Colorado Law Would Lift Veil of Secrecy on Sperm Donations

Mary Chris Jaklevic

May 10, 2022

Updated May 11, 2022 // Editor's note: This story has been updated, indicating that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign the legislation detailed in the story.

Legislation nearing passage in Colorado would lift a veil of secrecy around sperm donation and grant other protections to people conceived with donated gametes.

The bipartisan bill, which was passed by the state's house of representatives on Tuesday after previous approval by the senate, would enable offspring to learn the identity of a sperm or egg donor when they turn 18 and receive a donor's medical information prior to that. Fertility clinics would be required to update donors' contact information and medical records every 3 years.

In addition, clinics would have to make "good-faith efforts" to track births to ensure that no more than 25 families conceive babies from a single donor's sperm. Egg donors could donate up to six times, based on medical risk.

The bill would establish a minimum donor age of 21 years and require dissemination of educational materials to donors and prospective parents about the psychological needs of donor-conceived children.

The provisions would take effect with donations collected on or after Jan. 1, 2025. Violators would be subject to fines of up to $20,000 per day.

Advocates point out that in addition to the benefits of knowing one's genetic identity, the anonymity of sperm donors has been scuttled by the availability of commercial genetic testing. (Egg donation has tended to be more open.)

Some sperm banks already have adopted systems in which adult offspring can learn the identity of donors if both parties agree. However, a survey by the US Donor Conceived Council, an advocacy group, found "significant problems" with some of those policies, such as requirements that donor-conceived offspring sign nondisclosure agreements or banks refusing to release information if a donor-conceived person's parents never registered the child's birth with the bank.

Some measures in the bill reflect the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, although not all companies follow them, according to the council's survey. For example, no sperm bank adheres to a recommendation that donors be at least 21 years old.

"The industry is shifting very fast, but there are definitely banks that I think need an extra push to protect the rights of the people that they're producing," Tiffany Gardner, a spokesperson for the council, told Medscape Medical News.

Tiffany Gardner

At a senate hearing, fertility care providers voiced concerns that the legislation would impose undue burdens on the industry and discourage men from donating sperm. In response, sponsors made several amendments, including capping a licensing fee for clinics and banks at $500 and increasing the family limit for each donor, which was originally set at 10.

Still, some in the industry said the bill, introduced April 22, was too rushed to receive adequate scrutiny. While everyone agreed that limiting the number of a person's half siblings is a good thing, for example, the best way to go about it is unclear, they said.

"There wasn't enough time to really get experts together to provide more formal, thoughtful, evidence-based feedback on what should be on this bill," said Cassandra Roeca, MD, of Shady Grove Fertility, which has clinics in Denver and Colorado Springs. Roeca testified on behalf of Colorado Fertility Advocates, a nonprofit that promotes access to fertility care.

Gov. Jared Polis (D) is expected to sign the bill, an aide to one of the co-sponsors, Rep. Kerry Tipper (D-Lakewood), told Medscape.

Colorado is not the only state considering transparency for donor-conceived offspring. A New York bill would require fertility clinics to verify the medical, educational, and criminal histories of donors and allow donor-conceived people access to the information.

The New York measure is championed by the family of Steven Gunner, a 27-year-old man who died in May 2020 of an opioid overdose. The Wall Street Journal reported that Gunner's family had been unaware of his biological father's history of psychiatric problems.

Mary Chris Jaklevic is a healthcare journalist in the Midwest.

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