Protecting a Sperm Donor's Privacy in the Digital Age

A CNN article published last friday about a new Google app that would recognize people's faces reiterates my position that using current photos of sperm donors is a dangerous practice in today's high-tech world.
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Inevitably when I discuss my fertility preservation choice to freeze embryos with donor sperm, I am asked, "Did you get to see his photo?" I respond the same way every time: "Only a baby photo, and I would never want to see a current photo of my donor."

The fertility industry, in particular the sperm banks who sell donor sperm, hold varying opinions about the ethics involved in posting current photos of sperm donors. I am vehemently against it as a practice. A CNN article published last friday about a new Google app that would recognize people's faces reiterates my position that using current photos of sperm donors is a dangerous practice in today's high-tech world.

Google mentions they are proceeding cautiously with the privacy issues related to this app, but they also cite the example that actors in Los Angeles want everyone to recognize them as their best business case for creating the app.

Of course, it always comes down to Hollywood.

Interestingly enough, the California Cryobank uses celebrity look-alike photos instead of current photos to give prospective clients some idea of what their sperm donors "look" like. The company cautions that just because one of the look-alike photos of your sperm donor is Brad Pitt, it doesn't mean you are going to produce offspring that looks like Brad Pitt. DNA is a little more complicated than that.

In my case, my sperm donor had the eyes and lips of Freddie Prinze Jr, but not his eyebrows. He also had the physique of a young Oscar De La Hoya. But overall he looked the most like an all-grown up Christopher Knight -- yes, Peter from "The Brady Bunch."

I certainly have never approached dating by trying to find a man who looks like Joey Lawrence or Jake Gyllenhall, my favorite celebrity crushes, but I do recognize that I am naturally drawn to athletic physiques, full lips, dark hair or sans hair and Mediterranean skin tones. I could easily marry someone with blond hair and blue eyes, but when I was diagnosed with cancer and had just five days to pick a sperm donor, I went with the "type" I most frequently revisited when dating.

Mind you, I did not start with a celebrity look-alike search. Instead, I started with a catalogue of statistics. I narrowed down 300 donors to 30 by eliminating anyone who was of an ethnicity that did not fit my aesthetic "type" and anyone who did not have all the donor information pieces available: short and long-profile with multi-generational health history, handwritten donor essay, audio interview, personality profile, baby photo and staff impressions, to name a few available through the California Cryobank.

By the time I selected my donor, I was in love with his DNA. His DNA, not what his eyes look like when he's holding back emotion or how his hair fell across his forehead or how his smile makes him look like he's up to something. I didn't fall in love with what his butt looked like in a baseball uniform or how hard I laughed every time he tried to dance. I didn't fall in love because he made me feel safe, beautiful and inspired. I didn't feel anything but hope. Hope for the child that his DNA would help me create.

Seeing a current photo of him would create a false intimacy between us that I did not want. It would humanize his DNA too much for me. I think women less sane than I might not be able to walk down the street without looking for him if they saw a photo. I didn't pick him; I picked his genetic goods, and that is the key distinction in selecting a sperm donor. Using current photos could blur the lines between choosing genetics and choosing a person.

Imagine that I did see his photo and my child is five years old or 16 years old or about to get married. If I chose the person and not the genetics, I likely would want to locate him, introduce him to "our" child and even invite him to the wedding. But he wanted to be anonymous. Nevertheless, I can't get the image of his face out of my mind and wonder what it would be like for him to watch "our" daughter walk down the aisle.

If I had that one photo of him, I'd be able to locate him in a millisecond on my mobile phone using the Google app. Granted, you will have to opt-in to the service to allow the app to recognize your face in any photo. But, if a sperm donor wants to be anonymous and there is a photo of him on the cryobank website, he could be found immediately, even though the sperm bank promised him anonymity.

You see, sperm banks aren't in a position to keep promises of privacy if they share current photos with technology like this Google one on the horizon. We can't hinder technological progress, because certain industries require higher standards and restrictions to protect privacy. But industry can adjust to technology and protect those who gave up their rights to parent children created from their DNA so that people like me could actualize their dreams of motherhood.


To read more about the Google App, click here.

Visit the California Cryobank at

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