February 22, 2024

Should there be a ‘dead donor rule’ for sperm donation?

Sperm donation creates a web of exceedingly complex relationships. The HeyReprotech Newsletter (a great Substack resource for news about assisted reproduction) recently profiled a married lesbian couple who had to grapple with the death of their anonymous sperm donor.

Shauna Painter and Sheree Bautista chose a donor whose identity could be disclosed when their child turned 18. But they were too curious to wait and did an ancestry test. After finding a close match, they contacted a cousin of the donor. It turned out that he had died four months before, when he was only 28, through suicide.

It was a painful conversation, but they spoke with the donor’s parents – their child’s grandparents. After some reflection, they decided to stay in touch.

Now that Painter and Bautista had become aware that their child’s father may have had mental health issues, what should they do with that information?

They discovered, again through the genetic testing service, that the sperm donor had at least four or five other children. Should they be notified?

They contacted the sperm donor bank to pass on the news that their donor had died. They had a frosty reception. The company reminded them that they had signed a contract not to contact donors and warned that they could be sued.

They asked the company whether it would continue to sell the sperm of a dead man? It was a hypothetical question because it had all been sold. However, the answer was Yes.

In fact, Painter and Bautista had purchased much of the “spare” sperm earlier. The final vial helped Bautista fall pregnant. “The moms had thought carefully about the fact that they were deliberately using the sperm from a man no longer alive,” writes blog editor Alison Motluk. “If they hadn’t met the family, says Painter, they probably would have chosen someone new. But having the donor’s family in their lives, she says, compensates a bit for the fact that the donor himself is no longer around.”