The Wild West of Sperm Bank Regulation

As Gays with Kids readers know better than most, modern technologies—from cryogenic sperm freezing to in vitro fertilization—are often necessary in the making of a modern family. However, while business is booming for the companies that offer the reproductive assistance gay men rely on to become biological fathers, state and federal laws that govern the industry are not—often to disconcerting effects.

As the New York Times reported in a front-page story last month, the lack of oversight over assisted-reproduction centers has led to some disturbing claims. The article alleges that sperm banks around the country have not only lost and misused sperm samples that have been donated to them, but have also lied to their clients in an apparent attempt to cover up their errors.

A California woman, for example, is suing a sperm bank for losing six vials of sperm from her late husband she had entrusted to the clinic’s care—and for potentially supplying his sperm, which has a 50 percent chance of carrying a rare hereditary illness, to other clients. Similarly, several families, including at least one lesbian couple, are suing a fertility clinic in Georgia, accusing the facility of advertising sperm as belonging to a neuroscientist when, in fact, the sample belonged to a convicted felon with schizophrenia.

These developments should be no less troubling for gay, bisexual, and transgender men, many of who may want to utilize sperm banks to store their genetic material for later use.

Gays with Kids knows that most fertility clinics act honorably and have no intention of misleading or lying to the clients who rely on their services. Still, it is reckless to allow the industry to operate without appropriate oversight. While FDA regulations require clinics test samples of infectious diseases, only New York State requires routine inspections of the labs. Even New York, however, fails to require inspection of sperm bank record-keeping.

This will need to change; sperm donation and storage is a medical industry—one responsible for helping realize the sensitive dreams of so many would-be parents—and should be governed as such. Better regulation will help assure gay, bisexual, and transgender men, as well as any would-be parent who must rely on reproductive technologies, that they are entrusting the most personal of their possessions—their genetic material—to a reputable industry.

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