You could be forgiven for being confused by a recent article in the Telegraph titled The Private Lives of Sperm Donors which looked at the “real men” who chose to donate sperm – I certainly was.
I thought the article was going to be a serious exploration of the reality of sperm donation, but realised something wasn’t right when I got to the description of a man who decided to “eschew the anonymity provided by sperm clinics” (In fact, donating through a clinic is not “anonymous” as the piece repeatedly claims – all donors who go through clinics in the UK have to agree that identifying details will be made available to potential children once they are adults). This chap apparently felt clinics were too impersonal and wanted to get to know people he was donating to through online chat forums. He liked doing it this way because it allowed him to decide (over a short meeting in a cafe) whether the couple concerned would make “fit parents”…
Alarmingly, the piece then went on to describe a catalogue of experiences from men who were donating privately which had led them to conclude that couples would not be “fit parents” with stories of men climbing out of windows to escape “psychos” and being threatened with knives for asking too many questions. (I’ve met many dozens, in fact probably hundreds, of people who’ve used donor sperm over the years and can safely say I have not come across any “psychos” or people who would be whipping out knives. The whole thing sounds hugely unlikely to me, and I can’t help wondering whether there may have been some tall tales told here under the veil of anonymity, but if it were true, it would only serve to highlight the risks of not using licensed clinics.)
These donors were all portrayed as generous fellows who weren’t interested in money, and one, who had allegedly fathered over 100 children, asked recipients to keep in touch with him so he could make sure the children didn’t get romantically involved with one another as they grew older. (Rules in the UK limit the number of children any one donor can father, so a case like this would never, ever occur at a licensed clinic but the piece didn’t mention that.)
These men had, according to the article, found “approaches to sperm donation that worked for them”. Whether these approaches were safe, sensible or legal was not up for discussion.
The piece went on to talk about the “legal minefield” that donors faced (there is no “legal minefield” for men who donate through clinics) and the fact that a “landmark case” where a donor had been ordered to pay maintenance had led many to decide to donate privately so that government-approved clinics didn’t have their details. (The “landmark case” had only come about because the donation was made privately through a website so this has no relevance whatsoever to clinics keeping men’s details and it is private donors who may put themselves at risk of being chased for maintenance by the Child Support Agency, not those using clinics).
It’s a shame that the article failed to discriminate between private donation and licensed clinics in any meaningful way. There was no mention of any of the risks of using donor sperm from someone you meet on the Internet, no mention of any of these generous donors having checks for sexually-transmitted infections, for HIV or for any hereditary genetic conditions, no suggestion as to why clinics might be a safer choice for both donor and recipient.
Perhaps it was a useful in that it highlighted the danger for those who don’t research the risks of private donation, but probably not in the way it intended.