The land of the free?

The US is known for paying donors, and this is usually given as the main reason US fertility clinics have no shortage. But with both donors and recipients looking for a different experience of creating and raising a child, free sperm donation is growing in popularity.

Some couples cannot afford the cost of fertility treatment at a clinic. Health checks for sperm donors are expensive and, even without a donor fee, costs need to be covered. There is a risk to taking sperm from a man who can’t prove he is healthy, but for recipients whose options are limited, it’s a risk some are prepared to take.

And it’s not just about the money. Most American fertility clinics provide sperm from donors who are either anonymous until the donor-conceived person is 18, or permanently. As the voice of donor-conceived adults gets louder, it is becoming less acceptable to keep a child’s biological heritage a secret from them.

So why do the donors do it? For some it is a desire to sire as many children as possible, to have ‘lots of people out there related to you’. Alongside this is a respect for the child’s right to know and genuine warmth and compassion for people going through the pain of infertility.

Trent Arsenault is an American donor who has helped couples have ten children through free sperm donation. His reasons include ‘wanting to bring a child into someone’s loving family’ and ‘allowing a family to save on some costs, [so] more may be put towards their children’. He wanted to be sure the child knew his motivation was kindness, rather than money, and that the child could easily have contact with him and any half-brothers and sisters.

Donors and recipients want more flexibility, more information and often more contact than US clinics can offer them. When the UK is reconsidering payment for donors to encourage more men and women to come forward, it’s important to look at why free sperm donation is thriving in the US.

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