Why and How We Should Tackle the Sperm-Sale Industry

Public Discourse 13 Feb 2013
Yesterday I explained the problems that arise from commercialized sperm donation—namely degraded men who are absent fathers to children disturbed by the circumstances of their birth. Today I explore more closely the role that money plays as men’s greatest motive for donating sperm, and its impact on future children. I conclude by proposing how we can challenge the sperm-sale industry.

Money Matters

Many people in the assisted reproductive technology world want adult-conceived donor children to hush their complaints and ignore their own suffering. But some new buyers are listening to them. Sperm banks now offer more financial compensation to donors who are willing to be identified when a child turns eighteen. According to Rene Almeling, one sperm facility now pays 55 percent more to donors willing to be identified ($100 per donation) than it pays to anonymous donors ($65 per donation). At three cups per week, four weeks per month, $100 per sample creates a monthly income of $1200.

This money is the primary incentive for identification, not a sense of responsibility or a desire to know one’s children. To increase sales, men sometimes are prompted by facility staff members to beef up their stated motives for donating. One staff member explained to Almeling that if a profile is negative, the man may be further queried:

“Do you really mean that money is the only thing for you?” And if it is, we are honest enough to just leave it that way. But a lot of times [donors] say, “Well, it’s not just the money, it’s also. . . .” [So the staff will say,] “Why don’t you rewrite this little portion to reflect that also?”

The facilities do not invest money in these men without expecting a substantial profit from the sale of their sperm. So they have every reason to make donor profiles as appealing as possible. Altruism is an appealing motive to sperm buyers. Avarice is not.

If men were not paid $50 to $100 per donation, how many would show up at the clinic each week? The commonsense answer is very few, if any. In contrast, millions of men go out of their way to donate blood every year for no fee. They are willing to undergo discomfort and inconvenience without reimbursement.

Like sperm donors, blood donors don’t know where or how their blood will be used, but blood does not create children. The reality is that selling sperm is nearly always a selfish act done for money with no regard for the wellbeing of the children produced. When men sell their sperm knowing it will be used to create children but don’t know where, when, by whom, or under what circumstances their children will be born, it is hard to make a case for altruism.