The Morality of Sperm Donation

Is sperm donating a worthwhile form of positive eugenics?
philosophy, biology, psychology, charity, power-analysis, IQ
2012-07-202018-09-02 notes certainty: unlikely importance: 8


In­creas­ing IQ is a good thing, and things that de­crease IQ (like lead poi­son­ing) are bad things; IQ causes health, ed­u­ca­tion, and bet­ter out­comes across the board. IQ in in­di­vid­u­als’ lives, is usu­ally causal where causal­ity can be test­ed, and is often as­so­ci­ated with in­creased wealth and hu­man flour­ish­ing on in­di­vid­u­al, coun­try, and global lev­els; the best ev­i­dence us­ing ge­netic & nat­ural ex­per­i­ments like iodiza­tion sug­gest that most of the as­so­ci­a­tion is causal from in­tel­li­gence to good out­comes. (For some of the in­come-fo­cused re­search, see my bib­li­og­ra­phy.) Hence, char­i­ties like .

I would like to sug­gest an­other char­i­ty: . The av­er­age IQ of sperm donors is likely lower than it could be; do­na­tions by high IQ donors would in­crease the av­er­age and likely would lead to, on the mar­gin, smarter off­spring. So should in­tel­li­gent sane males (not me1) con­sider this an ad­di­tional way to do char­i­ty?

How large is the mar­gin? It’s hard to be sure, but in­di­vid­ual donors can be used in many preg­nan­cies - the de­vi­a­tions from what­ever av­er­age are re­ally de­vi­ate. The Donor Sib­ling Reg­istry, which re­lies on vol­un­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion for re­cruit­ing, finds a skewed dis­tri­b­u­tion of off­spring, with most sperm donors hav­ing only a few as­so­ci­ated fam­i­lies at most, but 15 hav­ing 20 or more differ­ent fam­i­lies (and thus >20 off­spring); “the Donor Sib­ling Reg­istry has doc­u­mented more than 20 groups com­posed of 75 or more sib­lings.” In gen­er­al, the list of most pro­lific fa­thers bounce from con­querors to donors. On a na­tional scale Eng­lish records from ap­par­ently 1990–2005 ap­par­ently

…re­veal that ex­actly 500 anony­mous donors have fa­thered 10 or more kids each - a to­tal of 6,111. Of the­se, 8 have fa­thered 20 chil­dren and 7 even more. About 2,000 chil­dren are born every year in the UK us­ing do­nated eggs, sperm or em­bryos…They are only al­lowed to give their sperm to 10 differ­ent women.

The British case of , ac­cused of be­ing “likely to have fa­thered be­tween 300 and 600 chil­dren” (pos­si­bly up to 1000), shows the re­ward of mis­con­duct; a donor to Wies­ner’s clin­ic, Derek Richter, had 100 in his first 3–4 years of par­tic­i­pa­tion. Post-WWII, dur­ing a male short­age, co­or­di­nated a “Derek” to im­preg­nate Eng­lish women the old-fash­ioned way, yield­ing ~496 off­spring. An­other Eng­lish­man, claims 800 as of Jan­u­ary 2016. A Dutch doc­tor (d. 2017) has >=49. One Ger­man donor, Ed Houben has 82-108+ off­spring as of 2012; still ac­tive in Sep­tem­ber 2015, he es­ti­mates his to­tal at ~136; an­oth­er, a 39yo who in­tends to keep go­ing, put his at 23 in 2018. A Dutch man has 22+ as of 2011, de­spite an As­perg­er’s syn­drome di­ag­no­sis; in an­other dis­turb­ing in­ci­dent, the Dan­ish “donor 7042”/Ralph, car­rier of , slipped through the ge­netic screen­ing, yield­ing 99 off­spring with 10-17 di­ag­nosed NF-1 cases. An Amer­i­can doc­tor was con­victed of 15 & ac­cused of any­where up to 75 in 1992 while an­other doc­tor ad­mit­ted to use of his own sperm in De­cem­ber 2017 & DTC ge­netic test­ing had un­cov­ered >36 by Au­gust 2018. An Amer­i­can donor had even more as of 2011:

..Over the years, she watched the num­ber of chil­dren in her son’s group grow. And grow. To­day there are 150 chil­dren, all con­ceived with sperm from one donor, in this group of half sib­lings, and more are on the way…While Ms. Dai­ly’s group is among the largest, many oth­ers com­pris­ing 50 or more half sib­lings are crop­ping up on Web sites and in chat groups, where sperm donors are tagged with unique iden­ti­fy­ing num­bers.

…No one knows how many chil­dren are born in this coun­try each year us­ing sperm donors. Some es­ti­mates put the num­ber at 30,000 to 60,000, per­haps more.

…Sperm donors, too, are be­com­ing con­cerned. “When I asked specifi­cally how many chil­dren might re­sult, I was told no­body knows for sure but that five would be a safe es­ti­mate,” said a sperm donor in Texas who asked that his name be with­held be­cause of pri­vacy con­cerns. “I was told that it would be very rare for a donor to have more than 10 chil­dren.” He later dis­cov­ered in the Donor Sib­ling Reg­istry that some donors had dozens of chil­dren list­ed…Ms. Kramer, the reg­istry’s founder, said that one sperm donor on her site learned that he had 70 chil­dren. He now keeps track of them all on an Ex­cel spread­sheet.2

That same donor ap­pears to have in­creased to >200 by 2013, and still not re­tired.

An ar­ti­cle on the largest Dan­ish sperm bank re­marks that

The av­er­age donor at Cryos can as­sume he has fa­thered 25 chil­dren, but Si­mon is likely to have more than 100 off­spring.

and an­other ar­ti­cle elab­o­rates that

Cryos and many of its US coun­ter­parts ship di­rectly to wom­en’s homes, which means women can self­-in­sem­i­nate and au­thor­i­ties might never find out­…Schou says the av­er­age Cryos donor will have 25 chil­dren, al­though he ad­mits some will have more than 100. Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sib­ling Reg­istry, a US-based web­site that in­vites donors and sib­lings to con­nect with one an­oth­er, says she has met men who are shocked to dis­cover they have fa­thered more than 200 chil­dren.

The av­er­age num­ber of chil­dren per donor is likely greater than one, given that it seems un­likely there are 30,000-60,000+ ac­tive sperm donors3. This leads to a sec­ond ben­e­fit for the do­na­tor: they can rest as­sured that they have off­spring, and off­spring that are planned & wanted (as op­posed to be­ing the re­sult of a one-night stand). Such a child is not a sub­sti­tute for rais­ing one’s own child, of course, but con­sider the up­side to not rais­ing them: not rais­ing them. We have all heard the es­ti­mates that to raise one child ac­cord­ing to mid­dle-class stan­dards en­tails di­rect and in­di­rect costs in the range of hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. Given that is not en­cour­ag­ing on whether rais­ing chil­dren ac­tu­ally makes you hap­pier, one has to ask - are kids re­ally worth that? Why not let some­one else raise the kid, some­one who has demon­strated that they re­ally want a child by not just agree­ing to raise one but pay­ing heav­ily up­front for a mere chance to? Di­vi­sion of la­bor and Pare­to-im­prov­ing trans­ac­tions and all that.

There is a third ben­e­fit. Sur­pris­ing­ly, sperm donor-as­sisted preg­nan­cies re­sult in as preg­nan­cies in gen­er­al. (The CDC tells me that the de­fect rate is 1 in 33 or ~3%, and that birth de­fects in 2006 di­rectly killed 5,819 in­fants.) Much of this large ben­e­fit stems from the - older fa­thers’ sperm re­sult in more birth de­fects, low­ered IQ, linked to autism, etc. To the ex­tent that a sperm donor do­nat­ing dis­places, at the mar­gin, the con­cep­tion of fu­ture off­spring at an el­der age, do­na­tion di­rectly re­duces birth de­fects and the other men­tioned effects.

In­deed, given the mixed data on whether rates are falling with time and the more re­li­able data on the strik­ing in­creases with pa­ter­nal age of neg­a­tive effects like birth de­fects or autism - per­haps due to in­creased mu­ta­tions4 - it may be worth­while even for non-do­na­tors to for later use. A quick pe­rusal of one sperm bank’s prices sug­gests that a 20-year old could store a large sam­ple of his sperm un­til he is 40 for ~$5000 with the ul­ti­mate adding <$4000 to the fi­nal cost; if this re­sulted in cut­ting the risk of his chil­dren be­ing autis­tic by 30%, would it be worth­while? Per­haps. It is worth con­sid­er­ing.

The equiv­a­lent pro­ce­dure for women - , a vari­ant on IVF (the egg ex­trac­tion part is the same) - is more pes­simistic, how­ev­er, since egg do­na­tion is much more diffi­cult/risky and the com­pli­cated process of har­vest­ing eggs at least triples the to­tal cost. The cost is “$9,000 to $15,000 per at­tempt, plus $350 to $500 a year to store the eggs” ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post. NBC News writes that “Costs typ­i­cally add up to at least $10,000 for every round, plus $500 or more an­nu­ally for stor­age” and that “Doc­tors often rec­om­mend women freeze at least 20 eggs, which can re­quire two costly rounds”, in dis­cussing egg freez­ing ben­e­fits offered by Face­book & Ap­ple (cov­er­ing up to $15-20,000 of cost­s). Wired men­tions that “One round of egg freez­ing can cost $7,000 to $12,000, plus stor­age and drug fees that can run pa­tients an­other $4,000 a year.” The busi­ness Egg­Banxx claims that for other ser­vices, the av­er­age runs $2,500-5,000 (med­ica­tion), $3,000-5,000 (doc­tor vis­it­s), $3,000-7,000 (egg ex­trac­tion), and $600-1000/an­nu­ally (cryo­genic stor­age), and prices its own ser­vices at “$5,400-8,300 de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion, and in­cludes one year of stor­age” for one round. Sarah Eliz­a­beth Richards guesses in her book that costs range “$9,000 to $13,000 a cy­cle (not in­clud­ing the drugs or stor­age)” & re­ports spend­ing “nearly $50,000 to freeze 70 eggs”, with one round yield­ing 9 eggs (and men­tions IVF suc­cess rates range around “30% to 50% per try”). Vogue fol­lows one wom­an, es­ti­mat­ing “$15,000-per­haps twice that”, which is the first step:

Even for a woman in her mid-30s, it takes about 20 frozen eggs to be rea­son­ably sure of a sin­gle preg­nan­cy-women of all ages pro­duce many eggs that are un­us­able, and the per­cent­age climbs as we grow old­er. That can mean two or more cy­cles of in­ject­ing hor­mones to stim­u­late the re­lease of mul­ti­ple oocytes, but there is still no guar­an­tee of vi­able em­bryos. While the eggs re­trieved can be looked at un­der a mi­cro­scope to elim­i­nate those that are ob­vi­ously flawed, it’s not un­til the oocytes are com­bined with sperm that their vi­a­bil­ity is truly test­ed. Even then there’s no way to as­sure that a healthy-seem­ing em­bryo will im­plant and re­sult in a ba­by. And at 50% suc­cess rates per cy­cle, half the women who be­lieve their frozen eggs will en­sure a baby will be dis­ap­pointed each time they try. Em­bry­ol­o­gists are study­ing new chro­mo­so­mal tests to show which eggs are most likely to make a nor­mal em­bryo and are there­fore worth freez­ing, an ad­vance that is ex­pected to in­crease over­all birth rates, but that is still a few years off.

On the other hand, rates in­crease with age and roughly dou­bles from age 20 to age 40 from 10% to 20% (sum­mary in Lampi 2008; these stud­ies have been crit­i­cized for un­re­al­is­tic sam­ples and false claims about in­fer­til­ity in­creases in the 30s, but re­gard­less, there is still a very large in­fer­til­ity in­crease in the 40s), sug­gest­ing oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion may elim­i­nate a 10% chance of be­ing un­able to have a child. Given the rel­a­tive new­ness of egg freez­ing, how help­ful it is is un­clear (eg one would­n’t ex­pect to have pre­cise es­ti­mates for a 20yo for an­other 20 years, al­though would help a bit); Hodes-W­ertz et al 2013 re­ports that they sur­veyed (un­clear when, but likely 2012) 183 women who froze eggs 2005-2011, who re­port­ed:

6% of re­spon­dents (11 pa­tients) ad­mit­ted to hav­ing used their oocytes (all of them >=33 years at the time of oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion). 3 of these pa­tients dis­closed that they had achieved preg­nancy from a thaw cy­cle, 5 pa­tients did not get preg­nant as a re­sult of us­ing their stored oocytes, and 3 pa­tients failed to re­port whether a preg­nancy was achieved or not from their thawed oocytes. For the 3 pa­tients achiev­ing preg­nancy from thawed oocytes, the age range at time of oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion was 3–41 years at time of oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion and num­ber of oocytes re­trieved was 6-20. 37 re­spon­dents (20%) re­ported that they had achieved a preg­nancy since their oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion treat­ment; 34 dis­closed how their preg­nancy was achieved (in­clud­ing the three pa­tients from thawed oocytes). 50% were through nat­ural con­cep­tion (in­clud­ing 2 pa­tients at age 45 years and one pa­tient at age 47 years) and 40% used IVF with fresh oocytes or from an in­sem­i­na­tion. 15% of women re­ported ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a spon­ta­neous abor­tion (3 by nat­ural con­cep­tion, 1 after an in­sem­i­na­tion treat­ment cy­cle, and 1 after a fresh IVF at­temp­t). All mis­car­riages oc­curred in women that were >35 years at the time of oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion.

How much is that worth? Chil­dren are price­less to their par­ents, but they come with large costs and in­di­rect costs to free time & ca­reers - and hav­ing a child may have a life­time cost ex­ceed­ing $100k. Yet peo­ple still do, im­ply­ing they value chil­dren more than mere money or ca­reers, and it’s un­likely there’s some sharp dropoff where kids are worth ex­actly $100k but an­other $10k in fer­til­ity treat­ments is just too much money to pay. With this in mind, it sounds like oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion may be worth­while for ca­reer-minded women. In ad­di­tion to en­abling fer­til­ity at all, oocyte cry­op­reser­va­tion likely also re­duces the risk of birth de­fects and other health prob­lems; but on the neg­a­tive side, even if a woman has be­come in­fer­tile when she wants a child in her 40s, the in­fer­til­ity may be un­re­lated to her eggs and so needs be reme­died by some other treat­ment (like us­ing a sur­ro­gate moth­er), and the oocycte cry­op­reser­va­tion in­vest­ment wast­ed.

Tech­ni­cal­ly, there is a fourth ben­e­fit to sperm do­na­tion: one may be paid. But the sums are nom­i­nal com­pared to the pay for an egg do­na­tion (>$5,000, and pos­si­bly kept low by price-fix­ing) and prob­a­bly not worth con­sid­er­ing.

A fi­nal spec­u­la­tive ben­e­fit is the stor­age of sperm it­self. It is a rare but ex­ist­ing prac­tice for women to pur­chase for their own eggs, to guard against loss of fer­til­ity (from age & de­lay­ing child­bear­ing, can­cer treat­ment, etc.) is be­lieved to work for long pe­ri­ods (at least 21 years so far) and pre­sum­ably could also be used as a hedge.

What are the costs? As far as I can tell, if one does not seek out the chil­dren (a con­nec­tion which could then be con­strued by a court as as­sum­ing the role of fa­ther, which has hap­pened), there is no le­gal ex­po­sure to be wor­ried about. The main cost is un­der­go­ing the test­ing sperm banks de­mand. From Sperm Bank Di­rec­to­ry.­com:

You may ap­proach a sperm bank di­rectly to see if they are ac­cept­ing new donors. You will be asked a num­ber of ques­tions over the phone. At that time, you will be asked to come in to the bank (or lab­o­ra­to­ry) for a meet­ing. Dur­ing this first meet­ing, the lab­o­ra­tory will spend [sub­stan­tial] time with you, have you fill out a very thor­ough ques­tion­naire about your own med­ical his­tory and your fam­ily his­to­ry. At that time they will go through their rules and pro­ce­dures. Often labs will ask you, dur­ing this first vis­it, to pro­duce an ini­tial se­men sam­ple in the col­lec­tion room. This ini­tial sam­ple is tested by the lab to see how much sperm is in the ejac­u­late, its qual­i­ty, and how well it freezes. Most labs have pri­vate col­lec­tion rooms with videos or mag­a­zine to help with pro­duc­tion.

As­sum­ing the sam­ple looks good and you meet the bank’s ba­sic cri­te­ria, you will be in­vited back for a full phys­i­cal and to have blood drawn. At that time, you will prob­a­bly be asked to pro­duce an­other sam­ple of se­men and urine. These will be thor­oughly tested for in­fec­tious dis­ease, sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases or ge­netic prob­lems. As­sum­ing all of these tests are com­pleted and come back neg­a­tive you will be able to start reg­u­lar do­na­tions. Most often banks ask you to sign a con­tract agree­ing to pro­duce spec­i­mens 1-2/ week for at least 6 months. Again, each lab­o­ra­tory has its own re­quire­ments.

reads us the riot act:

Screen­ing in­cludes:[5]

  • Tak­ing a med­ical his­tory of the donor, his chil­dren, sib­lings, par­ents, and grand­par­ents etc. for three to four gen­er­a­tions back. This is often done in con­junc­tion with the pa­tien­t’s fam­ily doc­tor.
  • HIV risk as­sess­ment in­ter­view, ask­ing about sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and any past drug use.
  • Blood tests and urine tests for in­fec­tious dis­eases, such as:
    • HIV-1/2 see sec­tions be­low
    • HTLV-1/2
    • He­pati­tis B
    • He­pati­tis C
    • Syphilis
    • Gon­or­rhea
    • Chlamy­dia
    • Cy­tomegalovirus (CMV) see sec­tions be­low, al­though not all clin­ics test for this.
  • Blood and urine tests for blood typ­ing and gen­eral health in­di­ca­tors: ABO/Rh typ­ing, CBC, liver panel and uri­nal­y­sis
  • Com­plete phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion in­clud­ing care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the penis, scro­tum and tes­ti­cles.
  • Ge­netic test­ing for car­rier traits, for ex­am­ple:
    • Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis
    • Sick­le-cell dis­ease
    • Tha­lassemia
    • Other he­mo­glo­bin-re­lated blood dis­or­ders.
  • …Gen­eral health
  • Se­men analy­sis for: - Sperm count - Mor­phol­ogy - Motil­ity - Acro­some ac­tiv­ity may also be tested

All this is ap­par­ently at the sperm bank’s ex­pense (a­side from one’s time and pa­tience). Hence, it may be si­mul­ta­ne­ously a cost and a ben­e­fit - the more they test, the more op­por­tu­nity you have to learn about your­self (pre­sum­ably they would tell the donor about any im­por­tant bad find­ings).

It’s not clear how many peo­ple will clear all these hur­dles. From Sci­ence Daily, “Sperm Donors Val­ued Less Than Egg Donors”:

“Men donors are paid less for a much longer time com­mit­ment and a great deal of per­sonal in­con­ve­nience,” she said. “They also are much less pre­pared for the emo­tional con­se­quences of serv­ing as a donor of re­pro­duc­tive ma­te­r­i­al. Wom­en, mean­while, are not only paid more for a much shorter time com­mit­ment, they are re­peat­edly thanked for ‘giv­ing the gift of life.’”…The in­equities per­sist de­spite the fact that pro­files of hun­dreds of po­ten­tial egg donors lan­guish on agency Web sites, far out­strip­ping re­cip­i­ent de­mand, while suit­able sperm donors are quite rare, Almel­ing found. In fact, only a tiny frac­tion of the male pop­u­la­tion pos­sesses a sperm count con­sis­tently high enough to be con­sid­ered do­na­tion-wor­thy, and more than 90% of sperm bank ap­pli­cants are re­jected for this and other rea­sons. As a re­sult, sperm banks rou­tinely re­sort to find­er’s fees to meet the need…In con­trast, sperm banks do not pay as well or en­cour­age such dis­plays of grat­i­tude. Male donors make be­tween $50 and $75 per do­na­tion, and they are paid only when their sam­ples meet the high fer­til­ity stan­dards re­quired for freez­ing. Over the length of their con­tracts - gen­er­al­ly, an en­tire year - sperm donors may make as much as their fe­male coun­ter­parts do over the course of a sin­gle six-week cy­cle, but only if they do­nate more than the re­quired one sam­ple per week. In­vari­ably, how­ev­er, earn­ings of sperm donors fell short, ei­ther be­cause donors missed weekly ses­sions or their sam­ples failed to meet fer­til­ity stan­dards. Women also may do­nate as many as three times in a year, and their fees in­crease with each com­pleted cy­cle.

Wor­ry­ing­ly, it sounds as if the on­go­ing costs are not sim­ply blood draws (to test for STDs):

More­over, men work much longer for their pay than wom­en, and their ac­tiv­i­ties are much more re­stricted as a re­sult. In ad­di­tion to re­quir­ing weekly do­na­tions for a year, sperm banks in­struct men to re­frain from sex for two days prior to do­na­tion or risk the pos­si­bil­ity that their sam­ples will fail to meet fer­til­ity stan­dards. Be­ing sick or stressed also has a neg­a­tive effect on sperm count. “Even the doc­tors who were work­ing with in­fer­tile cou­ples were sur­prised when they learned just how de­mand­ing the process is for men,” Almel­ing said. “Sperm donors ba­si­cally have to sched­ule their sex lives for a year.”

In ad­di­tion, some donors may be turned down en­tirely based on cos­metic fea­tures; eg. “Sperm bank turns down red­heads”:

Ole Schou, Cryos’s di­rec­tor, said that there had been a surge in do­na­tions in re­cent years, al­low­ing the fa­cil­ity to be­come much more picky about its donors. “There are too many red­heads in re­la­tion to de­mand,” he told Dan­ish news­pa­per Ek­stra Bladet. “I do not think you chose a red­head, un­less the part­ner - for ex­am­ple, the ster­ile male - has red hair, or be­cause the lone woman has a pref­er­ence for red­heads. And that’s per­haps not so many, es­pe­cially in the lat­ter case.”

Slate in 2001:

Cry­obanks be­came ever more sen­si­tive to con­sumer anx­i­ety about health and donor achieve­ment. To­day the Cal­i­for­nia Cry­obank-prob­a­bly the world’s pre­mier sperm bank-tests for a dozen ge­netic dis­or­ders and for al­most as many in­fec­tious dis­eases. Donors must com­plete a 38-page, three­-gen­er­a­tion med­ical his­to­ry, and sub­mit to months of blood test­ing. The cry­obank ac­cepts only col­lege grad­u­ates or stu­dents en­rolled in a four-year pro­gram. (The cry­obank’s offices are in West­wood, Palo Al­to, and Cam­bridge, Mass., mean­ing that most of its donors hail from USC, UCLA, Stan­ford, Har­vard, and MIT.) And donors must stand at least 5 feet 9 inches tall. By the time it weeds out the sick­ly, the short, and the dim, the Cal­i­for­nia Cry­obank ac­cepts only 3-5% of ap­pli­cants.

Sean Berkley in a 2011 Cracked ar­ti­cle, “6 Ter­ri­fy­ing Things No­body Tells You About Do­nat­ing Sperm”, breaks down the harsh re­al­i­ties for us:

  1. "You May Now Have Dozens (or Hun­dreds) of Chil­dren – and They May Find You

    At my par­tic­u­lar bank, it was $20 a pop for a closed donor and $125 for an open donor. You’re al­lowed to do­nate a max­i­mum of twice a week, so go­ing the open route will pay up­wards of $12,000 a year, cer­tainly not a bad chunk of change. How­ev­er, this comes at the ex­pense of re­leas­ing all your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to par­ents should they (or their child) ever want to con­tact you…While no per­son who has do­nated sperm through a bank has ever been found li­able for child sup­port (at least not yet), you and your fam­ily are still go­ing to have to deal with the fact that there’s a child, bi­o­log­i­cally YOUR child, who wants a re­la­tion­ship with you…I’ve had more than one girl refuse to date me be­cause I’ve do­nated sperm, and I can to­tally un­der­stand where they were com­ing from. Who wants to deal with that kind of dra­ma?"56

  2. "Not Tonight, Hon­ey, I Have to ‘Work’ Two Days From Now.

    As men­tioned above, you have to have an above-av­er­age sperm count for the whole process to be vi­able, so as such, you’re re­quired to be ab­sti­nent two to three days be­fore mak­ing a de­posit. So if you’re try­ing to max­i­mize your profits by do­nat­ing twice a week, that leaves one day per week that you can do with your gen­i­tals as you please…Even if you’re only do­nat­ing once a week, you will still have a set day and time each week to come in and make your de­posit (sperm banks op­er­ate on 9-to-5 hours). So if a girl­friend’s birth­day or your an­niver­sary hap­pens to fall less than three days be­fore your sched­uled ap­point­ment, too bad….Y­our sperm count is still spot checked on each do­na­tion; if it’s too low, you don’t get paid for that de­posit. If sev­eral do­na­tions in a row are re­jected be­cause of fledg­ling sperm counts, you may be asked to fol­low a spe­cial di­et"

  3. "Yes, You Can Be Legally Ob­lig­ated to Mas­tur­bate

    So if your first two do­na­tions are good enough, they’ll bring you on as a paid donor. How­ev­er, that means you’ll be re­quired to sign a con­tract, usu­ally for six months to a year, stat­ing you’ll come in at least once a week to spank the mon­key. Just to make sure you fol­low through, your pay­checks are kept in es­crow by the sperm bank un­til the end of the con­tract. In the mean­time, your sperm are cryo­geni­cally pre­served to max­i­mize shelf life, but not all sperm han­dle the freez­ing process well. So, your first two do­na­tions are put on ice, and at the six-month mark, they’re un­frozen to check how they’re do­ing. If your tad­poles are still kick­ing, con­grats, here’s your check. If your sperm has gone all Mr. Big­glesworth, how­ev­er, sor­ry, hit the road. Al­so, there are cer­tain de­layed on­set dis­eases that can take a few months to show up on blood screens (like HIV), so they need to test you every six months to make sure your sperm is cleared to give to par­ents. By with­hold­ing the mon­ey, that helps en­sure donors to come back for their fol­low-up test­s."

  4. "The Staff Is Fe­male, There Is Porn and You Will Be In­ter­viewed

    The sperm count is where most peo­ple have trou­ble, since you’re al­ready re­quired to have an above-av­er­age sperm count, and mas­tur­ba­tion only pro­duces about half as many sperm as hav­ing sex. 50-90% of donors who make it this far are elim­i­nat­ed."

  5. "They Will Need to Know Every­thing About You (and Your Fam­i­ly)

    …In keep­ing with the prac­tice of only tak­ing the best of the best, there are 50 or so dis­qual­i­fy­ing con­di­tions (a­gain, de­pend­ing on the bank), and some­thing as mi­nor as a food al­lergy can knock you out of the run­ning. Al­so, if you’ve ever had an STD, you’re au­to­mat­i­cally dis­qual­i­fied, even if it has since been cured…You must also be able to pro­vide a de­tailed med­ical his­tory for every par­ent, sib­ling, aunt, un­cle, cousin and grand­par­ent you have, as well as any chil­dren your sib­lings or cousins may have, go­ing back four gen­er­a­tions…I had an un­cle who died at a rel­a­tively young age in a work­place ac­ci­dent and I was asked to pro­duce a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle or obit­u­ary ver­i­fy­ing my claim. I also had one set of grand­par­ents who both died in their late six­ties from heart at­tacks, which nat­u­rally was a cause for con­cern. When I ex­plained that they had both been life­long smok­ers and drinkers, I then had to as­sure them that no other mem­ber of my fam­ily had a his­tory of sub­stance abuse, to as­suage their sus­pi­cions that I might be ge­net­i­cally pre­dis­posed to ad­dic­tion­s."

  6. "Mi­nori­ties, Runts and Gin­gers Need Not Ap­ply

    …You ob­vi­ously must be male (or a very tal­ented fe­male), usu­ally be­tween 18 and 35, and live within an hour’s drive of the sperm bank. Not too diffi­cult, right? Oh, did I men­tion you have to be at least 6 feet tall? Yeah, turns out no­body likes short­ies, least of all prospec­tive par­ents….Al­so, you need to have a high school de­gree or bet­ter. The bank I went to re­quired that you at least be en­rolled in col­lege, if not al­ready a col­lege grad­u­ate."7

The var­i­ous fig­ures sug­gest that a ran­dom male in­ter­ested in this will have a very small chance of suc­cess, per­haps sub­-10%; 10 kids on av­er­age does­n’t seem an im­plau­si­ble guess, for an ex­pected value of 1 kid. This is dis­cour­ag­ing.

On the other hand, all this ma­te­r­ial is spe­cific to the United States of Amer­ica. Some of the pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles men­tion Amer­i­can ex­ports - why? Be­cause there are short­ages in other coun­tries like Eng­land or Cana­da. Due to the short­age, for an Eng­lish­man, all the bar­ri­ers above are far less tax­ing; David Ger­ard re­ports that he suc­cess­fully do­nated de­spite be­ing 44 (age limit is 45) and hav­ing failed his pre­vi­ous fer­til­ity check, and the tests or back­ground checks were far less in­va­sive. Fur­ther: “the UK typ­i­cally has ~500 peo­ple a year want­ing sperm, but only ~300 donors’ worth of sperm” (lead­ing to sub­stan­tial im­ports)8 This sug­gests that the Eng­lish odds are well over 50%, that one’s time in­vest­ment is less than half, and the main draw­back of non-anony­mous do­na­tion seems mi­nor (and given the in­creas­ing power of con­sumer ge­net­ics, it is highly likely that in the next 30 years, any donor child who wants to will be able to track down sup­pos­edly “anony­mous” donors - as was done by one teenager in 2005; see also Gym­rek et al 2013). If do­nat­ing would be a good idea in Amer­i­ca, then it could be an ex­cel­lent idea in Eng­land.

All this is sug­ges­tive and in­ter­est­ing, but not com­plete. To make a solid util­i­tar­ian case we would need to es­tab­lish:

  1. What is the av­er­age IQ or gen­eral ge­netic qual­ity of donors? What is the mar­ginal in­crease in each off­spring?
  2. What is the av­er­age num­ber of off­spring pro­duced?
  3. At what point do di­min­ish­ing re­turns set in?
  4. How costly is the test­ing/ap­pli­ca­tion process, and then how bur­den­some is the ac­tual do­nat­ing process?

Appendix

Donation in Norway

by “AbuD­habi”

This doc­u­ment is a com­pi­la­tion of re­search on sperm do­na­tion in Nor­way (trans­la­tions are by Google Trans­late, with cor­rec­tions by me). Key points:

  • lack of anonymity for the donor:

    In Nor­way anonymity for sperm donors was abol­ished, and there was in­sti­tuted a reg­istry of donors’ iden­ti­ties. This means that who­ever is born us­ing your seed at the age of 18 will have the right to know your iden­ti­ty, ie your name and ad­dress as listed in the Na­tional Reg­is­ter. You may there­fore be con­tacted by up to eight peo­ple after they have turned 18. How­ev­er, you have ab­solutely no rights or du­ties to­wards them. You can not pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about their par­ents or their iden­ti­ty. The child’s par­ents do not know any­thing about you.9

    How­ev­er:

    Par­ents have no oblig­a­tion to tell the child that he or she has been con­ceived by donor in­sem­i­na­tion, but it is en­cour­aged. Chil­dren will not get a mes­sage from the pub­lic au­thor­ity on his 18th birth­day on who their bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther is. They will be de­pen­dent on their par­ents to tell how they are con­ceived.10

  • up to 8 chil­dren per donor

    A sperm donor to­day may not be the source of more than eight chil­dren and have no le­gal or fi­nan­cial oblig­a­tions to their chil­dren.11

  • cri­te­ria ap­pear to be more lax than in the US:

    What are the cri­te­ria to be ac­cepted as a sperm donor?

    • A sperm donor must be of age, be a Nor­we­gian cit­i­zen or have per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Nor­way.
    • He should be be­tween 25 and 45 years and prefer­ably have their own chil­dren.
    • Have nor­mal good health.
    • He must not have known se­ri­ous hered­i­tary dis­eases in the fam­i­ly.
    • Have good se­men qual­ity that can with­stand freez­ing.

    What in­ves­ti­ga­tions should I un­der­go?

    • Tak­ing blood sam­ples for test­ing for he­pati­tis B and C, HTLV, HIV, and syphilis.
    • Sam­ples test­ing for chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea are taken from the ure­thra.
    • A blood sam­ple will be tested on so-called Rhe­sus fac­tor, since rhe­sus in­com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween mother and child is a se­ri­ous, al­beit rare, com­pli­ca­tion.

    Ge­netic test­ing will not be done, but you will be asked about the oc­cur­rence of hered­i­tary dis­eases in your fam­i­ly.

    …[Ad­di­tion­ally to phys­i­o­log­i­cal test­ing, there is an in­ter­view with the doc­tor:] The pur­pose of hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the doc­tor is to en­sure that you have the nec­es­sary un­der­stand­ing of what sperm do­na­tion mean to you. Based on the con­ver­sa­tion, physi­cians should con­sider whether to al­low you to do­nate…A sperm donor must be will­ing to show up to the lab­o­ra­tory about 10 to 15 times.12

  • like­wise, ac­cep­tance rates seem higher

    Many po­ten­tial sperm donors will not be ap­proved. From ex­pe­ri­ence up to 50% of po­ten­tial sperm donors are re­ject­ed, due to poor sperm qual­i­ty, or be­cause they are not suit­able (see in­ter­view with the doc­tor).13

Fi­nal Notes: The rules for sperm do­na­tion re­flect Nor­we­gian idio­syn­crasies. In Nor­way, due to ex­treme out­breed­ing (95% of the pop­u­la­tion is third cousin to each other14), fur­ther re­duc­tion of ge­netic di­ver­sity is a real con­cern, thus the (like­ly) rea­son for the limit on the amount of chil­dren per donor. Fur­ther, due to the ex­treme open­ness with per­sonal in­for­ma­tion (for ex­am­ple, tax state­ments on every cit­i­zen avail­able on­line) it should sur­prise no-one that sperm do­na­tion is not anony­mous. It is per­haps due to that, how­ev­er, that sperm donors are rare:

Be­cause of the diffi­culty in re­cruit­ing sperm donors in Nor­way, clin­ics im­ported sperm for 10 years up to 2005 from a Dan­ish sperm bank.15

Sperm donors in Nor­way do get paid, to cover travel ex­penses (250, about two hours worth of a ba­sic la­bor­er’s wages after tax - eas­ily cov­er­ing pub­lic trans­port). I have been un­able, as yet, to un­earth any­one who is a sperm donor that I could speak to; this is un­for­tu­nate, since it would likely pro­vide hints on how to act dur­ing the in­ter­view with the doc­tor.


  1. I am con­gen­i­tally hear­ing-im­paired; be­ing deaf­/­hear­ing-im­paired is pretty bad, and many cases of con­gen­i­tal deaf­ness/­hear­ing-im­pair­ment has been es­ti­mated to be and prob­a­bly rare/de novo mu­ta­tions, which would wipe out any pos­si­ble ben­e­fit. While I have no fam­ily his­tory of deaf­ness, rul­ing out dom­i­nant or x-linked in­her­i­tance, it could be re­ces­sive or de novo, and whole-genome in­ter­pre­ta­tion is er­ror-prone enough that there is no way for me to be rea­son­ably sure that my hear­ing-im­pair­ment was due to an­other cause like cty­omegalovirus in­fec­tion & would not be her­i­ta­ble, so my in­ter­est in the topic is purely the­o­ret­i­cal - I would not par­tic­i­pate in any sperm bank even if they would have me. (Deaf­ness, De­pri­va­tion, and IQ, Braden 1994 quotes a pop­u­la­tion ge­net­ics es­ti­mate of 52% of cases of con­gen­i­tal deaf­ness are ge­net­i­cally linked, cit­ing Nance & Sweeny 1975, “Ge­netic fac­tors in deaf­ness in early life”; and Rose, Con­neal­ly, & Nance 1977, “Ge­netic analy­sis of child­hood deaf­ness”. Copies of them are not eas­ily avail­able and I don’t know what more re­cent re­search has shown.)↩︎

  2. From the 2011-09-05 New York Times, “One Sperm Donor, 150 Off­spring”. The men­tioned cases of in­cest and oth­ers could be avoided if sperm banks did not en­able so many in­sem­i­na­tions from one donor.↩︎

  3. See the pre­vi­ous NYT ar­ti­cle, and also Sa­lon 2001, “The Rise of the Smart Sperm Shop­per: How the Repos­i­tory for Ger­mi­nal Choice ac­ci­den­tally rev­o­lu­tion­ized sperm bank­ing”:

    This at­ten­tion to con­sumer choice has boosted the sper­m-bank in­dus­try. Banks now cater ea­gerly to the les­bians and sin­gle women who were re­jected by old-school doc­tors (and by Gra­ham). Roth­man es­ti­mates that 40% of his clients are sin­gle women or les­bians. In 1987, the last year for which there is data (why no data? Keep read­ing), more than 30,000 ba­bies were born to women who used anony­mous donors. The num­ber has al­most cer­tainly soared since then, as sperm banks have mas­sively pro­lif­er­at­ed…What other branch of med­i­cine could har­bor a doc­tor like Ce­cil Ja­cob­son, the fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist who im­preg­nated more than 70 women with his own se­men while promis­ing them anony­mous donors?

    ↩︎
  4. Al­though presents ev­i­dence that the pa­ter­nal age effect on IQ may go away with bet­ter con­trols of parental IQ & ed­u­ca­tion.↩︎

  5. The US ex­ports sperm be­cause of the high screen­ing stan­dards and the of donors (un­like ), which caters to ; from “Frozen As­sets: Why Amer­i­can Sperm Is a Hot Com­mod­ity”, Time.­com:

    While in Aus­tralia vis­it­ing fam­ily for the hol­i­days, I heard a story on the ra­dio about how al­most all Aus­tralian sperm - yes, the hu­man kind - is im­ported from the U.S. How odd, I thought, I won­der why? When I got back home, I be­gan re­search­ing the is­sue, and it turns out that Aus­tralia, like Canada and Great Britain, bars anony­mous sperm do­na­tions, which has lit­er­ally dried up lo­cal do­na­tions over the last decade. This led me to an­other sur­pris­ing dis­cov­ery: the U.S. is by far the largest ex­porter of hu­man sperm in the world. Every year tens of thou­sands of vials go to more than 60 coun­tries.

    …There are some no­table trends in the ex­port busi­ness. Gen­er­al­ly, fair-haired donors are pre­ferred, even in South Amer­i­ca, Africa and Asia.

    Canada banned pay­ing for sperm, and as a con­se­quence, has only ~35 sperm donors in Toronto (Canada’s pop­u­la­tion is 35 mil­lion), and so 80-95% of sperm must be (pos­si­bly il­le­gal­ly) im­ported from Amer­ica or Den­mark; the sit­u­a­tion will get worse if it bans anonymity as well.↩︎

  6. The risks can be strange - in a Ger­man case, the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther had his sperm stored tem­porar­i­ly, but the mother ap­par­ently per­suaded the doc­tors to pre­serve the sperm and then use it later - as she was sep­a­rat­ing from the fa­ther - to im­preg­nate her with twins. The doc­tors were or­dered to pay min­i­mum child sup­port.↩︎

  7. Eco­nom­ics Un­cut: A Com­plete Guide to Life, Death, and Mis­ad­ven­ture, pg 306-307: “…In fact, of the 1509 sperm donors dis­cussed be­low, not a sin­gle one had not been to col­lege. Fair­fax Cry­obank charges $280 for sperm from men with (or earn­ing) doc­tor­ates, $215 for sperm from men with­out doc­tor­ates, but from whom all of the rel­e­vant per­sonal in­for­ma­tion has been col­lect­ed…From these [1509], 4590 had in­for­ma­tion on a pre­vi­ous preg­nancy or se­lec­tion. Not too sur­pris­ingly (given that sperm banks do not in­di­vid­u­ally price sperm) there is al­most no char­ac­ter­is­tic that is as­so­ci­ated with a higher or lower sperm price (see Ta­ble 10.3). The re­gres­sion on prices shows that only a grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion ($19.83 more than mere col­lege) and height ($1.91 per inch) are as­so­ci­ated with in­creased prices…No char­ac­ter­is­tic ex­plains differ­ences in se­lec­tion prob­a­bil­i­ties ex­cept for be­ing Asian or be­ing of mul­tira­cial her­itage (both neg­a­tive at 5% level of sig­nifi­cance).”↩︎

  8. Fi­nan­cial Times: “In 2013, ac­cord­ing to the UK’s Hu­man Fer­til­i­sa­tion and Em­bry­ol­ogy Au­thor­i­ty, li­censed clin­ics used 387 new UK-based donors and 178 new im­ported donors. Of the im­ports, donors from the US ac­counted for about 70 per cent. How­ev­er, Den­mark, with a pop­u­la­tion of 5.5m, was the next biggest source, ac­count­ing for nearly a fifth of all new im­ported sperm donors.”↩︎

  9. “Bli sæd­giver”; cf.Nor­we­gian Wikipedia↩︎

  10. “As­sis­tert be­fruk­t­ning er reg­ulert i biote­knologilovens § 2”↩︎

  11. “As­sis­tert be­fruk­t­ning er reg­ulert i biote­knologilovens § 2”↩︎

  12. “Bli sæd­giver”; cf.“As­sis­tert be­fruk­t­ning er reg­ulert i biote­knologilovens § 2”↩︎

  13. “Bli sæd­giver”↩︎

  14. In­breed­ing hap­pens in cases of hav­ing chil­dren with too close re­la­tions. In Nor­way, this was ex­pressly for­bid­den by the church, so peo­ple searched far­ther abroad for mates… which re­sult­ed, over the cen­turies, in quite close re­la­tions among the whole pop­u­la­tion.↩︎

  15. “As­sis­tert be­fruk­t­ning er reg­ulert i biote­knologilovens § 2”↩︎