International differences

In Donor Unknown, Jeffrey meets or has already met five donor-conceived adults from different families.  To date, Jo-Ellen has discovered a total of 14 siblings through the Donor Sibling Registry, although they have not all met Jeffrey.  There may be many more siblings still to come forward.

The use of donor sperm in the USA is not regulated by law.  Instead, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and other expert groups (e.g. the American Association of Tissue Banks ) provide recommendations and guidelines.  The ASRM guidelines limit a donor to 25 live births per population area of 850,000, although this is not enforced by law, there is no central tracking, and it has been estimated that only about 40% of births are reported.

This is not the case in other parts of the world where tighter legal regulations exist.

In the United Kingdom, for example, all donors have to be registered with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).  When making comparisons with the USA, it’s important to remember that Jeffrey donated in California in the 1980s.  Sperm donors in the UK today typically donate for only a few months until a sufficient amount of sperm has been frozen.  Also, donors in the UK are not paid and can currently only claim documented expenses as well as a maximum of £250 to cover any loss of earnings. This is currently under review by the HFEA and may change in the future.

Each time sperm from a donor is used in the UK, records must be kept and all pregnancies and live births be reported to the HFEA.  There are tight legal controls concerning how many babies can be born from donated sperm, with births allowed in 10 different families (although there may be siblings within a family).  If they wish, donors can stipulate that their sperm (or eggs in the case of egg donation) may be used for a specific number of families lower than the legal maximum allowed.

Almost all donor sperm treatments occur in a licensed fertility clinic and it would be rare for a women in the UK to take sperm home (or for it to be dispatched to her by a courier as in the case of JoEllen’s mother) although this is not technically against the law and ‘home insemination’ is legally possible in exceptional circumstances.  It certainly does not take place in the UK as commonly as the film seems to suggest happens in the USA.

In other countries, different regulations govern sperm donation.  For example:

  • Sperm donors in the Netherlands may be used to conceive a maximum of 25 births and identifying information about the donor is available to the children when they reach age 16.
  • Spanish sperm donors may be used to conceive 6 births and must remain anonymous.
  • In Taiwan sperm donors may be used to conceive one birth only.  They must remain anonymous, although an infertile man may use his brother as a donor.
  • In Hungary the recipient of donor sperm must be married.
  • In countries such as Algeria, Italy, Kuwait, Lybia, Tunisia and Turkey, sperm donation is illegal.

Clearly, this is an area where the laws and guidelines may change and so you should be aware that what happens in the film may not reflect what happens in your own country.