RICHMOND, Virginia: Lawmakers here are considering a bill that would make Virginia the first U.S. state to prohibit anonymous sperm and egg donations.
Australia, Britain and a handful of countries in Europe have banned the practice in recent years, and each has seen donations dwindle and the cost of fertility services rise. Opponents warn the same would happen here.
Katrina Clark, 18, is trying to persuade lawmakers to ban anonymous donations so other children will not grow up with the same questions she had.
Clark grew up thinking she was no different from her friends. That changed when she saw a show about a woman who died of a genetic heart disease that she had no idea she was at risk for because she had been adopted.
"That's when it really hit me for the first time that something was missing," Clark said.
She was one of the few lucky ones, finding her biological father on an online message board weeks later. A DNA test confirmed what they already knew: it was 99.9902 percent positive that he was her father.
There were more than 15,000 successful egg donations in the U.S. in 2004, the latest data available, resulting in about 6,000 births. Sperm donations and births resulting from them are much more numerous and more difficult to track.
The fertility industry was not fully commercialized until the 1970s, and laws regulating it focus on testing, storing and administering the donations. Only recently has the discussion turned to the ethical repercussions.
Most sperm banks across the United States now give donors the option of allowing their identity to be revealed to offspring once they turn 18.
William Jaeger, director of Fairfax Cyrobank, said just 29 of the bank's 265 donors have agreed to have their identities revealed.
"I think you need to be careful what you wish for," Jaeger said. "Legislation of this type would really create a hardship for families who need donor sperm to conceive a child."
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also opposes the legislation, saying it would drive up the cost for families to get help conceiving.
"It's relatively inexpensive to conceive through insemination of donor sperm," said Dr. Robert Brzyski, chair of the ethics committee for the ASRM. "If donors become scarce because the anonymity is removed, then the cost of that will increase."
Brzyski also questioned the motivation behind the bill.
"Some would argue that it is a strategy to curtail or eliminate reproductive technology or reproductive choices that certain elements of society don't approve of," Brzyski said.
The bill's sponsor, Robert G. Marshall, is a Christian conservative who is the legislature's foremost author of legislation to curb abortion and regulate birth control methods.
Marshall said he filed the bill to protect donor-conceived children.
"I saw some little black kid who had a T-shirt on that said 'My dad's name is Donor,' and I thought, that's pathetic," Marshall said.
His bill also would require women donating eggs to sign a disclosure detailing all known risks involved. Virginia law already requires that patients be told about the success rates and donor health before being treated.