Research: Identity-Release® Program

Part One:  Findings from the Identity-Release® Task Force Studies with donor-conceived youth, their parents and donors
 

Part Two:  Donor Information-Releases: Tracking Outcomes Initial phase of research on Identity-Release® Program outcomes

 

Addressing Donor & Family Needs: Task Force Studies

THE SPERM BANK OF CALIFORNIA (TSBC) developed the Identity-Release® Program (the first open-identity program worldwide) in 1983 in order to provide donor-conceived adults with access to information about their donors. Initial requests for this pioneering program came directly from prospective parents who wanted to leave a door open for their children to get more information should they want or need it. Whereas an increasing number of sperm banks are following TSBC's lead, no other bank has done the systematic research, planning and record keeping to ensure that donor identities are released in a manner that respects all the parties involved: donor-conceived people, their parents and the donors.

The Identity-Release® Program   is designed to give adults conceived through donor insemination (DI) the option of learning their donor's identity. Our research indicates that many donor-conceived people want to learn more about their donor as a way of exploring their own identity.

TSBC's Identity-Release® Protocol

In 1997, then Executive Director, Barbara Raboy, and TSBC's Board of Directors began preparations for the first release of donor information to donor-conceived adults. After expert consultation and research with parents, offspring, donors and partners of donors, TSBC's Identity-Release® Program Task Force developed a multi-step, multi-year process to guide how a donor's identity would be released.

Experts in the Task Force represented those who were best able to identify the needs of the adults conceived through DI, and the families of the donors and recipients. Community members of the Task Force included a former donor, a TSBC mom, a TSBC health educator and the Director of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians & Gays Everywhere). Professional members included specialists in fertility, adoption, medical ethics, mental health, law and research.

Research with the Donors, Parents and Youth

We conducted three studies to identify the needs and perspectives of the families. Study participants represented the first group of individuals who could be involved with a release of donor information. This included men who had been donors in TSBC's Identity-Release® Program 10-18 years earlier, parents whose children were within six years of being able to get their donor's identity and the donor-conceived adolescents themselves who were between the ages of 12 and 17. Findings from the donors will be posted when they are published. The insight from these individuals -- the donor-conceived youth, their parents and the donors -- should help set the standard for open-identity sperm donor programs worldwide.

Findings: TSBC Adolescents with Donor Origins

  • TSBC youth represent some of the first generation to be raised with openness about their donor origins from an early age.
  • Most were comfortable with their origins and felt that knowing had a positive or no impact on the individual relationships with their parents.
  • Almost all were curious about the donor, with common questions being 'What's he like?' and 'Is he like me?'
  • All but one wanted a picture of the donor.
  • The majority stated that they planned to get their donor's identity and pursue contact -- not necessarily at age eighteen, but at some point in their lives.
  • Many wanted to know how their donors felt about being contacted. Few planned to contact him directly, but instead would use a letter or email, or follow the donor's stated preference.
  • Many felt that learning about the donor would help them learn more about themselves.
  • None reported wanting financial support from the donor.
  • Few felt they were seeking a father figure.

Conclusions from the Adolescents

  • Learning about one's donor origins at an early age does not appear to disrupt family relationships and likely contributes to many youths' comfort with their origins.
  • Interest in one's donor is likely fueled by a normal curiosity that arises during identity development. This interest may help individuals gain a better sense of themselves.
  • Despite being eager to learn more about the donor, the youth also expressed concern about the donor's privacy and not intruding on his life.
  • These findings indicate that the stereotypical concern of offspring showing up on the donor's doorstep is inaccurate. This concern does not reflect the actual intentions of youth anticipating going through the process of obtaining their donor's identifying information.

Findings: TSBC Parents

  • The vast majority of parents were pleased with their decision to use an open-identity donor - only one regretted it.
  • Almost all parents, even heterosexual couples, had told their children about their donor origins, with most doing so by age 6.
  • All felt that telling their children had at least a neutral, if not positive impact on the parent-child relationship.
  • Almost all parents were curious about the donor, but few felt that he played an important role in their family's life.
  • Some parents expressed concerns about how the information releases would go for their adult children.
  • Despite these concerns, all but one parent were positive about their children having the option to identify and possibly meet the donor.
  • Almost all parents expected that their adult children would want the identity of the donor.

Conclusions from the Parents

  • TSBC families appear to be doing well.
  • Parents do not regret telling their children about the family's donor origins and feel that it does not harm their family.
  • Parents look forward to their adult children being able to learn the identity of the donor.

References

  • Scheib, J.E., Riordan, M. & Rubin, S. (2005). Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors: Reports from 12-17 year olds. Human Reproduction, 20, 239-252.
  • Scheib, J.E. (2004). Experiences of youth and sperm donors in an open-identity program. In Psychology/Counselling Nursing, pre-congress course publication for the 19th annual meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, Berlin, Germany, pp. 22-25.
  • Scheib, J.E., Riordan, M. & Rubin, S. (2003). Choosing identity-release® sperm donors: The parents' perspective 13-18 years later. Human Reproduction, 18, 1115-1127.

Support: We greatly appreciate the youth and parents who were willing to share their experiences with us and help guide how donor information is released. This work was supported by the Bay Area Career Women (administered by the Horizons Foundation), Gill Foundation, Lesbian Health Fund of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Rainbow Endowment, an Uncommon Legacy Foundation and individual donations to TSBC.

PART TWO:

Donor Information-Releases: Tracking Outcomes

Over 200 young adults are now eligible to get their donor's identifying information through TSBC's Identity-Release® Program. As individuals go through the process of donor information-release, we are conducting follow-up studies on their experiences and on how the Identity-Release® Program is functioning.

Study questions include:

  • What happens when adults with donor origins learn their donor's identity?
  • Are adults interested in contacting their donor?
  • What motivates this interest?
  • What happens when an adult and her/his donor meet?
  • How many of the adults in TSBC's Identity-Release® Program actually request their donor's identity?
  • Are the adults more likely to request donor information at significant milestones, such as the birth of a child or when a parent dies?
  • How well is the TSBC's Identity-Release® Program meeting the needs of the donor-conceived adults? Recipient families? The donors and their families?

So far, we know that:

  • Over 200 TSBC offspring are age 18 or older, with about 30 more becoming eligible for donor information-release each year.
  • About a third of eligible adults have requested their donor's information.
  • Of adults who start the process of information-release, 79% actually completed it and now have their donor's identifying information.
  • Some of these adults have contacted and met their donors.
  • More women than men have requested their donor's identity.

As greater numbers of individuals come forward, we will be able to more thoroughly examine how our open-identity donor program is working.

References

  • Scheib, J.E., Ruby, A. & Benward, J. (2008). Who requests their sperm donor’s identity? Analysis of donor-conceived adult requests at an open-identity program. Fertility & Sterility, 90 (supplement 1), S8-9.