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Are Donors Really Anonymous Anymore?

DNA

David Kreiner, MD

February 2018 - Once upon a time, more specifically back in the 1980s when I was an Ob/Gyn resident, sperm donation was an unregulated medical procedure performed by many general gynecologists with minimal medical screening and a promise of anonymity. It was common for practitioners to tap their local medical students and residents as donors.

In the 1990s, sperm donation became a more stringently controlled procedure with medical screening, sperm cryopreservation and incubation of the sperm followed by screening of any new onset HIV. Egg donation was developed and became a viable option for women who for medical reasons could not conceive with their own eggs. Anonymity was still promised to donors and recipients.

This decade, as a result of the successful Genome Project, companies have sprung up to trace individual ancestries. Not only can one find out what regions of the world their ancestors were from but occasionally relatives are being identified when the test is performed on both individuals or relatives of those individuals. What does this mean to gamete donation? Anonymity can no longer be promised as the possibility exists, (even if the donor does not get tested) that if one of his relatives is tested then the company will inform of a "hit"—that there is a close relation who has also been tested. With a little detective work, the donor may be discovered.

For those of us in the reproductive medicine field today we are obliged to inform our donors and recipients that anonymity is not a guarantee as much as we may try to protect it. In our world today, our genes are exposed even if our faces and names are not!