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Deep Dive

Women Selecting Sperm Donors

While many lesbian couples and single mothers have known for some time that they will likely need to select a sperm donor, that doesn’t mean the process is simple. There are myriad factors to consider, chiefly whether the donor will be a known donor, an open donor, or an anonymous donor.

Typically, a known donor is someone in the intended parent’s life, and, in a lesbian couple, it is often a friend or a brother to the non-genetically-related intended mother. Alternatively, parents can turn to a sperm bank, where they are greeted with two options: One is to select an “open donor”, whose identity can be revealed to the offspring when they turn 18. The other is to select an “anonymous donor”, whose identity will never be revealed to the offspring (though in a world of services like Ancestry.com and 23andme, “anonymous” may be a thing of the past).

When intending parents select a “known donor”, the donor will undergo a battery of tests to ensure his sperm is competent and he does not carry any infectious diseases or genetic abnormalities that could create issues for the offspring.

Personal Network To Find a Known Donor


What is more problematic with using a “known donor” is the legal nuance required to ensure that the donor cannot assert parentage over the child, or that the biological mother cannot claim he has obligations as a father. In some states, like in California, or in the District of Columbia, there are incredibly strong donor statutes, and it’s easy to ensure a priori the sperm donor has no parental rights. In other states, like New York, donor statutes are not enforceable, so the process is more arduous.

If an intending parent decides to use a “known donor”, it may be an especially bad idea to try and conceive with an at-home insemination. In a number of states, the rights and obligation of the donor may persist if the insemination was not overseen by a licensed doctor.

If the goal is to get the partner, who did not deliver the baby, to also be considered the child’s parent, a marriage certificate is often sufficient to get the partner on the birth certificate. But that is not quite a definitive statement of parentage. So most reproductive attorneys will recommend doing a second parent adoption.

Use Sperm Bank To Find An Open or Anonymous Donor


Sperm banks recruit men from their regional offices to become sperm donors. The process typically entails an interview, a psychological work-up, a thorough battery of tests to ensure they do not carry infectious diseases, a self-reported medical history on multiple generations, and a semen analysis.

Sperm banks differ dramatically in terms of the donor arrangements they offer (open, anonymous, or both), the degree to which they verify applicants have been truthful, and the level of information they furnish intending parents.

A natural deciding factor is whether the intending parents want to preserve the option for their offspring to reach out to the donor when the offspring becomes a legal adult. Today, about 60 – 70% of sperm donors remain “anonymous”, and 30 – 40% are listed as “open”. As for demand, about a third of intending mothers want an “open” donor, a third want an “anonymous” donor, and a third are open to both. Within the lesbian and single mother communities, the preponderance seek an “open” donor. Whether one uses an “open” or “anonymous” donor, if the sperm is procured through a bank, the donor has virtually no parental rights over the child.

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