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Health & Balance

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Anonymous Sperm Donation

Pictures and Videos Attempt to Fill in Blanks

David Towles, director of public relations at Xytex, a sperm bank headquartered in Augusta, Ga., says his company is exploring a whole range of approaches to donor identity.

"In June 1994 we began providing pictures of the donors if the donors agreed," he says. Currently he says his company has head-and-shoulder pictures of about half of the 100 donors in its catalogue.

More recently, Towles says, the company began producing videos of the donors. The videos are filmed in the Zytex offices and then "wherever the donor feels comfortable, perhaps doing some activity he likes such as fishing."

Donors are asked if they are willing to provide this type of information to the mothers and that preference is noted in the catalogue. "Close to 20 donors have agreed to the release of this information," he says.

Towles says the company is also investigating ways to arrange for contact such as an exchange of letters between mothers and donors or between donors and adult offspring.

While Towles says his company is interested in finding new ways to make donor insemination "open," like open adoptions in which adoptive parents know the identities of biological parents, Nancy Pihera, director of Lavista Reproductive Services in Atlanta, points out that there can be legal pitfalls surrounding donor identity. For example, in some states a donor whose identity becomes known could be liable for financial support, she says.

Nonetheless, Pihera, a health educator who founded the company 10 years ago, says that she counsels clients to tell children as soon as possible about the circumstances of their birth. Additionally, she urges parents to share the information on donor background that she provides. That information, "doesn't answer a whole lot of big, deep questions, but it does include things like favorite food, favorite color, shoe size, and so on."

In California, law protects donors, says Mills. The California law clearly states that "if a man provides sperm to a licensed medical facility then in law that man is not the natural father of the child and has no legal rights or responsibilities in regard to the child."

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