SPOTLIGHT: The Sperm Bank of California

TSBCADThere is no one I know better in the sperm industry than Alice Ruby, executive director of The Sperm Bank of California. We met around 2008, at a conference of sperm bank heads.

Since then, she has attended my San Francisco-based workshops… been responsive to Q&A that comes up on our discussion boards… and periodically sends me research reports and news articles that she expects might be of benefit to the Choice Mom community. As the leader of a non-profit organization, Alice hasn’t had a large budget, but she never fails to send annual contributions toward the Choice Mom resources.

We both believe in the mission of our companies to provide the best information we can to independent women who want to build families in a proactive and educated way. To that end, she and colleague Joanna Scheib, Ph.D. do original research — the only sperm bank that does — to help families know what to expect over time as a triad of parent, donor and offspring.

Here are some of the many things Alice, and Joanna, have contributed toward Choice Mom resources over the years:

POLICIES: The Sperm Bank of California

Q: What is your open-identity donor policy?

TSBC was a pioneer in the “open-identity” policy, and in fact trademarked their own Identity-Release Program® to distinguish it from other banks who offer different ideas of what the term means. Donors in the Identity-Release® Program at The Sperm Bank of California agree to release their identity and contact information to donor-conceived adults (at least 18 years old) who request this information.

Q: How do you keep tabs on a donor’s location over the years?

“We request periodic updates, every few years, from donors in our Identity-Release® Program and also ask them to notify us if their contact information changes. In 12 years of releasing donor identities we have been extremely successful in providing current contact information to donor-conceived adults.”

Q: How do you facilitate contact between donor and offspring?

“We contact all donors in our Identity-Release® Program prior to their first offspring turning 18. This allows us to provide donors with resources and information about what it means for us to release their identity and why donor-conceived adults might seek to learn more about them. Our donors know that we are available to speak with them and their partners about any specific concerns they may have before releases occur as well as at any point in the future. This pre-release contact enables us to learn details about the donor’s level of openness or privacy about having been a donor and how he feels about potentially being contacted.

When a donor-conceived adult requests their donor’s identity, we provide them with resources, answer their questions, and provide individualized support. This includes sharing information from their donor about his contact preferences and privacy concerns. When or whether to contact the donor is up to the donor-conceived adult and we encourage each person to take the time to consider what feels right for them. We make sure that donor-conceived adults know that they may contact us at any time in the process if they have questions or concerns.

We conducted an extensive needs assessment to develop protocols that provide the best outcomes for donor-conceived adults and their donors. We continue to conduct research in this area to make our program the most effective it can be and to raise awareness about open-identity options for people who are considering donor-assisted family building. Our program is about sharing information and we do not guarantee that our Identity-Release® Program donors will be open to contact with donor-conceived adults.

This policy respects that fact that people change over time and that we cannot promise that any specific donor will be willing to have contact. However, our experience is that the majority of TSBC donors are not only expecting to be contacted but many are looking forward to it.”
Over the last 12 years of releases, more than 92% of donors at The Sperm Bank of California have stated a willingness to be contacted.

Q: How do you select and screen donors?

According to Alice Ruby: “Donor applicants go through a rigorous 2-3 month long screening process that includes an intake interview to assess their suitability for the program, several sperm counts, comprehensive STD testing, general health screening (including a physical exam, a complete blood panel, and a detailed personal and family health history), genetic testing and an HIV risk assessment interview. STD testing and general health screening is repeated every 3-6 months.

We ask our donors to notify us if new personal or family health issues arise while they are in the program or in the future. Personal and family health information is self-reported by the donor and is reviewed with our Genetic Counselor. We ask for this information multiple times during the screening process and if there is insufficient health information, we ask the donor to speak with relatives to obtain more information. Our Medical Director reviews the complete file on all prospective donors prior to their being accepted into our program.

All donor applicants provide a personal narrative and baby photo. Each applicant is also assessed based on criteria of interest to our recipients. For example, we make efforts to maintain an ethnically diverse donor pool and to recruit men who will be interested in our Identity-Release® Program. We also look for donors with a range of interests, talents, education and physical traits as we know there is variety in what donor characteristics appeal to women.

As a smaller bank, we really get to know our donors and share this knowledge through interview notes written about each donor by our staff.

As with all things, TSBC’s approach to donor selection is long-term. We want donors who feel good about participating in our program now and who will still feel good about this decision in 20 years. We also seek to identify donors who are at low risk for passing on medical issues. This process of looking forward is part of our unwavering commitment to the well-being of parents, children and donors.”


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