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Donor-conceived Coloradans would be able to learn their biological parent’s identity under new bill

Senate Bill 224 would be the first of its kind nationwide, advocates say. It would also require fertility clinics to take steps to ensure donors can't be used to establish more than 10 families.

Lawmakers are seen on the Capitol’s House floor on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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Coloradans conceived with eggs or sperm donated after 2024 would be able to learn the identity of their biological parents when they turn 18 under a bipartisan bill advancing through the legislature. 

The measure, Senate Bill 224, would be the first of its kind nationwide, advocates say. It would also require fertility clinics to take steps to ensure donors can’t be used to establish more than 10 families.

Sperm and egg banks, and the nation’s multibillion-dollar fertility treatment market, are not stringently regulated at the federal level, proponents of the bill say. There’s no limit on how many children a donor can create, and no requirement that much of their educational or medical history be verified. The federal government does require that donated sperm and eggs be tested for communicable diseases.

The lack of regulation and information can leave people conceived using donors in the dark about their medical profile. Some have discovered using new DNA testing kits — like those offered by 23andMe — that they have dozens of half-siblings

The bill “removes the promise of forever anonymity — a promise that because of today’s science isn’t a promise that actually anybody can keep,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and one of Senate Bill 224’s prime sponsors.

In the worst cases, anonymity offers a curtain of secrecy that lets a donor lie about their academic or medical history, the bill’s supporters said. 

But opponents of Senate Bill 224  said horror stories about hundreds of siblings created by the same donor are exceptional and that there are already guidelines in place that the industry follows. 

“This bill appears to be a solution in search of a problem,” said Sean Tipton, with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “There is simply no evidence that there are problems with gamete donation which justify this level of intervention.” Gametes include egg and sperm cells.

Clinic representatives said that requiring a donor to reveal their identity could limit how many people contribute or violate donors’ privacy rights, for example if the donor’s address was posted online by the child conceived using their egg or sperm.  

There were also questions about how out-of-state clinics serving Colorado residents could be required to comply with the bill, and concern that its documentation requirements would be time-consuming and add costs. 

Senate Bill 244 comes after Colorado outlawed fertility fraud in 2020 in response to a Grand Junction fertility doctor who allegedly used his sperm to impregnate multiple women who were his clients without their knowledge. The doctor, Paul Jones, is being sued in a Mesa County court. 

Several states, including Texas and Indiana, have recently passed laws to crack down on fertility fraud after similar reports surfaced of fertility doctors misusing their sperm.

The fertility sector has gained more attention as DNA testing companies make it easier than ever for people to glean information about their biological family members and family history, and as growing numbers of people have been conceived through donors.  

Learning you have 100 half-siblings can feel “very dehumanizing,” said Tyler Sniff, a vice president with the U.S. Donor Conceived Council, which supports the bill. 

“There’s a loss of sense of individuality. You just kind of feel like a widget in a factory that’s being cranked out,” Sniff said.

He said he learned through an Ancestry.com test that his biological father was an anonymous sperm donor and lifelong drug user who died of an overdose at age 36. 

A large number of half-siblings can make it hard to build relationships if they want that, and it can be overwhelming to pass on medical history to more than a few children conceived with a donor’s sperm or egg, Sniff added. 

With the first one or two people, the donor might be receptive. “When like 5, 10 people come out of the woodwork, the donor just kind of shuts down,” Sniff said.

A few states, like California and Washington, allow donors to disclose their identities but don’t require it. An increasing number of sperm and egg banks also don’t grant donors anonymity.

If passed, Senate Bill 224 would bring Colorado more into line with what other countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia, have in place, said Naomi Cahn, a University of Virginia School of Law professor who has studied the industry for decades and testified in favor of the bill.

Other provisions in Senate Bill 224 would bar someone under age 21 from donating an egg or sperm. Donors and recipient parents would be provided more information about the potential needs of the donor-conceived child and the disclosure process. Banks and fertility clinics would also need to permanently hold onto records and request medical updates from donors every three years. And non-identifying medical information about the donor could be released before the donor-conceived child turns 18.

There are 42 fertility clinics and 4 gamete banks in Colorado, according to a state fiscal note.


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