Danielle Teuscher’s 5-year-old daughter Zoe is one of thousands of children conceived with sperm from an anonymous donor. When Teuscher wanted to know more about her daughter’s ancestry and possible health issues, she and other family members decided to get DNA tests from 23andMe and added one for Zoe. What turned up appeared to be one of the anonymous donor’s immediate relatives. She was shocked.
The donated sperm had come from Northwest Cryobank, which offers donors anonymity, but Teuscher said the apparent relative she found on 23andMe listed themselves as open to messaging.
“I said ‘I don’t want to cross any boundaries. I just want to let you know that we are out here and we are open to contact if you are,'” Teuscher said.
The relative responded “I don’t understand,” so Teuscher said she let it go. But then she got a “cease and desist” letter from Northwest Cryobank, telling her not to contact the donor or “learn more information about his identity, background or whereabouts.” The sperm bank warned it could “seek $20,000 in liquidated damages.” Worst of all she said, it took back “four  additional vials of donor’s sperm that” she “purchased” — sperm she’d planned to use to have Zoe’s genetic siblings.
“Devastating. I mean … I was shocked, I was crying for days, I could barely eat,” Teuscher said. “I felt embarrassed almost. Here I thought I was doing this thing I thought was in the best interest of my daughter … And then it just came back on me in just such a harsh way that made me feel like I did something terrible, like I was a criminal.”
Northwest Cryobank told CBS News it does not prohibit DNA testing, but said “concern arises when one uses DNA test results to contact a donor and/or his family.” The bank said clients like Teuscher have “contractually agreed to not independently seek the identity or attempt to contact these individuals.” According to Teuscher, the contract was online.
“I mean, you just click the boxes,” Teuscher said. Plus, she said, it’s not all about her.
“My daughter is an actual living, breathing, feeling human being who did not sign that contract,” Teuscher said.
Contracts or not, many donor-conceived children and their families are finding each other. Wendy Kramer runs the Donor Sibling Registry, a group that connects donor-conceived children and their families. Her own donor-conceived son has found 18 half-siblings, most of them through DNA test matches.
“All of us, thousands of us, have made these connections,” Kramer said. “It’s a right for everybody to know the truth about their own DNA, their own background, their relatives and their medical histories.”
Northwest Cryobank said not all donors will want that opportunity. It said “there is a human being on the other side of the gift who may have a partner, parents, job and children of his own” and uninvited contact “could jeopardize these relationships and families.”
But experts say in 2019, that contact may simply be unavoidable. He said despite our best efforts, it’s impossible to promise anonymity anymore.
“The problem we have now is that the science has kind of overstepped where we are, in terms of legality,” said Dr. Peter McGovern, an infertility specialist.
But Teuscher said with the loss of her vials, the promise of more children could be ended for her.
“They literally took my babies. My future babies,” she said.
After we contacted Northwest Cryobank for this story, a representative sent Teuscher an email saying the bank would refund the money she paid for those additional vials of her donor’s sperm, but did not offer to give her vials back.
The representative we spoke to at Northwest Cryobank told us that this is the only letter threatening legal action that they’ve ever sent to a client, to his knowledge.
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