-like symptoms in her daughter and wondered where they might have come from. She tracked down others who’s used that donor to conceive through the Donor Sibling Registry and connected with several other families whse childrenhas simialr symptoms.

That wasn’t enough for her, though, so someone from the group suggested she use a gentic testing service. Because only certain identifying cells are passed to a daughter from a father, and most unique information comes on the Y chromosome passed from father to son, she approached another family to submi a cheek swab. Throught searching the genetic testing company’s website, she found two other families with similar DNA, and from there tracked down her donor.

The implications of this are huge. If donors can’t rely on remaining anonymous, it may drastically reduce the number of men willing to donate if they have to fear that knock on the door some years down the line. And what I don’t understand is how anyone is able to get other people’s DNA test results. Should that not be private unless you choose to release the information, like any other health record? What do you think — do families who use donated gametes have the right to more information than the donor chooses to give?

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