Tuesday, February 27, 2024

5 things to consider when using a known donor

If you’ve started researching biological family building options, chances are you’ve probably already realized that the process can be rather overwhelming—and potentially costly!

Many LGBTQ parents-to-be consider using a known donor to help build their family, like a close friend or even a relative not linked to the genetically-intended parent (more on that later). 

While using a sperm or egg donor you know is certainly a great option, here is a list of the top five things to carefully consider before asking a friend or family member to be your donor. 

Terms to Know: Known vs Anonymous Donor

Before we get started, it’s important that you understand the terms we’ll be discussing. What is an anonymous donor? How is that different from a known donor?

What is a Known Donor?

A known donor can be a family member or friend. This person is typically someone already in the intended parent’s life before they start their family-building journey.

What is an Anonymous Donor?

An anonymous donor may be found through an egg donor agency or a sperm bank – typically you will have access to information about this person’s physical characteristics, family history, genetic background, academics, and potentially their hobbies and interests. Anonymous donors have already been pre-screened, and have been counseled on their release of parental rights.

1. Expectation vs Reality When Choosing a Known Donor

For LGBTQ+ parents-to-be, choosing a known donor is a viable option. For dads-to-be, a friend could choose to donate her eggs, and then one or both partners’ (if applicable) sperm could be used to fertilize those eggs and create embryos. In another scenario for same-sex male couples, if one of you has a sibling or cousin willing to be your egg donor, then the other partner’s sperm could be used to create embryos—this is a beautiful way to have both partners’ family trees represented in the genetic makeup of your future child.

For moms-to-be, you could similarly use known donor sperm to fertilize eggs via IVF or in an IUI procedure. If the known sperm donor is biologically related to one of the partners (say a brother or cousin), then we would counsel you to move forward with IUI or IVF with the other partner’s genetics.

Parents-to-be often have a preconceived notion that it will be much easier to use a known donor than an anonymous one – but even known donors have to undergo the same level of screening that every other donor does. In either case, it’s important to understand the screening process and to consider the relationships you are creating for your future child.

The process of using a sperm or egg donor is regulated by the FDA, so all practices have the same rules and regulations that they must abide by, and they include infectious disease screening, medical screening, and genetic testing. Your known donor would have to come in and actually become a patient at your fertility center in order to have those tests done.

In addition, your known donor would meet with a social worker, and then you, your donor, and your partner (if applicable) would meet with that social worker together. It’s very important to establish how you will navigate your own relationship with the donor and with your future child before starting fertility treatment or attempting pregnancy. How much contact will your donor have with your child? All of these are things that need to be considered before you think about using a known donor.

2. Known vs Anonymous Donor Costs

Cost considerations are one major factor when many intended parents consider asking a friend or family member to be a known donor. Using a donor from a sperm bank can cost anywhere from $700 to a few thousand dollars for moms-to-be, as your fertility center will probably counsel you to purchase more than one vial if you find a donor that you like. For dads-to-be, egg donor compensation typically ranges from $8,000-$15,000.

In both cases, it seems like a clear cost-saving option to ask a friend to be your donor – plus, then it’s someone you love and trust who helps create your future family! 

However, it is important to remember that sperm banks and egg donor agencies assume some of the responsibility of pre-screening and testing those donors. If you ask your friend to help build your family, you may incur more costs in order to pay for the screening, counseling, and legal fees associated with using a known donor.

3. Legal Aspects of Using a Known Donor

You, your partner (if applicable), and your donor would all meet with a licensed social worker to discuss the responsibility of becoming a donor with them and the way that this decision would affect your group dynamic. 

One other thing to strongly consider is the legal work that goes into a known donor agreement. Many fertility clinics require that all intended parents work with a reproductive attorney, in order to have legal agreements in place on both sides. This will not only protect you, your donor, and your future child, but will lay out certain parameters such as:

  • How often will your donor have contact with your future child?
  • What if your child has a medical or family history question down the line? Is your donor comfortable providing that information, and staying in touch for the next 18-25 years in order to be available to answer questions?
  • When will you tell your future child that your donor contributed to their genetics?

All of these questions are things that your licensed social worker and a reproductive attorney would help you to navigate, to help protect you and your future family.

4. Anonymity & Genetic Testing

Many intended parents make their choice of unknown vs known donor based on the concept of anonymity. For some parents-to-be, they worry that if they use a donor from an agency or a sperm bank, they will never have full access to their child’s family history. For intended parents on the other side of the spectrum, they are happy to build their families using an unknown donor because they want the person to be truly anonymous, and separate from the new family that they are creating.

However, in today’s age of accessible genetic testing from companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, even in an “anonymous donor” arrangement, it likely isn’t going to remain 100% anonymous anymore. This is something on which we counsel patients every day—and it’s important to remember. As you have probably seen in the media, children conceived with the help of donors are now able to connect with members of their biological families through different genetic websites. 

Although neither “unknown” or known donor relationships are objectively good, nor bad, the growing popularity of mainstream DNA testing is an important thing to consider when making your donor choice.

5. Your Child’s Creation Story & Your Donor Choice

This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing your donor! As you now know, your future child will probably be able to find out information about their genetic background as that technology continues to improve. So, think about the things that you want to be able to say to your child about their individual conception story, and maybe even how you decided to make your donor choice. 

Rather than being able to say, “we picked your donor because they were tall and good-looking,” perhaps you can tell your child that you had a personal connection to your donor and they offered you a great gift—by choosing to be your known donor. 

Perhaps you and your partner use a donor from an agency or bank, and you connect with the traits and hobbies that are listed in that donor’s profile. Not only may this make your donor choice easier, but the research actually shows that donor-conceived children do far better if they have more information about their biological (donor) parent. Knowledge is power!

Armed with these five things to consider about choosing between known and anonymous donors, relax, take a deep breath, and remember that each family-building journey is unique and will happen at your own pace. 

This article first appeared on Gay Parents To Be.

Dr. Mark Leondires

Dr. Mark P. Leondires, Medical Director and lead fertility doctor with Illume Fertility, is board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Dr. Leondires is also Founder of Gay Parents To Be, an educational family-building resource for the LGBTQ+ community.

Dr. Mark Leondires has 18 posts and counting. See all posts by Dr. Mark Leondires

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