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To Know or Not to Know

The Pros and Cons from the Pros

The Pros and Cons of Using Known or Unknown Gamete Donors

Joann Paley Galst, Ph.D. and Elaine Gordon, Ph.D.

Gamete donation affords thousands of couples the opportunity to have children without having to forego the birth experience and the chance to preserve some genetic link to their hoped for child. Deciding whether to use a known or unknown gamete donor (sperm, egg, or embryo) is a decision that should be thoughtfully and honestly considered so that the best possible decision can be made. Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working with a known or unknown donor.


Donation with a donor already familiar to the recipients (friend, family member) or whereby the parties, initially unknown to one another, meet and exchange information and make mutual decisions regarding their arrangement.


• Access to more information regarding the donor

• Known medical and psychological histories

• Opportunity to offer more information when talking to the child(ren)

• Continuity of genetic line if working with a relative

• Allows donors and recipients to participate in a mutual selection process

• Chance for offspring to decide and plan for future contact and update information

• Gives offspring access to their genealogical history

• Minimizes the creation of the ‘fantasy’ donor or recipient

• Personalizes the experience for all participants

• Gives donors and recipients more control over their donation destinies

• Allows donors and recipients to discuss expectations and obligations


• Limits access to information

• Reliance on others for donor’s appropriateness both psychologically and medically

• Does not allow for recipient to deny working with a donor

• Forces donor to experience disappointment if cycle fails or a pregnancy is lost

• May encourage genealogical bewilderment for offspring

• Puts to question parent’s legitimacy

• Parent(s) may feel parenting is being judged by the donor.


Donation that can be completely anonymous or with an identity release option whereby the offspring, upon reaching the age of majority, can request information and possibly have contact with the donor.


• May create a stronger sense of authenticity of the parenting role

• Avoids the threat of interference

• Reduces fears that donor will lay claim to child

• Maintains parental control regarding the dispersion of donation information

• Allows recipients to maintain their privacy

• Permits denial about working with a third party

• Easier to orchestrate and organize

• Eliminates fear of rejection for both donors and recipients

• Allows for one to idealize the donor or recipient

• Minimizes confusion for the child


• Less control over donation selection process

• Unavailability of updated medical information about the donor

• No opportunity to gather information in the future

• Requires recipients and donors to make a leap of faith regarding suitability

• Necessitates the need for trusting the professionals involved

• Leaves the matching process to strangers albeit well-meaning ones

• Minimizes the need for recipients to take responsibility for donor selection

• Curtails the amount of information recipients and donor have available to them

• Offspring offered less chance to meet or access information concerning donor

• Offers children a more limited birth story

It is important to understand your options and make your decisions keeping in mind your needs as well as the best interests of your hoped-for child, both now and in the future. Remember that good decision making starts with getting all the information as well as the clarification of one's feelings. Donation should involve three components: medical, psychological and legal. Collectively these three areas of expertise can help you make the best decisions regarding your desire to build a family.