Here’s a recent bit from Time magazine (I think only on the website) about donor anonymity. (Take note that the headline is misleading–do read the article.) As you’ll notice if you read this, I’m quoted in it, so there’s a bit of self-promotion here. But I hadn’t actually gotten around to discussing the new Washington law that is the taking off point for the piece and it is worth taking the time to say a few things.
This year Washington enacted a major revision of its law governing parentage. There are a number of different provisions, one of which ensures access to certain types of information for those conceived with third-party gametes. Contrary to the headline (and consistent with the text of the article), the law does not bar donor anonymity. It doesn’t go as far as the Pratten case from neighboring British Columbia. Instead, it ensures access to forms of non-identifying information while parallel provisions apply to those who elect to provide or receive identifying information.
One way to understand this law is to see it as part of a trend away from ready acceptance of anonymity. What was the rule 20 or 30 years ago is perhaps now an exception to the rule. Certainly there is far more discussion of the question then there was even a decade ago.
Part of this is simply practical. I can do little better than to point to this quote from Greg Moga, CEO of European Sperm Bank, USA (which is actually based in Seattle):
The Seattle bank accepts only “open-ID” donors; in the past few years, only three of their more than 4,000 applicants — mostly graduate students at the University of Washington — have inquired about remaining anonymous. “We think the world is moving toward a place where we have no barriers to personal information,” says CEO Greg Moga. “Look at the Internet, look at Facebook. Everything is discoverable.”
In other words, promising anonymity is increasingly unrealistic. Neither the gamete providers nor the gamete users can rely on it. At the same time, relying on open ID donors is obviously feasible. It doesn’t spell the end of the use of third-party gametes. (The claim that open ID will cause the supply of providers to collapse has been made in the UK but, as I’ve said several times, seems to me unwarranted.)
But the shift here is more than just pragmatic. Rightly or wrongly, there is a growing sense that open-identity donation is a better path, just as there has been an acceptance that open-adoption is a better path. That’s the point I was trying to make where I am quoted in the article.
Now I confess that I am a bit leery about this trend. It’s not clear to me that the law is keeping pace with the changing sentiments. Maybe I should say something a bit stronger: The law is not keeping pace. In some states (Washington is not among them) gamete providers may have legal parental rights. If that’s the case, then open identity can lead to all sorts of problems.
There is no place for ambiguity here. This serves no one. The law needs to be absolutely clear that the gamete providers are not legal parents. With that resolved, individuals are free to make the decisions they want to about known (or knowable) vs. anonymous providers. My sense is that more people will choose the former as time goes on and I think the law ought to facilitate that choice.