The Anonymous Donor Myth

The anonymous donor myth was, only a few years ago, not a concern to the many anonymous sperm and egg donors who have helped countless families around the world.

The anonymous donor myth has only in the recent past become an issue that anyone considering becoming an anonymous donor, or anyone considering using an anonymous donor, must confront and plan for.  ART (assisted reproductive technology) lawyers must also factor into their counsel with all parties to an ART agreement the reality that there simply may be no such thing as anonymous donation anymore.  This counsel must address not only gamete (sperm and egg) donation, but also embryo donation and adoption.anonymous donation myth 2

If you think about it, there really is no such thing as anonymity any more.  This year, Facebook has over 2.3 billion monthly active users.  YouTube has 1.8 monthly active users.  Twitter has 320 million monthly active users.  With other social platforms such as Instagram, WeChat and Snapchat providing information on its users to anyone who has not perfected the art of keeping an account private, there are literally millions of ways to locate and identify a person with just a small amount of information.

I was recently in Seattle for the annual conference of The Academy of Adoption and Assisted reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) where a fascinating presentation was given on just this subject.  One speaker demonstrated how, with the scant information she had provided when she was an anonymous egg donor, how it took her less than 5 minutes to find herself on social media.  She essentially did a facial recognition search which yielded a direct hit result.  And this was just possible from the picture she used in her egg donor profile.  That picture, coupled with her educational background, made a google search of her provide instant confirmation of identity.

The anonymous donor myth becomes even more implausible when you consider the influx in popularity of commercial DNA testing kits such as 23andMe and  And the implications for anonymous donors go way beyond gamete donation, but adoption as well.

The reality of the anonymous donor myth hit me hard, and in a completely unexpected way.   I was at work one afternoon when the phone rang.  It was a former client of mine with whom I had done estate and probate work.  Her voice was shaking when she called and I could tell that something was very wrong.  She told me that a relative of hers was contacted by a woman who explained that she was adopted at birth and that she had done an DNA test.  The test revealed that her birth mother was related to the relative of my former client.  She then related to me the story of how when she was younger she had been molested, and that molestation resulted in a pregnancy.  She gave the child up for adoption and had told no one in her family about it.  She was reliving that trauma knowing that her secret would most likely be revealed due to an inadvertent action by a relative of hers who had also had the DNA test performed and who had consented to its results being added to a national database.

anonymous donor myth 1One of the most sacred areas of law for expectant mothers who, for many important reasons, cannot keep their children is called “infant safe haven” law.  This type of law decriminalizes the abandonment of unharmed infants in specified locations, such as hospitals, police stations or fire houses.  Mothers need to know that if their personal circumstance requires them to seek the protection of an infant safe haven law; they must be able to rely on the confidentiality that these laws were designed to provide them.  If mothers fear that their identity will be revealed through DNA or Facebook searches, they are less likely to place the child in a safe space.

The reality is that a medical professional or facility can do their best to shield the identity of a donor, but they have no control over the actions of others down the road, like the donor herself, the intended parents or even the child who is the result of ART.  One positive reaction I see in the ART community is the encouragement, with thorough explanation, of known gamete donation.  Known gamete donation can be helpful in many ways.  If a child has a medical issue that may be genetic, with a known donor, parents may access that information more easily.  Studies have also shown that the earlier a child is told about his or her origin story, the better adapted they are.  Having a known gamete donor may make the difference to a child questioning their genetic heritage. 

The anonymous donor myth does not have to be a devastating blow to a family.  With proper professional, both legal and psychological, intended parents considering gamete donation will be able to make informed and beneficial decisions.  These decisions will have long lasting effects on the mental and physical well-being of their children.  As professionals, it is our duty to explore all possibilities with our clients and to ensure that they understand the implications of the anonymous donation myth.

By Anthony M. Brown, Esq. – August 6, 2019

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Egg Donor Prices Cap Lawsuit Settled By Fertility Industry

The nation’s leading professional association of fertility specialists has reached a settlement with a group of women who claimed the medical group’s guidelines on human egg donor prices violated federal antitrust laws.

Two women who provided eggs to couples struggling with infertility sued the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in federal court in San Francisco in 2011, claiming that the group artificially suppressed the amount they can get for their eggs. Two other women later joined the case.

The medical group agreed to delete provisions in its guidelines concerning egg donor compensation, according to the proposed settlement filed in court last week. It also agreed to pay plaintiffs’ lawyers $1.5 million in fees and costs. The four named plaintiffs would also receive $5,000 each. The settlement needs court approval.

As WSJ’s Ashby Jones earlier reported, the lawsuit challenged egg fee guidelinesestablished by the organization more than a decade ago. The group, which represents fertility specialists, suggested that payments for donated human eggs should not go above $5,000 without justification, and said that payments greater than $10,000 went “beyond what is appropriate.”

The price guidelines aren’t mandates. But more than 90% of the nation’s clinics belong to the society, so they’re widely followed.

anonymous egg donor

Industry groups behind the price guidance say caps are needed to prevent coercion and exploitation in the egg-donation process. But the plaintiffs claimed the guidance amount to an illegal conspiracy to set prices.

Under the terms of the settlement, which still needs final court approval, ASRM agreed to delete some language from the guidelines. According to the proposed settlement:

ASRM will amend the challenged report concerning donor compensation by removing numbered paragraph 3 (which reads “[t]otal payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate.”) and by removing the following language from page 4: “Although there is no consensus on the precise payment that oocyte donors should receive, at this time sums of $5,000 or more require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate” and “A recent survey indicates that these sums are in line with the practice of most SART member clinics.”

by Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2016

Click here to read the entire article.

Anonymous egg donor, the secret I’m tempted to keep from my kids

I’m keeping a very big secret from my kids, that they have a anonymous egg donor, and my biggest fear is that once they find out, they will want nothing to do with me.

My preschool-age twin boys were born with the help of an anonymous egg donor. I’ve never second-guessed my decision to use IVF via donor eggs as my path to becoming a mother, but as my children get older, I’m more and more afraid of how they will react to learning the truth about their origins.anonymous egg donor

After trying and failing to get pregnant on my own in my late 20s, a preliminary blood test revealed my hormone levels were that of a post-menopausal woman. An internal ultrasound confirmed what a team of reproductive endocrinologists suspected: My ovaries had only four follicles them, and none of them were healthy enough make IVF a viable option. Devastated as I was, I took comfort in the fact that the rest of my reproductive system was perfectly healthy and more than capable of handling a pregnancy. All I needed was some donor eggs.

We looked into adoption, but in the end my husband wanted to share a biological connection to our kids, and I really wanted to experience pregnancy and labor. So after some long talks that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, a hard look at our finances and a bit of research into how much Ramen the human body can actually handle eating before it gives out, we decided to pursue a donor-assisted pregnancy.

Leafing through a binder of headshots and short biographies to choose a woman who will provide half of your children’s DNA is like a very high-stakes episode of The Bachelor. It’s bizarre to listen to your husband discuss other women he finds attractive while you try to balance any jealousy with the idea that your own children could inherit those good looks. In the end, we decided on a beautiful donor who looked nothing like me but whose application indicated she had similar interests and a personality close to my own.

We were lucky, and I became pregnant with twins on my first attempt at IVF. Through some quirk of genetics, neither of my kids inherited the donor’s red hair or hazel eyes. One favors his father’s coloring, and the other has my lighter locks. When we’re out as a family, the comment we receive most often is how we have “his-and-hers twins.”

Because we memorialized my pregnancy with tons of photos and videos, and because on the surface my children look like they could be my own, if I wanted to I could probably never tell the children the truth without them suspecting otherwise.

The idea of doing just that is tempting. Although my infertility story had the happiest of endings, the emotional pain of coming to terms with my diagnosis and undergoing the IVF process still lingers, and there’s a part of me that would love to lock it all away in a box, never to be spoken of. Not telling them would let me forget about that chapter of my life. It would also eliminate the risk of my being rejected by the kids or them feeling I’m somehow not their “real” mother in spite of carrying them and caring for them their whole lives.

But not telling them the truth is selfish. From a practical standpoint, they need to know about the donor’s medical history so they can be aware of any potential family hereditary issues. And it might be a plot line out of a soap opera, but I still want them to know they could have half siblings out in the world before they start exploring love and sex.

Knowing that telling them they were conceived with the help of an anonymous egg donor is the right thing to do doesn’t make it any less terrifying. I love my children completely.

by Anonymous –, January 4, 2016

Click here to read the entire article.  For more information about known v. anonymous egg donors, click here.