February 24, 2024

US sperm banks fret about government meddling

US sperm banks are adamantly opposed to the removal of donor anonymity, despite the risks of genetic disease and unintentional incest, reports LA Weekly, in a fascinating look into the US$75 million industry. The article focuses on California Cryogenics, in Los Angeles, which is run by Dr Cappy Rothman. As the biggest player in the largely unregulated industry, his company’s policies set the pace for his competitors.

At the moment, all records of sperm donors are destroyed after their samples are sold. So it is impossible for mothers or children to become familiar with the father’s medical histories or to know how many siblings they have. The industry fears that if donor anonymity is abolished, no one will donate sperm. Currently, qualified men can earn between US$11,000 to $17,000 by signing up for an 18-month contract. One company, Northwest Andrology, even displays bundles of $100 bills on its website.

In the face of growing pressure to allow donor-conceived children to know who their fathers are, Dr Rothman is prepared to make some concessions. He says that he is trying to coordinate an "industry- wide donor tracking system" which would stop the destruction of records. He still would refuse to release the names of donors. But other companies fear that even these concessions would devastate the industry.

Sperm banks dismiss the danger of accidental incest. "We don’t talk about it," says Dr Rothman, "because it’s not an issue. Not only is it statistically improbable, but go back 300 years and just about all of us lived in tiny villages. There was no public transit. Everyone was related to everyone else because there was no one else around to marry. We’re all descendants of incest. Secondly, from a medical perspective, you’re talking about the danger of one generation of incest – even if that happens, the chances of something going wrong are minute."

What the sperm banking industry fears most is government regulation. At the moment, the US Food and Drug Administration requires sperm banks to screen donors for sexually transmitted diseases every three months. But Dr Rothman complains that this is unreasonable, as there is no record of anyone contracting HIV from purchased sperm. The FDA also effectively stopped Dr Rothman from expanding overseas to Denmark. The sperm of blond, blue-eyed Danes might be contaminated with mad cow disease — which Rothman says is utter nonsense. "Every time the FDA passes another law," says Rothman, all they’re doing is restricting women’s reproductive freedom".

Rothman insists that he is also protecting consumer freedom: "By letting the FDA tell you whose sperm you can’t use, they’re in essence telling you whose sperm you have to use. And I don’t think we want the federal government deciding what kinds of kids the American public should be allowed to have."