The Creation of Family
For many single women and couples alike, artificial insemination has become an option for a variety of reasons. Single women who want to experience the joys of motherhood but haven’t found a suitable partner within the time allotted by their biological clocks are among them. Others have found suitable partners with less than viable sperm counts. Sperm donation is also often utilized by same-sex couples. Despite the continued controversy surrounding sperm donation, it has made parenthood possible for many for whom without it, would have never had the opportunity to create a loving family.
In the U.S., it is estimated that between 30,000 and 60,000 children are conceived through sperm donation and artificial insemination each year. These statistics are approximations because the fertility isn’t yet required to report statistics. According to current statistics in the United Kingdom , there has been a steady increase in the number of young people under age 25 registering as sperm donors, who account for a quarter of newly registered donors.
Controversies Surrounding Sperm Donation
Sperm donation has been controversial since its invention. Part of the reason for that was that the very first reported case of artificial insemination violated a number of ethical principles that most people adhere to. In that case, which took place in Philadelphia in 1884, a professor of medicine obtained sperm from his most physically attracted student and inseminated an anesthetized woman whose husband was sterile—without her consent! Global advances in women’s rights would make such a thing unthinkable today. However, there are still a number of objections to the practice of sperm donation.
Many of those objections are based in religious beliefs. Most religions prohibit practices which interfere with natural processes believed to be sanctioned by a creator. Sperm donation is among those prohibited practices. This prohibition is one of the reasons for the development of an “infertility belt” in areas of central and southern Africa, where preventable infections and poor nutrition often result in infertility. Poverty also prevents many people from utilizing other more costly options offered by modern technology, such as in vitro fertilization.
However, the controversy surrounding the practice of sperm donation is not just a religious one. For example, one article claims that children produced through artificial insemination suffer from identity confusion. Another article points to the potential for racism in choosing a sperm donor. Others point out that unlike the adoption process, the process of artificial insemination is still largely unregulated in comparison. For example, there is no screening process for prospective parents. Just as many adoptions are now “open”, allowing adopted children the option to know and develop relationships with their biological parents, some are calling for the same rights for children conceived through artificial insemination. In a survey, two-thirds of people questioned believed that donor offspring had a right to information about the donor.
Sperm Donation Regulation
Sperm banks have a screening process for donors, and some even have criteria for a minimum height. Others adhere to the World Health Organization’s guidelines for suitability regarding sperm samples. According to an article in Salon magazine, the cost of screening donors is partially responsible for the protocols in place, such as the requirement that donors agree to donate once a week for up to a year. The article also points out the ways in which practices surrounding male sperm donations versus female egg donations differ. For example, women donating eggs are required to speak to a mental health professional about potential issues of loss or guilt, while men donating sperm are not. Women are also held to stricter physical requirements. Additionally, the amount of payment can be affected by race. In this case, higher payments are made to non-white donors due to their relative scarcity.
However, no matter how much regulation is in place, mistakes can still happen. For example, in one recent highly publicized case, a woman received sperm from a donor of another race, when she had specifically chosen a blue-eyed, blond donor. When she sued the sperm bank, their attorney argued that her claim of “wrongful birth” couldn’t be sustained because a healthy child had been born. The court agreed. The parents of the beautiful, healthy mixed-race child now have to consider moving to a more diverse community for the safety and well-being of their child due to the high incidence of racism in their current community.
Rather than utilizing professional sperm banks, a growing number of people are choosing donors from among family and friends, thereby making the process more closely resemble an open adoption. One study showed that lesbian moms were most likely to choose sperm donors who are willing to be contacted someday.
Just as parents often struggle with whether, or when, to tell their adopted children that they were chosen, parents of children born of artificial insemination face the same struggle. While like adopted children, they may feel a need to seek out their birth parents, studies show that whatever their origin, children who are given time, attention, and love grow up to be happy and well- adjusted adults.