Sunday, January 28, 2007

RICHMOND — A Republican lawmaker is sponsoring General Assembly legislation that would make Virginia the first state to prohibit anonymous sperm donations.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, a Christian conservative from Prince William County, is sponsoring the House bill.

Mr. Marshall also is the General Assembly’s foremost author of legislation to curb abortion and regulate birth-control methods. He said he filed the bill to protect donor-conceived children and that he feels for those who don’t know the identity of their father.

Mr. Marshall said he recently saw a child wearing a T-shirt with the words: “My dad’s name is Donor,” then thought, “That’s pathetic.”

Australia and a few European countries have banned anonymous sperm donations. In each country, donations have dwindled and the cost of fertility services has increased.

Opponents warn about the same result in Virginia.

Katrina Clark grew up knowing only that her father was tall, blond and a third-year college student somewhere in Northern Virginia when he donated sperm.

Miss Clark, now 18 and a Gallaudet University student, is trying to persuade lawmakers to support legislation banning anonymous sperm and egg donations, so others won’t grow up with the same questions she had.

“I just felt like something had been stripped away from me,” she said.

Mr. Marshall’s bill also would require women donating eggs to sign a disclosure detailing all known risks involved, whether from ovulation-stimulation drugs or harvesting the egg. Virginia law already requires that patients be told about the success rates and donor health before being treated.

More than 15,000 successful egg donations in the United States in 2004 resulted in about 6,000 births, according to the latest data available. Sperm donations and births resulting from them are much more numerous and much more difficult to track. No trade groups, medical associations or government agencies track either the donations or the number of births attributed to donor sperm.

The industry wasn’t fully commercialized until the 1970s, and laws regulating it focus on testing, storing and administering the donations. Only recently has the discussion turned to the ethical repercussions.

Miss Clark’s mother, Janie Price, of Newport News, was 30 and single but didn’t want to wait any longer for a child when in 1988 she opted for artificial insemination.

“I talked myself into believing that if I loved her enough, it would be OK,” she said. “What I didn’t consider is that one’s genetic component is very much a part of her identity. Why else would we spend so much money as adults researching our genealogy?”

Miss Clark said she grew up not thinking she was any different from her friends. That changed when she was 15 and saw a show about a woman who died of a genetic heart disease that she had no idea she was at risk of developing because she had been adopted.

“That’s when it really hit me for the first time that something was missing,” she said.

Miss Clark said she started the search for her father because she wanted answers about her medical past, not because she wanted a father figure.

She was one of the few lucky ones, finding her father on an online message board weeks later. After a few weeks of telephone and e-mail conversations, a DNA test confirmed what they already knew: It was 99.9902 percent positive that he was her father.

Most sperm banks across the country now give donors the option of allowing their identities to be revealed to offspring once they turn 18.

William Jaeger, director of Fairfax Cyrobank, said that only 29 of the bank’s 265 donors have agreed to have their identities revealed, which shows the chilling effect a mandatory-identity requirement would have on the industry.

“Legislation of this type would really create a hardship for families who need donor sperm to conceive a child,” Mr. Jaeger said.

He also said sperm supplies have decreased so much in Britain since it passed such a law in April that some clinics have closed and others must import sperm.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also opposes the legislation, saying it would increase the cost for families to get help conceiving.

“It is [now] relatively inexpensive to conceive through insemination of donor sperm,” said Dr. Robert Brzyski, chairman of the ethics committee for the group, in Birmingham, Ala. “If donors become scarce because the anonymity is removed, then the cost of that will increase.”

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