This is a continuation of the last post, which is itself part of a much longer series of posts about the use of third-party gametes. There’s a lot about this general subject on the blog, but if you just want to start with the recent string, you could start here.
I’m afraid that where I left off yesterday isn’t the most interesting aspect of this discussion (at least, not in my view) but I figure I should try to follow through with what I said. In the last post I suggested that perhaps it was time to move away from anonymity. One question to consider, then, is what that would mean for the supply of gametes. Would people provide gametes if they understood 1) that they would not be legal parents but 2) that at a time in the future (18 years or more) a person conceived with those gametes might contact them.
Clearly the answer is that some people would. Why is it clear? Because many sperm banks provide what The Sperm Bank of California call “identity-release” donors. (It’s also clear that some (and perhaps as this article suggests, most) purchasers prefer anonymous providers. But we’re in the land of compromise here where not everyone gets what they want.)
I’m well aware that there have been many claims that the abolition of anonymity has lead to sperm donor shortages in the UK and other places. But as that post I just linked to makes clear, I don’t entirely believe in this explanation for what may very well be a sperm shortage. There are actually other explanations.
I’m also reminded here of the research and writing of Rene Almeling, an author about whose work I’ve written a fair bit in the quite recent past. There may not be direct connections here, but I am reminded, for example, that the way we pitch the process to men considering providing sperm may determine the nature of the pool that responds. (This hardly seems debatable–different sorts of advertising surely appeal to different sorts of people.) You can see this, I think, with in the story about the London Sperm bank that I wrote about a little while ago.
The other thing I’d add into the calculus is a basic law of supply and demand. And with that in mind, I think all this adds up to two points for me.
First, the people who are willing to be gamete providers in a system where offspring could have access to contact information for the providers will not be exactly the same set of people as those who are willing to be gamete providers with a promise of anonymity. Because it isn’t an identical set of people, you might find them in different places, you might appeal to them with different ads and so on. It also seems possible to me that this different set of people will help solve some other problems faced by the ART industry–in particular the number of offspring for male providers. (I’ll come back to this in another post.)
Second, the worse case scenario I can see is that you’d have to pay a bit more for gametes. This goes back to the basic laws of supply/demand. As far as I can tell, all the countries where there is a sperm shortage (and that’s the gamete shortage you here about) are countries where payment to providers is severely restricted. By contrast, in the US, which is pretty much a free market, I’ve never heard tell of a shortage.
I don’t mean to suggest that the role of money in this whole process is unimportant. There have been concerns raised about overpaying egg providers–and I’ve written about that. Doubtless there is more to say. But I don’t actually see that there needs to be any real concern about a gamete shortage if we are willing to pay a bit more. I hope to discuss some of the concerns about payment and what is called “coercion” in the near future.