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Sperm bank warns against tracing anonymous donor via DNA test

4 February 2019
Appeared in BioNews 985

A woman in Portland, Oregon, has been issued a warning from the sperm bank she used to conceive her child, after finding and contacting her donor's family via a 23andMe DNA test

The woman, Danielle Teuscher, conceived her child Zoe with sperm from an anonymous donor, through the sperm bank Northwest Cryobank. Teuscher, Zoe and another family member completed a DNA test to find out more about her daughter's ancestry. Teuscher identified a close relative of the sperm donor online and sent them a message. 

'I said "I don't want to cross any boundaries. I just want to let you know that we are out here and we are open to contact if you are,"' Teuscher told CBS News.

The donor's relative replied saying, 'I'm sorry, I don't understand your message.' Teuscher then received a 'cease and desist' letter saying that Northwest Cryobank would seek $20,000 in damages if Teuscher tried to contact the donor's family again. Teuscher was also told that four further vials of sperm from the same donor would no longer be available to her. 

'It was important to me that all my children be conceived from the same sample. They'll have someone that they can relate to fully, and can relate to for health reasons,' Teuscher told Daily Mail Online. 'I didn't want to use a different donor [for future children] in case some day one donor wanted to meet their child and the others didn't for some reason.' 

Teuscher had agreed not to seek information about the donor's identity or whereabouts by signing an online form provided by the sperm bank. 'I mean, you just click the boxes,' said Teuscher. 'My daughter is an actual living, breathing, feeling human being who did not sign that contract.'

Northwest Cryobank told CBS News it does not prohibit DNA testing, but that 'concern arises when one uses DNA test results to contact a donor and/or his family'.

Teuscher said that she believed she was acting in her daughter's best interests. 'Then it just came back on me in just such a harsh way that made me feel like I did something terrible, like I was a criminal.' 

Wendy Kramer, director of the Donor Sibling Registry, said: 'It's a right for everybody to know the truth about their own DNA, their own background, their relatives and their medical histories.'

Northwest Cryobank said that unwanted contact could jeopardise a donor's home life. 'There is a human being on the other side of the gift who may have a partner, parents, job and children of his own.'

Sperm bank fines mother for accidentally finding her donor through 23AndMe
Daily Mail |  31 January 2019
Woman uses DNA test, finds sperm donor — and pays a "devastating" price
CBS News |  31 January 2019
16 August 2021 - by Rachel Horton and Professor Anneke Lucassen 
Direct-to-consumer genomic testing is a thriving market – for example by June 2020, 23andMe had sold over a quarter of a million testing kits in the UK...
4 November 2019 - by Dr Laura Riggall 
A woman has taken a sperm bank to court after giving birth to a child with dwarfism despite choosing a 6-foot-tall donor on its website, according to Russian reports...
24 June 2019 - by Dr Yvonne Collins 
The Progress Educational Trust (PET), which publishes BioNews, held a public event in London to discuss direct-to-consumer genetic testing in relation to donor anonymity...
18 February 2019 - by Dr Elizabeth Oliver 
Selecting sperm with greater stamina results in offspring that are healthier and live longer, according to a recent study in zebrafish...
14 January 2019 - by Suzi Denton 
A single father whose twin girls were born through gestational surrogacy in Kenya has been allowed to return home to Canada with his children...
24 September 2018 - by Rachel Siden 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is urging companies that offer direct-to-consumer DNA testing to provide more comprehensive warnings to customers...
11 June 2018 - by Dr James Heather 
Genealogy service MyHeritage has revealed that some of their user account data has been hacked...
Comment ( - 05/02/2019)
It is my professional opinion that NW Cryobank’s attempts to keep donor-conceived people from their first and
second-degree genetic relatives by trying to prohibit mutual consent contact on DNA websites and on the Donor
Sibling Registry (DSR) has nothing to do with “protecting the donors” as they claim, but rather an attempt to keep
their wrong-doing from becoming public.

Threatening parents for testing their child’s DNA and for reaching out to first and second-degree genetic relatives
to learn more about ancestry, ethnicity and medical history is a battle that’s already been lost and only serves as a
diversion to the real problems and issues at hand within the sperm banking industry.

It's absurd that none of these critical items, (with real and devastating consequences) are in the agreements that
parents sign:
*   sending the wrong sperm (happens frequently, two such reports from NW Cryobank parents this month)
*   changing donors from open to anonymous (happens frequently, several reports from several of the large US
sperm banks, including NW Cryobank, this month.)
*   keeping  accurate records (no sperm banks have accurate records on how many children are born from any one
*   updating and/or sharing medical information (84% of surveyed sperm donors were never asked for medical updates.)
*  tracking or limiting the number of kids born from any one donor (the DSR has many groups of more than 100
half siblings, all the way up to around 200.) Limiting the number of kids born to any one donor is not in any the
donor contracts although many donors, including my own, have been promised no more than 10 or 20 kids.

Additionally, NW Cryobank is the only sperm bank threatening their donors into not signing up to the DSR to make
mutual consent contact.  This is deliberately keeping donors from sharing and updating medical information with the
families, and visa-versa.

The sperm bank’s reason for not allowing donors to make mutual consent contact on the DSR was to
“protect the parents” and their reasoning for not allowing parents to “seek the identity of the donor” (DNA testing)
was to “protect” the donor.  So it seems like they’re playing both sides of the field: threatening both parents and
donors for their own “protection”.  In reality, these policies mainly serve the interests of the sperm banks.

“I get the distinct impression they are trying to limit my access to other families since my daughter
was born with genetic issues.”

NW Cryobank stated in their response letter to Ms. Teuscher, "There's a human being on the other side of the gift”,
referring to the donor. Donors sell their sperm and parents pay a lot for a vial of it. No one is "gifting" anything.
It's a commercial transaction- a seller, a middleman, and a buyer. NW Cryobank has taken back the "gifts"
that Ms. Teuscher paid a lot of money for.

Donor offspring of all ages are testing their own DNA, sometimes completely unaware that they are donor-conceived
and they, along with all other offspring, never signed any type of “agreement” prohibiting mutual consent contact
with their biological relatives, via DNA testing or via any other methodology. When you submit DNA, oftentimes you
are told that you’re 25% related: so until you reach out to that relative, you just don’t know if it’s a half sibling, a grandparent or an aunt or uncle.

It’s time that sperm banks shift their decades-long great effort and focus from attempting to keep donor-conceived
people from connecting with their first and second-degree relatives to learn more about their ancestry, ethnicity,
medical backgrounds, to understanding, acknowledging and addressing the needs and rights of these people.
We invite the sperm banks to read the two-dozen research papers that we’ve published in peer-reviewed academic
journals that address the psychological impact of donor anonymity and the importance of these connections.

Additionally, it's urgent that the banks stop the practice of promising/forcing anonymity in all parent and donor
sperm bank contracts.  Donor anonymity ended in 2005 when the first donor offspring located his donor via DNA
testing.  We invite all sperm banks to act in a more ethical manner and call for honesty, accountability
and responsibility within the industry.

Wendy Kramer
Director and Co-founder of the Donor Sibling Registry (a mutual consent contact website with more than 63,000
donors, parents ,and offspring in 105 countries) and mother to Ryan, a 28-year-old donor-conceived person who
has connected with 17 half siblings and his biological father.
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