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Using a Sperm Donor

Lesbian couples rely on sperm donors in order to conceive. Who you choose as a sperm donor—someone known to you or an anonymous sperm donor from a sperm bank—can have lifelong legal and emotional implications, however, and is a decision you must make carefully.

Known Sperm Donors

Knowing your sperm donor is attractive to many women. It is generally cheaper than sperm banks. More importantly for most people, it is more personal and provides the opportunity for a child to know the donor.

Unfortunately, it is these qualities that can also make this option difficult. The laws differ wildly from state to state regarding the legal parental status of sperm donors. If you choose this option, you must familiarize yourself with the laws in your state and consult with an attorney familiar with reproductive issues. This minimizes the risk of a custody battle or a donor being held financially responsible for the child. Do not assume that a contract with a sperm donor will protect you: state statutes override these.

Another thing to consider with a known sperm donor is that, depending on how you go about obtaining the sperm, the donor may not be as thoroughly screened for infectious diseases, genetic history and/or chromosomal abnormalities as he would be at a sperm bank. Many doctors recommend that your donor's sperm is screened before you choose to use it.

Anonymous Sperm Donation

Deciding to purchase anonymous donor sperm from a sperm bank, on the other hand, ensures that the donor has no legal rights to the child. The simplicity and peace of mind this provides may be the most important thing for you. However, it can be expensive to purchase sperm from a sperm bank (up to $500 a vial, with possibility of needing more than one vial a month). It can also take longer to conceive with frozen semen as compared to fresh semen.

Some women find the process of choosing a sperm donor overwhelming given the number of options available and magnitude of the decision. And some women wonder about how a child will feel not knowing the father’s identity as he/she grows older. Some sperm banks now offer “identity release” programs for this reason. These programs provide the legal protection advantage of sperm banks while still allowing a child to discover the father’s identity once they reach adulthood.

Choosing a Sperm Donor

Once you decide that a sperm donor is right for you, you (and your partner if you have one) should sit down and talk about whether a known or anonymous donor is right for you. Questions might include:

  • Do you have someone in mind as a donor?
  • Have you discussed it with him? What was his reaction?
  • How important is to you that your child know his/her father (or at least his identity)?
  • How does this weigh against your desire for legal protection?
  • Do you have any financial limitations?

You should also familiarize yourself to the fullest extent possible with your state’s laws regarding donor rights. You may find that your state has laws that would make it very easy for a donor to claim paternity, making a sperm bank a much more attractive choice than it might have otherwise been, for example.

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