The Colorado General Assembly has taken a historic, exemplary step to protect the interests of donor-conceived persons with the near-unanimous passage of SB 22-224, which received Gov. Jared Polis’ signature.
For decades, the fertility industry has existed as a global, largely unregulated multi-billion dollar market which, according to one friend who works in the equine and bovine fertility business, makes the sale and implantation of human gametes look like the Wild West. Was it coincidence or a cosmic exclamation point that the bill’s passage coincided with the release of the horrifying documentary Our Father and a $8.75 million judgment against a Grand Junction doctor for fertility fraud?
Colorado enacted a fertility fraud bill in 2020, in line with similar steps taken by a handful of states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, and New York. But this year’s bill made landmark changes that amount to a seismic, long overdue policy shift.
It recognizes that assisted reproduction, like adoption, is much more than a one-time event. It’s a lifelong process with deep genetic, emotional and psychological implications for everyone involved, especially the children who must navigate the complexities of identity formation and who generally prefer to avoid the possibility of dating or marrying an unknown sibling as they become adults.
The measure requires that, starting in 2025, the identities of donors (who are typically paid to “donate” their sperm and eggs) will be verified, recorded, and available to the offspring they create. It also limits the number of families who can receive gametes from a particular donor to 25 worldwide, in contrast to current practices which have resulted in discoveries of dozens or even hundreds of half-siblings. Future donors must be at least 21 years old, and must be provided with educational materials about the process and its implications prior to participating.
Opponents claimed that the measure would hurt their businesses; they said it would violate donor confidentiality; they said very few donor-conceived persons came to them seeking information about donors; they claimed allegations of systemic problems, exploitation and harm are overblown and sensationalized; and they said the bill was “a solution in search of a problem” because the American Society for Reproductive Medicine already has guidelines in place, rendering the bill unnecessary.
Though opponents of the bill seemed to dismiss the possibility of widespread problems, documentaries including “Eggsploitation” and “#BigFertility” from the Center for Bioethics and Culture raise concerns about the commoditization of human gametes. Given the growing number of media reports and films like Our Father, Future People and PBS’ Donor Unknown, at what point do alleged “rare sensationalized exceptions” start to look like a pattern?
Proponents of the bill, including donor-conceived individuals, law professors, and scholars who track the industry, presented a compelling case. Sponsor and Senate President Steve Fenberg pointed out that, as a result of widespread availability of consumer DNA testing, any question of donor anonymity in today’s world is moot.
He also disclosed that his original version of the bill sought to codify the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines, but he received significant pushback from industry lobbyists — which led him to question whether anyone actually complies with the unenforceable guidelines.
The Colorado-based Donor Sibling Registry reports nearly 80,000 members, with more than 22,000 siblings connected, debunking industry claims that access to roots makes little or no difference to donor-conceived adults.
As an adult adoptee and longtime advocate for truth and transparency in adoption, I was honored and immediately agreed when leaders from the US Donor Conceived Council invited me as one of two adoptees to testify in support of the bill. We pointed out that, as with adoption, existing laws were short-sighted and, when viewed through the lens of an economic system, focused primarily on the interests of the buyers and brokers, rather than the well-being of the human “products” created in the process.
Adoptees have been hearing similar objections to records-access bills for years, and several legislators highlighted the fact that Colorado also is a national leader in recognizing the importance of truth and transparency rather than shame, secrecy and profits in adoption. We emphasized that it was both interesting and instructive that it was the products themselves, now having come of age, who have had to push for this legislation.
Colorado’s “Wild West” image may be good for tourism, but it has no place in the fertility business. SB 22-224 will not fix all the problems, nor will it heal the stigma created by a short-sighted, sometimes inhumane system. But it is a place to start on desperately needed nationwide reforms that are long overdue.
In an otherwise contentious legislative session, 87 of Colorado’s 100 lawmakers have come together to demonstrate compassion, humanity and a commitment to truth and transparency with SB 22-224. If life’s three biggest questions are “Where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” together we have opened the door for the next generation of donor-conceived persons to navigate life in a healthier way.
Richard Uhrlaub, of Lakewood, is president of The Coalition for Truth and Transparency in Adoption and Adoption Search Resource Connection.
NOTE: The original version of this column was incorrect about the number of Colorado legislators who voted in favor of SB 22-224. Of the 100 members of the General Assembly, 87 voted in favor, not 83. The correction was made June 6 at 5:17 p.m.
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