Recent articles in the news have highlighted the downsides of using unregulated sperm donor websites, portraying them as placing vulnerable women at risk. Is this really the case or is sperm donation online providing a much needed service, which is not being met by fertility clinics alone?
Often highlighted are the occasions when male donors try to abuse the system by requesting payments or offering natural insemination (in other words sex) as the best method of conception.
Unfortunately some online forums seem to be dominated by donors chatting to each other and boasting about the number of children they have conceived. There is certainly a downside, which individuals must be aware of when trying to find a known donor. Finding a known donor or co-parent can be like trying to meet a lifelong partner - unfortunately along the journey you may have to encounter men or women which are not likeminded and who you do not connect with, before eventually finding the right one.
This said, despite the media's negative tilt, the option of using a known donor has many upsides, which is why it is becoming such a popular option for many single, gay or infertile couples. So what are the advantages? The obvious one may be cost, with IVF funding being cut by so many regions throughout the UK, many single people or couples may simply not be able to afford fertility treatment through a clinic. However after speaking with Erika the co-founder of Pride Angel, a leading parenting connection website, she believes that this is not the main reason people go down the online sperm donor route.
Erika says ‘Many women choose a connection service, because they want more information about the donor than they receive at a clinic’, ‘They want to understand their personality and mannerisms, after all the donor is going to make up 50% of the child’s genes’. ‘Many single women and lesbian couples, also wish for their child to know of their donor, they want to maintain contact, be it occasional or on a regular basis’ ‘The important factor is educating people about any potential risks and providing the necessary support and guidance regarding health risks and legal rights’.
An article in the Telegraph today wrote‘These unregulated sites are so popular that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) last week announced plans to increase payments made to sperm and egg donors in the hope that this will increase the number of regulated donations’
Connection websites are not obliged to be regulated in any way, unless they are involving themselves in the procurement of gametes. Websites which act purely as connection services put the responsibility, rightly so, on the users to make their own informed decision regarding whether they choose to take their donor to a clinic for treatment or undertake artificial insemination following suitable health screening checks by their GP.
There are dozens of websites providing a donor connection service, however many of these websites do not monitor their donors or control the numbers of connections between donors and recipients. This is why when choosing a website it is important to use one who is being responsible. Speaking with Erika from Pride Angel, she said ‘We are one of the only connection services worldwide who constantly monitor profiles and we suspend any users who are not meeting our criteria’. ‘No mention of natural insemination, payments, shipping of sperm or anonymous donation is allowed. Any users which break this ‘code of conduct’ are suspended.’ ‘Pride Angel also uses a limited message credit system which means, that not only can donors only contact a limited number of recipients, but is also means that donors are more likely to be genuine’.
There have also been many stories in the news recently from donor-conceived children, about their search to find their origins. For some it may be a happy ending, but for many more it is not. With the change in the anonymity law in 2005, we will not be able to see the effects of children wishing to meet their donors, conceived through fertility clinics until 2023. What will be the effect of these reunions? Will there be the issue of rejection by donors or even the devastating possibility of genetic attraction, which has already been estimated to occur in 50% of cases between adopted children and their biological parents or siblings? Genetic attraction tends to only occur when there has not been any previous contact throughout a child’s upbringing with their donor or sibling and does not occur between known donors and their biological children.
Many women are also now considering finding their own egg donor through a donor website, especially when there are such long waiting times for egg donors within the UK, Some recipients wish to meet the donor to find out more about them, and likewise egg donors feel happier donating to a women or couple who they believe will provide a happy environment for their donor offspring.
Speaking with one egg donor, they said ‘I was able to select the family to who my eggs were donated to, we had several meetings and together we decided that they would like to tell their child from a young age. I agreed that they are welcome to come round anytime. Their child is now 5 and I have met him 6 times in total. Although genetically he is my child I will never be his mother nor would I ever want that position, I simply helped a wonderful couple become a family.’
A donor conceived child said ‘I know where my genetic mother is and can visit her if I would like to, but my real mother is the mum that brought me up'. Another donor-conceived child said ‘I know who my dad is, even if I only see him occasionally, that means I am no different to any of my friends at school'.
‘Pride Angel receives numerous thank you messages from recipients who have eventually found the right donor and from men who have been able to become parents themselves through co-parenting arrangements’
Surely a solution is for women to be able to use known donors, even if they are found through website connection services, so they can pass on more information to their children about their origins. After all, it is the children’s welfare which is of paramount importance.
Article: 25th October 2011 www.prideangel.com
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