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A recent episode of 20/20, entitled “The New Sex,” focused on the supposedly emerging practice of free and non-anonymous sperm donation. The show opens with a portrayal of a married couple, Beth and Richard, who desired to conceive a child together, but could not, because Richard’s vasectomy could not be reversed. After spending fourteen thousand dollars on fertility treatments, all of which are unsuccessful, the couple turns to the Internet’s Free Sperm Donor Registry to locate a donor who will provide sperm at no cost and without the cloak of anonymity. The rest of the episode, described below, follows the couple as they choose a donor and perform an insemination in a hotel room. It also follows a man who has given away so much sperm that the government has ordered him to cease “manufacture” of it, and a third man who gives away sperm through “natural insemination,” by having sex with women who want to become pregnant. ...

In this column, I will explore the different arrangements the 20/20 episode profiled, and analyze the ways in which parentage law might facilitate or obstruct the intent of the various parties. The bottom line is that this type of sperm donation falls outside many of the conventional rules governing assisted reproduction. Thus, the women who use the free sperm from a known donor may end up with co-parents they do not want, and the sperm donors may end up with responsibilities they didn’t foresee. At best, they are all in legal limbo.



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