The Starbucks Sperm Donor

October 18, 2011 | By:

There have been a ton of interesting articles in magazines recently about third party assisted reproduction.  One particular article caught my attention and both intrigued and kind of grossed me out.

The article was in the October 10th/17th edition of Newsweek, “You got your sperm where?”  The discussion in the article focused on how people are finding sperm donors (SD for short) through the internet (the “virtual” donor).  The article described one donor-recipient match and donation that was initiated through web contact and fulfilled via a donation made in a Starbucks bathroom in NYC.  Major yuck factor to that one.  Seriously, have you been in a Starbucks bathroom recently?  The line outside the bathroom will give you an indication of how actively they are used (hopefully not all for sperm donation purposes), and thus how potentially grimy they are.  I have a pretty high threshold for gross bathrooms and overall I think Starbucks does a good job keeping its bathrooms clean.  However, with the high traffic many of these bathrooms experience, you have to assume that they are crawling with germs.  And if you are trying to have a baby, at least to me, public bathrooms and sperm donation don’t make a great combination.  But to each his or her own, I suppose.

The thing that really got me, aside from the fact that this was taking place in Starbucks, was the lack of thought people were giving to what they are doing.  It’s one thing to go on a blind date with someone you met on an internet dating site.  To conceive a child from an online site — one that is not run by a sperm bank — seems a wee bit more frightening than agreeing to meet your average Tom, Dick or Harry for dinner or drinks.

One of the reasons people seem to be turning to online sources is to avoid the anonymity of sperm banks.  There is a sperm donor registry that is designed to help families created through anonymous donation, match the SD’s with the children conceived from the donations and to help children/adults conceived through sperm donation find their biological father.  The appeal of finding a random guy from whom you will receive donated sperm, and with whom you can establish some kind of non-anonymous but also non-parent-child relationship, is appealing to many people.  I get that.  No problem there.  Except, I don’t know, maybe some legal issues surrounding that lack of parent-child relationship. . . .

Known sperm donation agreements are some of the trickiest agreements a reproductive lawyer can draft.  I am always extremely careful when I draft them.  Why you ask?  Because, even though the goal of the agreement may be to avoid having the SD be liable for child support or retain any parental rights to the child conceived through the donation . . .  courts overturn them with surprising frequency.  All it takes are a couple of birthday cards signed “love Dad” and a court may well determine that, notwithstanding my carefully drafted known sperm donation agreement, the SD does indeed have parental rights, is liable for child support, and the child may even be able to inherit through “donor dad’s” estate.  Did any of us intend for that to happen when we sat down at the table to discuss what they wanted the agreement to accomplish?  No.  My clients usually want to have a friend donate sperm so that they can have a child (alone or with a partner), and have the comfort of knowing who the person is that is donating his genetic material.  All those “what-if” and “what is he like” questions can be answered later by the existence of a specific known SD.

If the SD and the recipient mom don’t want to have a parental relationship — for example two women in a relationship who intend to parent a child together but don’t want to use an anonymous sperm donor, and would like a close friend of theirs to donate his sperm (think along the lines of a well-known singer and her partner and another very well known male singer) — the sperm donation agreement becomes a critical component for recognition of the intended family unit.  The sperm donation agreement establishes what everyone intends to happen, and what everyone intends to be their respective rights and responsibilities in the future.  These intentions are set forth in writing prior to the conception of a child.  Most of the case law in the US that involves third-party assisted reproduction (including known sperm donation) looks to the parties’ intent at the time the child is conceived.  Provided that everyone sticks to the terms of the agreement, usually a good sperm donation agreement will be upheld if ever there are arguments, disagreements, or when and if someone suddenly wants something that was NOT intended when the agreement was drafted.  The thing is that just a few real-life events can cause that sperm donation agreement, and the parties’ intention, to come into question.  A court could decide that while the parties may have written down and signed an agreement that said one thing, their actions reveal a contrary intent.  Actions frequently speak louder than words when it comes to known sperm donation arrangements.

So let’s get back to the people who donated and received the sperm at Starbucks.  Do you think they took the time to consult a reproductive lawyer?  Did they consider what the consequences would be 10 years down the road if suddenly one person decided they wanted a different type of relationship or needed child support?  It didn’t sound like it from the article in Newsweek.  While their intent may have considered the prospective best interests of the child — having a person that the child could one day meet or speak to and thus avoid identity issues that plague many children conceived via anonymous sperm donation (thus giving rise to the donor registry I mentioned) — the reality of what they were doing and the lack of awareness of the long term ramifications are mind boggling.

According to the article, one man who is donating sperm through online forums, is asking the recipient to scream “make me pregnant!” or something like it during intercourse.  Let’s agree to not discuss the fact that they weren’t using medical professionals or a home insemination kit.  The statement the recipient is being asked to state in and of itself could be interpreted as an expression of their mutual agreement and intent to parent a child, TOGETHER.  Did the recipient of this sperm intend for this man to be the FATHER of her child?  I don’t believe she did.  Or did she?  Did the SD?

And hey, are we doing background medical checks of any kind?  Does anyone know if the people donating or receiving the sperm are healthy or otherwise able to parent a child?  What if the SD has an infectious disease?  What if the recipient is an ax-murderer?  Odds are they aren’t anything other than people with good and honorable intentions.  But if the law comes down to intent, don’t we owe it to the child to express that intent?

The internet is a wonderful place and it is a frightening place.  We all have heard horror stories stemming from internet match-making.  Let’s not add conception of a human being to those horror stories.  For anyone considering this type of sperm donation, and apparently there are plenty of people doing it, or even those seeking to enter into a known sperm donation with the assistance of medical professionals, do me a favor:  Find a reproductive lawyer or a family lawyer and talk about how you want to protect your family!

Maybe I am over-thinking this. Maybe it’s not different than someone who goes to a bar knowing she is ovulating, with the intent to hook-up with some guy and hope she gets pregnant.  At least the people going to Starbucks theoretically know each other’s real names and have some information about each other, and both know that a child is being conceived. Good intentions and lack of (legal) judgment aren’t a crime.  Then again, apparently Law & Order made an episode about this subject (maybe not involving a Starbucks sperm donor) and I would love to watch it.  I wonder what issues the writers of Law & Order found to address?

And really, I am just totally dumbfounded by this, someone donated his sperm in a Starbucks bathroom?  Wow.  What’s next? A mile-high  club for sperm donors?

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