Death (Of Donor Anonymity) Becomes Her – Above the Law

Amanda Troxler is an attorney with model good looks. Pair that with a genetic clean bill of health and deeply ingrained compassion for others, and she is an ideal egg donor. And, she was. Six times. Resulting in at least eight children. You probably even googled her to check her out before finishing this paragraph.

Fittingly, Troxlers legal expertise focuses on assisted reproductive technology law, frequently helping other donors or recipients navigate the legal issues involved with a gamete donation and expectations around the future relationship of the donor, recipients, and any resulting offspring. Unsurprisingly, Troxler is one of the go-to legal experts when it comes to all things egg donation. Among her many appearances, she was a guest on the podcast that I co-host on assisted reproductive technology issues, I Want To Put A Baby In You, and was recently featured in a magazine published by the organization We Are Donor Conceived. Definitely check both out to learn more of Troxlers unique path, including being raised by a single father in the LGBTQ+ community and meeting her own biological mother when she was an adult.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Troxler to discuss the hottest issue in egg donation (as well as sperm donation and embryo donation) these days: anonymity. After all, direct-to-consumer DNA tests such as 23andMe and Ancestry are changing our access to information in a big way.

Is Anonymity Dead?

Troxler shared, in her humble opinion as a legal expert and as a person whose life is intricately involved in donation, that one of the biggest improvements that can be made is to increase transparency. One thing we have learned from the donor-conceived community, is that the shock of learning that one is donor-conceived can be traumatic forcing a person to suddenly adjust to finding out basic truths about themselves and their family that are not what they always believed.

For a lot of people, its fun to find out about unexpected Swedish roots or a previously unknown third cousin. But for others, its less fun to find out that the people you believed to be your genetic parents may not be, or that you have over 100 genetic siblings.

Troxler emphasizes counseling both donors and recipients that any contractual promise of anonymity is likely to be illusory, if not legally unenforceable, given technology and information access. Troxler also believes that psychological counseling is key. She explains that counseling for recipients can help resolve grief over infertility, and as expert Carole LieberWilkins (another previouspodcastguest!) would say, that makes room for the child that the recipients will have. Appropriate counseling also helps donors to empathize with donor conceived offspring, and to understand what their obligations toward such offspring may be.

What Do The Numbers Say?

In the 2020 survey conducted by We Are Donor Conceived, when donor-conceived people were asked what type of relationship was desired with the donor, the survey found that [t]he largest segment of respondents (31%) indicated they hope to form a close friendship, while 21% seek a casual acquaintance, and 19% desire a mentor/adviser-type relationship. 14% percent of respondents said they would ideally like to have a parent/child relationship. Only 9% do not desire any form of relationship with the donor.

Love Is Not Like A Pie.

Troxler explained that its fundamentally human to want to know where we come from. It contributes to the origin stories that we form about ourselves, which helps us establish our identities. Its also fundamentally human to desire connection with other people. Troxler also emphasized that this does not in any way diminish the relationships between donor conceived people and their parents. Because love is not like a pie. Just as parents can love more than one child, donor-conceived people can form meaningful relationships with genetic relatives while continuing to love their parents.

Should Anonymity Be Outlawed?

In many jurisdictions abroad, includingparts of Australia, governments have moved to prohibit anonymous gamete donation. The logic behind such prohibitions is that a donor-conceived person has a right to know their biological history. I asked Troxler if the U.S. should be trying for similar legislation. Troxler pointed to newer laws in states such as Californiaand Washington that default to providing donor-conceived people with identifying information about the donor when the individual turns 18. Troxler thought such laws were positive. And while donors may opt out, it at least shifts the default in the right direction, and increases awareness with donors.

But to answer the question, Troxler was not interested in legally requiring people to do what are referred to as known donations. Her concerns were two-fold. First, such a requirement could cause people seeking donated gametes to go abroad, to avoid local laws. In countries where you cant legally participate in anonymous arrangements, people sometimes do specifically go to other countries or jurisdictions to circumvent the law. The resulting effect is additional distance between donor-conceived people and genetic relatives.

Second, Troxler explained that on a larger scale, a law prohibiting anonymous donations is unlikely to address what she sees as the main problem a lack of awareness over the potential needs of donor-conceived people. A law might compel some people to participate in known donations, but it doesnt inform them of the reasons why known donation is in the best interests of everyone involved.

What Would Help Then?

While anonymity wasnt where she saw the need for legislation, Troxler did see a number of points where regulation could make improvements. For one, Troxler would be in favor of mandatory psychological counseling for donors and recipients.

Another issue Troxler thinks needs regulating is the lack of limits on the number of donor-conceived offspring from one donor. True to the Vince Vaughn classic Delivery Man, offspring exceeding 100 or even 200 genetic siblings sometimes result from sperm donation. The sheer size of the group has an effect of making it difficult, if not impossible, for donor-conceived people to have any semblance of a meaningful relationship with the donor/genetic provider as well as to form relationships with their genetic siblings. Troxler points out that many other countries place reasonable limits on the number of children conceived from one donor. Ten is a popular limit. Other countries are at five or 15. In the United States, however, there is very little oversight regarding the number of offspring resulting from gamete providers.

Of course, a law limiting how many children can be conceived from one donor does require a system for tracking, which may not be practically feasible, especially when gamete providers are working with multiple programs. On the other hand, even without strict tracking or enforcement, limits may still have a positive effect.

Troxlers main interest is changing the culture around gamete donations. She hopes people will realize that the relationships between gamete providers, recipients, and donor conceived people are complex and nuanced, like all meaningful relationships, and she hopes that, on a greater scale, people will see these relationships as meaningful.

Ellen Trachman is the Managing Attorney ofTrachman Law Center, LLC, a Denver-based law firm specializing in assisted reproductive technology law, and co-host of the podcastI Want To Put A Baby In You. You can reach her atbabies@abovethelaw.com.

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Death (Of Donor Anonymity) Becomes Her - Above the Law

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